Week 12: Structures of Feeling and the Arab Perspective

This week’s new readings approach the War on Terror from a new perspective. They provide an all-encompassing understanding of the Arab perspective, both domestic and abroad, as one reading provides an analysis of the Arab news source, Al-Jazeera, while the other demonstrates the Arab-American perspective in the wake of the September 11th attacks. These readings work together to hep our understanding of the motives behind Arab-based rhetoric, especially since the beginning of the War on Terror.

The first reading, “The War on Terror through Arab-American Eyes: The Arab-American Press as a Rhetorical Counterpublic” by David Kaufer and Amal Mohammed Al-Malki, explores the theories of counterpublics as a tool to analyze the rhetoric of Arab-American press before and after 9/11. In order to conduct this analysis, Kaufer and Al-Malki established a collection of 113 articles from Arab American News, the oldest and largest circulating Arab-American news publication. The newspaper proves to be the perfect source for analysis of Arab-American sentiments as its home, Dearborn, Michigan, is the most densely concentrated Arab population in America. The core of Kaufer and Al-Malki’s work is the notion of a rhetorical counterpublic. to understand a counterpublic, they employ the work of Habermas along with other rhetorical scholars, to establish the public sphere as being “constituted through access to free-flowing information and the ability to transform this access into raised consciousness and identity” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 49). While the public sphere essentially represents the dominant narrative and arena for discussion in society, this concept of a counterpublic is used to “signify structured dissensus within a public sphere” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 49). For their analysis of Arab American News, Squires’ typology of counterpublics is crucial. The reading establishes that Arab American News meets the criteria of the first typology, enclaves, which opens “‘safe spaces’ whereby members of a counterpublic can keep their in-group attitudes under wraps in favor of assimilative discourse presented to the outside” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 51). This is exemplified by the Arab-American reliance on visual spectacle to prove their loyalty and ‘Americanness.’ In addition, many stories run by the publication went out of their way to condemn the attacks of 9/11, further reinforcing their assimilation with the American mainstream. Arab American News also meet the criteria for the second typology, satellites, which are “defined by their interest in maintaining separation and distinctness from the dominant public while deepening their internal cohesiveness” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 51). As a satellite counterpublic, Arab American News published stories that criticized American policy, yet they are sure to remain on the side of respectful dissent, never crossing into open opposition. The third of Squires’ typologies, which Arab American News did not fulfill, is the resistant counterpublic, in which members “openly refuse to abide by the official scripts and sanctioned discourse of the dominant public. They seek confrontation with the dominant public in an effort to change it” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 51). Arab American News proved to form both enclaved and satellite counter publics with members that were proud Americans who also harbored pride in their membership of the Arab community which was not afraid to criticize American foreign policy in a respectful manner.

The second new reading for this week, “Challenger or lackey? The politics of news on Al-Jazeera” by Naomi Sakr, examines the development and evolution of the Arab publication, Al-Jazeera. The Qatar-based news media channel had been in business for just 5 years when the US responded to the September 11th attacks with bombings of Afghanistan. As the world turned its attention to the Middle East over the coming years, Al-Jazeera was in a unique position as they had already an established presence in the region. With access to footage and sources that were greatly desired by Western news sources, Al-Jazeera quickly rose in notoriety. In this reading, Sakr employs a three-fold thesis to take a deeper look at the evolution of Al-Jazeera and its mission. First she examines the idea that Al-Jazeera seeks to challenge Western media sources. but concludes that, “in light of the obstacles it faced in North America, Europe and the Middle East, it would seem that headlines about Al-Jazeera ‘taking on the world’ put an unjustifiably positive spin on actual events” (Sakr, 123). Thesis two discusses the view point that Al-Jazeera exists to serve the West, rather than challenge it. According to this perspective, “US hegemony is maintained through the preservation of corrupt and inert Arab dictatorships that depend on US military backing for their survival. Media liberalization in these circumstances is seen as deception, giving a false impression that political reform is under way so as to distract attention from deep structures of political repression in individual Arab states” (Sakr, 123). Sakr goes on to explain how the extensive coverage of US elections by Al-Jazeera can be interpreted as it reinforcing the American mission toward a global democracy. Sakr’s third thesis describes Al-Jazeera “an Arab force in Arab politics” (Sakr, 127). She concludes that, “from its initial purpose of delivering news in Arabic according to criteria of newsworthiness widely accepted in the West, Al-Jazeera’s role was adjusted to include promoting certain values and reporting the ‘other side of the story’ from that covered by dominant news medias” (Sakr, 129).

