“In the burgeoning literature seeking to explain our global crisis, when commentators attempt to unearth the basis of the divide between the West and the rest — or, as it seems to be increasingly expressed, Islam and ‘our’ values — sexuality emerges again and again as a central theme. In a kind of echo of anti-western critiques, champions of the West also seem to believe that sexuality is central to western culture and values. Somehow, and I acknowledge that this is alongside the more explicit objectives of security and access to resources, the global battles of our time are refracted through the prism of sexuality.
“I don’t want to distance myself from the claims of sexual freedom or even of the image of sex as freedom. My point is not that we should berate ourselves for participating in such a superficial and dehumanising sexual culture. Of course, it may be possible for commodified sexual experience to be enriching and even freeing. However, the investment of so-called western cultures (which may be better described as so-called market democracies) in an opposition between ‘our’ sexual freedom and ‘their’ sexual repression shapes our mutual misunderstanding and ongoing conflict(s). The dreams of western sexual freedom shape the manner of western torture. How we can imagine humiliation and pain becomes linked to this imagining of freedom. Most of all, the belief that sexual freedom is ours and that ‘they’ envy, resent, misunderstand and wish to destroy precisely this most precious and everyday aspect of our culture shapes popular conceptions of the enemy. In the manner of other earlier racialised myths, beliefs about sexuality add to the imaginary embodiment of the demon other.”
- Gargi Bhattacharyya, Dangerous Brown Men, 2008.
Also see also: “Ethnic Borders in American Muslim Communities,” Jamillah Karim, from Constructing Borders/Crossing Boundaries: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration.
On coexisting compliance with and subversion of the black/white color line in the U.S.
“Becoming ‘White’: Race, Religion, and the Foundations of Syrian/Lebanese Ethnicity in the United States,” Sarah Gualtieri, Journal of American Ethnic History, Summer 2001.
“This essay argues that Syrians, like other immigrant groups, became white only after they had successfully claimed whiteness, and when law and custom confirmed it. This did not happen without considerable debate. If, as the literature argues, the ruling in Dow v. United States represented a victory for Syrians, it was because it had been preceded by so much uncertainty as to their racial classification. I suggest in the conclusion that, while Syrians had cause to celebrate the legal recognition of their whiteness, there were (and still are) reasons to be profoundly ambivalent about the process by which their claims to whiteness were made. …
“Racial classification was not, of course, an affair of the courts only. Legal decisions were influential in producing and disseminating a discourse on race, but they alone cannot fully explain how and why Syrians participated in this discourse and produced knowledge about themselves as racial beings. The second part of this essay, therefore, explores the reaction of Syrians to the naturalization issue, specifically to its racial dimensions. Simply put, Syrians wanted to be recognized as white because it made them eligible for citizenship and the privileges it afforded (such as the right to vote and travel more freely); but being white was not the only way to gain naturalization. It was also possible, since the amendment of the naturalization statute in 1875, to argue for naturalization on the basis of African nativity or descent. Yet, not a single applicant in the racial prerequisite cases — Syrian or otherwise — attempted to make this argument. One could argue that it would have been inherently illogical for Syrians to argue for naturalization on the basis of African nativity or descent since Syria was not in Africa. However, as this essay attempts to show, arguments in favor of Syrian whiteness were rooted more in ideology than logic, for there was nothing more fanciful, ridiculous and illogical than the idea that whiteness could be linked to a single skull; that of a Georgian woman found in the Caucasus. The main reason Syrians chose to stake their claim to citizenship on the basis of membership in the ‘white race’ was that there was some thing compelling, even alluring, about whiteness that went beyond the strategic and the practical. …”
See also: Gualtieri, Sarah. Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora. Berkeley: University of California, 2009.
“Culture clashes were essential to the success of racial myths, for throughout history the foreigner outside the tribe has never been truly welcome.”
— George L. Mosse, Toward the Final Solution
“Mosse’s observation that racial myths depend upon the language of culture (our culture is more developed than theirs) is an important reminder of why it is dangerous to consider culture apart from racism. The close connection between assertions of cultural difference and racism has meant that in white societies the smallest reference to cultural differences between the European majority and Third World peoples (Muslims in particular) triggers an instant chain of associations (the veil, female genital mutilation, arranged marriages, etc.). This chain ends with the declared superiority of European culture, imagined as a homogeneous composite of values, including a unique commitment to democracy and human rights, and to the human rights of women in particular. Culture clash, in which the West has values and modernity and the non-West has culture, consolidates membership in the dominant group; it provides belonging by enabling dominant groups to imagine that they share something in common that marks them as superior. …
“Apart from the decontextualization and dehistoricization that underpin the explanation of culture clash, in which the West and the Rest exist as discrete and unrelated entities forever frozen at different levels of development, a disturbing spatializing of morality occurs in the story of culture clash and its underpinning Enlightenment narrative of progress that facilitates the use of force. We have reason; they do not. We are located in modernity; they are not. Significantly, because they have not advanced as we have, it is our moral obligation to correct, discipline, and keep them in line. In doing so, the West has often denied the benefits of modernity to those it considers to be outside its bounds. Evicted from the universal, and thus from civilization and progress, the non-West occupies a zone outside the law. Violence may be directed at it with impunity.”
— From “Geopolitics, Culture Clash, and Gender After September 11,” Sherene Razack, Social Justice, Vol. 32, No. 4 (2005).
am writing to you
already falsifies what I
wanted to tell you.
how to explain to you that I
don’t belong to English
though I belong nowhere else” —Gustavo Pérez Firmat, Bilingual Blues: Poems, 1981-1994