Academic journal article High School Journal

Intolerable Intolerance: Toxic Xenophobia and Pedagogy of Resistance

Academic journal article High School Journal

Intolerable Intolerance: Toxic Xenophobia and Pedagogy of Resistance

Article excerpt

In this paper, the author examines the mobilization and regulation of toxic xenophobia in the post-September 11th era. The graphic posters from the far-fight, anti-immigration Swiss UDC party are examined along with artistic responses to this graphic xenophobia. The paper argues that using the visual forms of xenophobia and the artistic responses as the basis for critical visual analysis in the public school curriculum could lead to an important site of struggle against the rise of toxic xenophobia and the "neutral" presentation of 9/11 found within textbooks and curriculum created by mainstream educational companies.


September 11th, 2001, was a moment of trauma, not just for NYC and DC, but also a national attack viewed as an attack on the identity and ideals of the American nation. The tragedy was a very real event in the homes and lives of many Americans who lost friends or family members. To question the reactions to 9/11 and the rhetorical and experienced xenophobia that has been one of the responses in the wake of the attack is not in any way to diminish the pain and suffering of the loss that took place in the United States on that day. In the decade since the event, many educators and activists have used 9/11 to create lessons of tolerance and inclusion. Others, however, have capitalized on the strike to create a fear of difference and toxic xenophobia that have informed visual and verbal rhetoric in many countries in the west. How has that toxic xenophobia, also known as Islamophobia, been mobilized in the west since 9/11? What have been the curricular responses to 9/11, and what are critical possibilities for teachers wishing to counteract xenophobia in their classrooms and communities?

The xenophobia toward Muslims, while present in the United States and Europe since well before 9/11, has been changing in scale and in tone. In the past five years, several European governments have enacted bans or laws regulating the wearing of the veil by Muslim women in schools and other public places. These bans, while couched in the rhetoric of tolerance and secular ideals, clearly curtail the rights of specific, gendered and racialized people. France became the first European country to institute a ban on face-covering veils in all public places in spring of 2011, and beginning on April 11, 2011, the police began to detain and fine women who wore a face-covering veil in public. Many in France and the international community expressed outrage at the institution of a law that is viewed as discriminatory towards Muslim women. The French ban is a form of gendered Islamophobia that focuses the hatred and fear of difference onto the bodies and clothing of Muslim women.

In addition to regulating the veil as a visual symbol of difference, there has been a growing energy in the west to curtail or ban the building of mosques as the other physical, visual manifestation of Islam. Toward the end of 2009, Swiss voters passed a referendum banning the construction of minarets in Switzerland. One graphic propaganda poster (Segert, 2009) was at the center of the debate on the referendum and on the issue of Swiss xenophobia. The image is a striking black, white, and red image of a Swiss flag, pierced by ominous minarets that resemble missiles. Standing in front of the flag is a (presumably) Muslim woman fully covered except for her eyes staring directly at the viewer. The poster plays on xenophobic fears of difference and the fear of a growing Muslim population specifically. While the referendum passed, it did not pass quietly or without critical response from inside and outside of Switzerland. The art exhibit entitled Intolerable Intolerance is one organized response that is an important site for constructing a pedagogy of resistance.

Levels of Xenophobia

The mobilization of the Swiss populace to approve a ban on the building of minarets and the American protests to the building of mosques in communities (in New York, Tennessee, and California to name a few examples) share a common denominator of fear. …

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