Each of the new readings from this week discuss an Arab news publication that provides a voice for the Arab population, giving a platform for their perspective in a world in which Western news media dominates the public sphere. I found the Kaufer and Al-Malki reading to be especially compelling considering last year’s travel ban and the Trump administration’s rhetoric overall. We are now over 15 years removed from the events of 9/11, and the War on Terror still rages on with Muslims and Arab-Americans continuing to face discrimination. From government action to societal views to entertainment media portrayal, Muslims and Arab-Americans face an uphill battle in America. In what ways has the perception and treatment of Arab-Americans in society changed over the last 10 or so years? Has their condition improved? If so, is this improvement significant enough?

12 thoughts on “Week 12: Structures of Feeling and the Arab Perspective

  • April 8, 2018 at 4:29 pm
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    Hi Brendan,

    Thanks for the great summaries. I found the Kaufer and Al-Malki article to be the more interesting of the two — in particular its commentary on the double-standard that Arab-Americans were faced with in the wake of 9/11, and are still faced with today. The authors suggest that 9/11 “called forth an exigence and a summons to respond to it,” and they importantly demonstrate the ways in which Arab-Americans were called on to respond in ways that non-Arab-Americans were not. I was especially interested in the explanation surrounding the Arab-Americans in Detroit who displayed American flags “in the window of liquor stores and corner groceries . . . gas stations . . . churches . . . and mosques” in order to demonstrate their patriotism. The authors explain that despite this overt attempt to project their American-ness, these Americans were met with skepticism, indicating “how hard it was for Arabs and Muslims to be seen as ‘authentically’ American.” This point is important to consider, as it reveals the pressure placed upon groups who are stereotyped as having terrorist (or simply un-American) associations. Even when members of these groups choose to respond to these generalizations with displays of patriotism, it is oftentimes regarded as not good enough and they are criticized as putting on a show to reduce scrutiny. The article explains how the response of performing patriotism stems from the unfair burden of having to “prove oneself blameless.” This article is successful in highlighting the difficulty in responding to this presumed blame. It is also helpful in thinking about the ways in which this disallows members of these groups to express genuine and warranted concerns with American policies. Since Arab-Americans are already considered a target, dissent is perceived as far less acceptable.

    This connects well to the authors’ point about the Bush administration’s rhetoric surrounding Arab-Americans. While claims about Arab-Americans from the administration expressing “They’re Americans, too” or “They also love this country” purported to be inclusive, the authors suggest that they worked to silence dissent by suggesting that those “who did not fall in line with its foreign policy, who refused inclusion in its America, were fair targets.”

    • April 9, 2018 at 8:05 am
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      Katie, I completely agree. I felt that the the authors’ focus on the Dearborn community was powerful. I found the quote they used on page 52 to be especially intriguing: “on September 11th, 2001, Arab Detroit entered its own state of emergency. Its image as ‘an immigrant success story’… changed within hours of the attack; suddenly, it was a scene of threat, divided loyalties, and potential backlash.” The issue of divided loyalty is also concerning as Arab-Americans were expected to abandon their heritage to prove their “Americanness” in wake of the attacks.

