Chapter 5

The Demonization of Persons of Arab and Muslim Ancestry in Historical Perspective

by Susan M. Akram and Kevin R. Johnson

In this chapter, legal scholars Susan M. Akram and Kevin R. Johnson describe how elite discourse, media vilification, and selective government persecution of Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims before 9/11 prepared the ground for the sweeping state security response to be unleashed on that day. Negative effects on the rights and safety of Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims have flowed from demonizing these people through public discourse. And as we are also reminded in Chapter 3 (by J. C. Salyer), looking back at history we learn how ineffective as well as unjust it has been for the U.S. government to respond to national security crises by making a scapegoat of entire nationalities and ethnic/sectarian groups.

Study Questions

  1. What does it mean to say that public perceptions and treatment of a group becomes “racialized”? In what ways have Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. been racialized?
  2. What are the potential long-term threats to the civil rights of both citizens and non-citizens in the Federal government’s post-9/11 treatment of Arab and Muslim non-citizens?

Critical Thinking

  1. “Sticks and stones can break my bones … but words can never harm me.”
    Agree/disagree, on the basis of the anti-immigrant images and statements described in this chapter and in the preceding chapters by Chavez and Salyer.
  2. How might politicians, journalists and teachers wish to examine the words through which they talk about immigrants and immigration, if they wish to promote a more responsible debate about immigration and national security the U.S.?