In their new book, Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, coauthors Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg explore a largely unexamined phenomenon – the “deeply ingrained anxiety” some Westerners, and especially Americans, experience when considering Islam and Muslim cultures.
Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and the author of Beyond Hindu and Muslim, says that in times of crisis, such as the 1979 Iranian hostage situation or the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the long-simmering resentments and suspicions “inherited along with a European Christian heritage, manifest themselves.”
Professor Gottschalk and his former student Gabriel Greenberg explore those anxieties through the political cartoon, the print medium with the most immediate impact.
In prejudices such as racism, sexism, and more recently Islamophobia, Peter Gottschalk says there are historical conditions that enable certain groups to feel an antagonism toward another group that seem to “justify” that antagonism.
Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, he explains that such attitudes form a “constantly reaffirming, re-substantiating perspective.” Gabriel Greenberg notes, for example, that from the time of the Crusades, Islam was experienced by surrounding cultures as a “competitor.”
Some of the things many non-Muslim Americans today tend to associate with Islam are characteristics that are “negatively valued” Professor Gottschalk says, such as terrorism, the oppression of women, and associations with “Arabs” or the Middle East.