A Dying Hegemony Resisting Anti-Arab Racism in the U.S

By Spanos, Adam | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

A Dying Hegemony Resisting Anti-Arab Racism in the U.S


Spanos, Adam, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the presidential administration of George W. Bush triggered a set of relays that initiated a new hegemony. This all-encompassing, resilient political formation provided enormous lebensraum for the historic bloc comprised by Bush and his allies to enact its foreign and domestic policy goals. At stake was a particular representation of the domestic and global social field that construed relationships in terms of antagonisms, such that the mental preoccupations of American citizens were diverted and channeled to fear the Arab, Muslim, and Middle Eastern Other at home and abroad. While these groups had been the targets of both a Western and a particularly American Orientalism before 9/11, (1) it was not until afterwards that a single, full-blown, pandemic, societal racism emerged. Various religious, ethnic, and geographic categorizations collapsed into a "racial" one, which I will call, for lack of a better term, "Anti-Arab racism," although included were non-Arabs who fit the stereotype in the American imaginary. (2)

Frantz Fanon elaborated, in a different context, the transformation of racist attitudes into cultural racism. In this article I attend to the analytics Fanon can provide us for understanding racisms, particularly his notion that although political ideologies constitute racism, the latter takes on a life of its own and comes to exist in a reciprocally constitutive relationship with political ideologies; this process Fanon referred to in his characteristically resounding way as "dialectical gangrene." (3)

If it is true, as Fanon and others have claimed, that racisms emerge in parallel with political ideologies that necessitate the exclusion of an Other, we should be able to understand much of the current instantiation of anti-Arab racism in the U.S. by questioning the central ideological imperatives of the current political formation here. In order to elicit the ideologies of the present American hegemony, I look to the social theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, for whom the social is nothing but an attempt to impose a political order through ideologies upon an ultimately uncontainable, heterogeneous, and "impossible" field of human interaction.4 I elaborate on their model of hegemony and relate it to the present American context, in order to analyze what I take to be a distinct break in American perceptions of Arabs, Middle Easterners, and Muslims and the crystallization of a racism against them. Having demonstrated the intimate link between American international power, its supporting ideologies, and the Othering of a contrived Arab figure, I propose that this representation can be overcome. Although anti-Arab racism is bound to outlast the political plays that inaugurated it, the very fluidity of power which dictates those political plays allows for contestation and the staging of an oppositional set of representations.

I look to Frantz Fanon, whose model of radical human agency is absolutely central to reasserting a counter-hegemonic consciousness among the beleaguered forces of resistance in today's world. His insistence on the capacity of individual human beings to overcome the internal markings of power, and his fierce rhetoric on the necessity for collective social resistance, are imperative for renewing our understanding of agency in the face of a regime of power that relies on a strategy of obviating human agency and of accommodating resistance. I try to think with Fanon, despite the great contextual divide which separates us, on this question of human emancipation from the prerogatives of power.

THE FORMATION OF A NEW HEGEMONY AND THE SEDIMENTATION OF RACISM

The history of white American racism towards Arabs must be seen in terms of its historical development. It did not occur all at once, nor was it fully formed from the moment of the USA's founding by European settlers as a vestigial attitude towards the Orient. …

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