Imagery and Empire: Understanding the Western Fear of Arab and Muslim Terrorists

It has been claimed that if all terrorists are not Arabs or Muslims, that most terrorists are Arabs or Muslims. Is this true or another myth? An empirical look at data compiled in the US and Europe will help answer this question.

The notion that the majority of terrorist attacks are committed by Arabs or Muslims not only lacks a historical perspective, but is an unempirical argument that is tied to modern Orientalism that is alive and kicking. Orientalism, itself is heavily tied to US views of exceptionalism. It is an area of thinking where exceptionalist and racist views coincide profoundly. In fact, there is a thin line between all three.

In an outdated linear and geo-ethnocentric way of thinking, whatever societies are located east, as well as south, of the US, Canada, and Western Europe — particularly France, Britain, and the Germanic-speaking countries — are viewed as deficient and inferior. In Europe, this means everyone east of Germany is either tacitly or overtly portrayed as culturally backward. This means the Balkans, Slavic peoples, Albanians, Greeks, Turks, Romanians, Orthodox Christianity, and the ex-Soviet republics.

Under Orientalist thinking in the US, even lower on the totem pole are non-Europeans. This means the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Like exceptionalist attitudes, Orientalist views are important for supporting Washington’s foreign policy and wars as a noble enterprise. US Orientalist attitudes see the rest of the world, from Mexico to Iraq and Russia, as needing US tutelage and stewardship. This is a reconstruction of what was called the «white man’s burden» that was used to justify the colonization of people that were perceived as non-whites.

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