  • April 8, 2018 at 10:33 pm
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    Hi Brendan,

    Thank you for your insightful summaries and analyses of this week’s readings. I found David Kaufer and Amal Mohammed Al-Malki’s article to be particularly important and eye-opening as it is apparently the first study of its kind; it brings further diversity of voices into the analysis we have been exploring this semester. I found a definition in this article very important: Habermas’s notion that “the public sphere is constituted through access to free-flowing information and the ability to transform this access into raised consciousness and identity” (Kaufer and Al-Malki, 2009, p. 49). This definition raised several questions and harmful possibilities: what if, through censorship and government surveillance, the public sphere became curtailed, that is to say, access to “free-flowing information” were diminished? It seems like papers like Arab American News would be vulnerable to this possibility. It seems like counterpublics, like the Arab-American community, have a difficult time entering the American public sphere, but could an equally difficult time creating and defending one of their own under tense national conditions.
    Naomi Sakr’s article shocked me, particularly when reading “Thesis Three: an Arab force in Arab politics.” Sakr notes that the U.S. government used their own funding to establish al-Hurra, an Arab-language station. I was shocked that the government would do this, seemingly in order to regain their own hegemonic control of media flow. Even though this is a disturbing fact, I would be interested in learning more about this channel. In what ways could it respond to or be inspired by the rhetoric of Al-Jazeera?

  • April 9, 2018 at 8:10 am
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    Emily, I was also surprised to see that the US government funded their own Arabic-language station, as I had not heard of it before. By doing so, I think the US government falls into the thinking represented in Sakr’s Thesis One. By perceiving Al-Jazeera as a challenge to the West since it evolved to begin telling “the other side of the story,” the government must have felt compelled to respond with a station of their own to reinforce their media dominance in the Middle East.

  • April 9, 2018 at 10:04 am
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    Brandom, nice summation of the key points from each text. The Kaufer & Al-Malki article raised some similar questions to my own research this semester, so I definitely appreciated their perspective. Similar to how Kaufer & Al-Malki unearthed the role of arab-american publications in serving those three basic purposes you outlined, I examined social media’s role in the clean war ideology. I found similar to that of Kaufer & Al-Malki that social media did not present an avenue for “actively dissenting counter republics”. Rather I found similar to what Saas and Hall described that they reinforced the dominant narratives of their time. This was done in an effort of performative citizenship which I think both of these examples illustrate. In order for arab-american publications to feel internally and present externally an “American” sentiment, they needed to perform as the massive majority at the time felt was appropriate.

    Naomi Sakr’s article on Al-Jazeera was also really interesting. I had only heard of the news outlet a couple of times prior to this article, but I had always thought it was a branch of the BBC. I think the quotes you selected were important to the her message, particularly that of Al-Jazeera’s preservation of hegemonic influence in the Middle East. It seems the hopes for the recently established news outlet were too great, or hyped up, for what it could truly aim to accomplish. That being said I think it does serve several useful purposes, the most notable being a model for future outlets to represent the perspectives and languages of their region, culture etc internationally.

    • April 12, 2018 at 12:07 pm
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      Collin, I think your work on social media’s influence in the public sphere is very intriguing work. Like you said, Arab-Americans have felt the need to present or perform their citizenship outwardly to ensure that they are recognized to not be part of the “enemy.” It is interesting how social media has provided a platform for various social movements that dissent from the dominant narrative, like Black Lives Matter, but for Arab-Americans this is not yet the case. Moving forward, the role of social media in this issue will be interesting to follow.

  • April 9, 2018 at 10:15 am
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    Thanks for these summaries, Brendan. This week’s readings consider a complex aspect of our War on Terror, namely how this conflict is portrayed in Arab news media. I found Kaufer and Al-Makli’s article to be very interesting in this regard, as the authors’ conception of a counterpublic presents a compelling case for the promulgation of alternative news media sources that can voice the opinions of smaller, lesser-known ingroups. What is perhaps most interesting about this article was the notion of the ‘resistant counterpublic’, which the authors claim is not satisfied by any prominent Arab news media sources in today’s outlook. Compared to assimilative enclaves and satellite groups, the first two of the three counterpublics, I wonder what this third, more militant counterpublic might offer in the way of resistance and free speech that the first two counterpublics do not afford? Are Kaufer and Al-Makli claiming that the less aggressive enclaves are more beneficial for the Arab perspective in America, or would Arabs benefit from the formation of a more resistant counterpublic? At any rate, these are interesting questions to consider as we move forward in our analysis of Arab and American news media outlets and their portrayal of the War on Terror.

