“Devils from Our Past”. Racist Historicism in Contemporary Anti-Muslim Discourse

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal 31 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Benjamin OPRATKO, Department of Political Science, University of Vienna, Austria
“Devils from Our Past”. Racist Historicism in contemporary anti-Muslim discourse

This paper provides insights from original research on current forms of articulation of anti-Muslim racism in Austria. Combining theories of hegemony with Critical Discourse Analysis and Critical Race and Postcolonial Studies, I analyse interviews conducted with journalists and editors of major Austrian news media outlets (print and TV) to tackle the question: How can we understand the broad appeal of anti-Muslim discourse registered by recent research in ‘Islamophobia Studies‘? Or, put differently: What is it that allows anti-Muslim discourse to be articulated with a broad range of social positions and political allegiances, becoming part of an emerging social consensus?

Following Stuart Hall’s analysis of ‘moral panics’ in the context of a social and political crisis, I trace the discursive modalities in which Muslims are summoned as ‘folk devils’, and how they are linked within a wider ideological field of anti-Muslim racism. I specifically identify ‘racist historicism’ as a crucial discursive mechanism which allows actors from diverse social, cultural and political background to inscribe themselves into a common ideological horizon of anti-Muslim racism.

Anti-Muslim racist historicism is organised around the notion of Muslims as ‘non-contemporaneous others’, belonging to a different temporal order. One of the key topics articulated in this discursive operation is antisemitism. In this paper, I show how the articulation of the figure of the Muslim with the topic of antisemitism effects a ‘temporal othering’. Muslims are constructed quite literally as being ‘backwards’, belonging to a past where sexism, homophobia, violence, authoritarianism and, not least, anti-Semitism ruled the day, and which is represented as thoroughly overcome. The threatening presence of the Muslim other is thus revealed to be part of the summoning of a peculiar kind of folk devil: ‘The muslim’ as a ‘devil from our past’.