Why did you write “This Muslim American Life”?
American society hasn’t really grappled with the way that it has changed during the War on Terror. We now live in an age of permanent war, and that war has justified everything from the government spying on its citizens (NSA surveillance) to the CIA torturing its detainees. We have adopted innovative forms of warfare (drones) and incarceration (Guantanamo Bay) without thinking through their consequences. And Muslim Americans are collectively caricatured, blamed and discriminated against, both by the public and by policy.
One way of thinking about these changes is to consider what I call a “War on Terror culture.” When we think of the Cold War, we think of the constant war-footing in American culture, the stereotypical images of people from the Soviet Union, even of a kind of palette of colors. (The FX show “The Americans” plays with this brilliantly.) Cold War culture changed the legal landscape of the country. It stoked our paranoia and drove our foreign policy. It influenced our novelists, painters, poets and filmmakers. And all of these fields—legal, political, entertainment—fed off of each other to create a broader Cold War culture. I think we see something similar operating right now, which we haven’t come to terms with.
But War on Terror culture is also different from Cold War culture. For one thing, there are 3 to 6 million Muslims living in this country today, and they feel the brunt of War on Terror culture directly. That’s different than during the Cold War, when the number of people in the United States from the Soviet Union was smaller and many had come as ideological dissidents. War on Terror culture also imagines Muslims in ideological terms, but it often further casts them as fundamentally dangerous because of their cultural, ethnic and religious ties as well.
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