    • April 12, 2018 at 12:13 pm
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      I find it important that when defining the three typologies of counterpublics, Kaufer and Al-Malki only associate the effort to change with the resistant counterpublic. With enclaves focusing on assimilative messages and satellites keeping any dissent very diplomatic and respectful, the resistant counterpublics seem to provide the avenue to speak out in a more direct and blunt manner. Although it would be met with a lot of controversy, I think that the presence of a resistant counterpublic is necessary in many regards since their aim is to enact change. I think having a combination of the three different counterpublics would provide the best results in changing the attitude towards Arab-Americans.

  • April 9, 2018 at 4:51 pm
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    Hey Brendan,

    Thanks for your comments on this week’s readings. I think you highlighted some important aspects of these readings and really explored what these authors are trying to say about the Arab perspective in relation to the War on Terror. I wanted to focus on your analysis of the Kaufer & Al-Malki piece and some of the ideas that they bring up regarding counterpublics. We discussed the “good” vs. “bad” Arabs today and how many Arab Americans were stuck choosing sides between Arab or American in the post-9/11 climate.

    All Arabs were put in this position of judgement and scrutiny, forcing them to overly express their patriotism. This unfortunate reduction that many Americans placed on the Arab- American community can be likened to the article’s discussion of counterpublics and the idea of Arab Americans expressing themselves in discourse and power relations of historical groups in specific locations and topics. Kaufer & Al-Malki say, “ Ansen observes that reductions of couonterpolitics to persons, places, and topics is likely to result when analysts do not stop to ask what makes a counter public ‘counter,’” (p. 50). These authors are trying to express that the discursive arguments, not the demographic backgrounds, should make these groups ‘counter’. We should be less concerned with the Arab-American hyphenation and what that refers to, and more concerned with the discursive arguments and opinions of the person that has that identification.

    • April 12, 2018 at 12:22 pm
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      Tegan, I think you bring up a great point in focusing on the messages and rhetoric of the person rather than their label or identity as an Arab-American. The dominant narrative in the public sphere has tended to overlook the messages of the counterpublic, only to focus on the label itself. I think this tendency expands past the treatment of Arab-Americans since we saw a similar thing with Colin Kaepernick and his anthem protests. Rather than examining the treatment of black people in America that Kaepernick was trying to bring to light, much of the dominant discourse was focused on what they saw as the disrespectful nature of he chosen form of protest. It is important to focus on the messages themselves, which are often overlooked by the public sphere since they go against its dominant narrative.

  • April 12, 2018 at 10:27 am
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    Hey Brendan,

    Thank you for the insightful and concise summaries. I think you did a great job at highlighting the most important concepts in your reading. I found the “The War on Terror through Arab-American Eyes: The Arab-American Press as a Rhetorical Counterpublic” article to be most insightful and eye opening surrounding the Arab-Americans and their role as citizens pre/post September 11, 2001. As talked about in the article and in class, the performance of Arab-Americans to “prove” their citizenship is an interesting counter to assimilate to American ways. However, in the attempt to “prove oneself blameless” the performance of citizenship to be seen as “‘authentically’ American” is normally met with skepticism from non-Arab Americans. I believe Kaufer and Al-Malki highlight the important contradictory standards Arab Americans faced while projecting their Arab-American-ness as a security and response to the exigence post 9/11. I wonder if America will ever get to a place where they will be able to accept shows of patriotism or not place the burden on minority groups, pressuring them to act in these patriotic ways?

    • April 12, 2018 at 12:27 pm
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      Alex, I agree, the pressure on minorities to ‘prove’ their patriotism is problematic, especially since it is often met with skepticism as you said. As a result, minorities are put in a lose-lose situation since they are expected to assimilate to American society and buy in to the American way of life. However, when they do so , it can be seen by some as being inauthentic since they are still viewed as minorities that are not ‘true Americans.’ This double standard is entirely unfair of our society, especially considering that this is a nation built of immigrants. Hopefully society can trend in the direction of inclusivity and actually fulfill the identity of being the cultural melting pot that is often advertised.

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