Prejudice, Hegemony, and Distorted Communication. Three Ways of Conceptualizing Anti-Muslim Racism

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Floris BISKAMP, University of Kassel, Germany
While there is a growing consensus that such a thing as islamophobia or anti-Muslim racism does exist, the ways of conceptualizing this phenomenon differ strongly. The two most common approaches are conceptualizing it as prejudice or as hegemonic discourse. In my paper, I will elaborate the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches and then propose a third approach combining their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses.

The discussion of Islamophobia as a prejudice was prominently introduced by the 1997 Runnymede Report and has since been particularly relevant for quantitative scholarship. From this perspective, Islamophobia is discussed as a phenomenon of individual consciousness. The most commonly named defining marks of prejudicial consciousness are homogenization, rejection, and distortion. This implicitly distinguishes prejudicial consciousness from a consciousness living up to the standards of critical thinking. The resulting ability to discern prejudice from rational critique is the most important strength of this approach. However, the focus on individual consciousness makes this approach blind to dynamics of discourse and power.

The understanding of anti-Muslim racism as a hegemonic discourse can be traced back to Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) and has recently been employed by a growing number of scholars. Building on notions from Foucault and Gramsci, this approach highlights the very dynamics of power and discourse to which the prejudice approach remains oblivious. However, abstaining from a strong concept of reason, this approach shows reductionist tendencies, rendering it unable to distinguish racist speech from legitimate utterances.

To combine the strengths of both approaches, I propose introducing Habermas’s concept of “systematically distorted communication”. Since this concept builds on a notion of reason not located in individual consciousness but in discourse itself, it is able to distinguish racist discourses from critical debates while also accounting for dynamics of power and discourse.