“The New Enemy”: U.S. Misrepresentations of the Middle East in the Post 9/11 Era
The American people need to know that we’re facing a different enemy than we have ever faced. This enemy hides in shadows and has no regard for human life. This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people, runs for cover… This enemy attacked not just our people but all freedom-loving peopleeverywhere in the world. The United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy. We will rally the world. We will be patient, we will be focused, and we will be steadfast in our determination.
- President George W. Bush, Cabinet Room, 12 September 2001
After the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, President George W. Bush utilized ambiguous yet emotionally charged speechesto rally the United States behind a unified, patriotic creed against the so-called “enemy.” Although President Bush’s utterances do not create a new representation, his vision of the “new enemy” epitomizes the manner in which post-9/11 sociopolitical institutions projected the image of terrorists to the public. His statements advocate false representations of Middle Easterners through evasivelanguage that links terrorism with Islam with the entire Middle East. By failing to explicitly delineate the identity and geographic location of the enemy, he implies the immoral nature of all non-“freedom loving” societies, most notably theocracies and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. Not only does this rhetoric produce sweeping generalizations of all Middle Easterners but also legitimizesracial profiling and justifies the government’s self-interested stance on foreign policy. I refer to the “Middle East” in the Eurocentric context by which most Western nations perceive this imagined geography. This term carelessly reduces numerous nations, cultures, and ethnic identities into one expansive, homogenous region. With respect to the same outlook, I use the generalized term “theWest,” which encompasses the industrialized, highly developed countries in Europe and North America.
In this paper, I argue that political rhetoric, media representations, and the educational atmosphere before 9/11, all working together in a framework of historical events, created an environment that sustained various negative stereotypes of Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterners in general. Moreover,this generated environment set the stage for a narrative shift in the wake of 9/11. I assert that September 11th signified a milestone in history when the U.S.-Middle Eastern conflict crashed onto American soil, altering the nature and content of previous institutional factors, the environment where they dwell, and the resulting effect on the American population. Ultimately, this shift fostered theacceptance of what President Bush deemed “a monumental struggle of good vs. evil,” where noble democratic nations consistently clash with immoral autocratic regimes. Instead of a conflict between the United States and a small network of extremists, the post 9/11 sociopolitical atmosphere focuses on the global battle between democracy and autocracy, Christianity and Islam, the West and the “newenemy.” However, I also argue that scholars and film directors in particular have recently defied this new narrative by exposing the reality behind terrorists, Islam, and the biased avenues through which Americans develop perceptions of the Middle East. Yet despite their protests, the popularity and prevalence of stereotypes in television, film, and politics overwhelm their arguments. September11th, 2001, ushered in a generation of fear, justified misunderstanding, and racial prejudice that only a reformulation of Americans’ approach to learning and understanding can undo.
Stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims did not emerge as a new phenomenon characteristic to September 11th. Indeed, false representations of Middle Easterners appeared long ago in a variety of forms, from the magical Arab...
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