Brown, Malcolm (2008) Local media representations of Islam before 9/11. In: Majority cultures and the everyday politics of ethnic difference: whose house is this? Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., Basingstoke, United Kingdom, pp. 188-205. ISBN 9780230507487
11 September is the date on which Salavador Allende was overthrown as the democratically elected president of Chile (1973), on which my pet dog was born (1995) and many other things besides. Yet that date has come to stand for one event in one year: the hijacking and crashing of four aeroplanes in the United States in 2001. That date/event is now routinely shortened to 9/11, reflecting the American form in which the month is placed before the day, and alluding to the telephone number for emergency services in the US. It is also styled 'the day the world changed', placing it on an almost incomparably higher level than any other disaster or atrocity, such as the London bombings on 7 July 2005. But was it really the day the world changed? Certainly, it changed for those who were directly affected by it, but global politics has continued to be guided by the same principles, such as the doctrine of national self-interest and the practice of American hegemony. So was there a new fear of Islam, particularly in its 'radical' or 'fundamentalist' guises? The argument of this chapter is that nothing changed in that respect either. Ultimately, one is led to conclude that the only new thing to have emerged as a consequence of 9/11 is the conviction that the world has changed, nothing else.
In defence of this position, this chapter draws on the theoretical literature that constitutes the critique of Orientalisffi, and on pre-9/ll British and French media portrayals of Islam, to show that images of Islam as violent and conflictual were as prevalent then as they are now. In some ways, this should be so obvious as to be unnecessary, but it has become almost impossible to entertain the idea that Islam even existed in Western consciousness before 9/11, either as an actual threat or as the object of Islamophobia - surely George W. Bush's explicit references to a crusade would not have carried the same weight beforehand. Yet this chapter shows that Western representations of Islam and Muslims were complex and diverse before 9/11, and that historical changes in the form of Orientalist discourse (leading to the current image of the Muslim terrorist) had, for the most part, already taken place. The analysis and critique of Orientalism is deepened with an exemplification and description of Orientalist representations as they are conveyed in practice. Specifically, it shows how media representations mirror the discourses described by Edward Said (for example 1994, 1995, 1997). In the presentation of French data there is an emphasis on local portrayals, because these show more clearly that representations of Islam are made at a local level, in real situations of social interaction, and not solely in the higher echelons of political and civil society such as dominant media outlets. Significantly, even local media epresentations show diversity, continuity with the national media discourses outre manche (across the English Channel), and even the epistemological basis of
American foreign policy and, consequently, global politics.
In this chapter there is for several reasons a focus on the British and French media in the mid-1990s. First, the literature on the critique of Orientalism has focused on British and French representations of the Orient in the nineteenth century, and the media representations of
the late twentieth century are, to some extent, a continuation of this. Second, Islam and the Muslim world have been discussed for some time in the British and especially French media, because of colonial histories
and postwar labour migration from the former colonies (for example, Pakistan and Algeria), which has not been the case in, for example, the United States. Finally, the mid-1990s was a period which closely followed the Rushdie affair and the end of the Cold War, and, more distantly, the oil crises of the 1970s and the Iranian revolution. The early and mid-1990s was the time in which Islam regained its medieval role as the nemesis (and alter ego) of the West (replacing Communism), and when conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa began to be played out in the West, including several bombings in France.
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