Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The tradition of the west defines its modernity as a radical rupture with endless possibilities for egalitarian futures, yet the constitution of the west was rooted in the genocide of indigenous populations, transatlantic racial slavery and colonialism. Moreover, this violence was gendered and sexualized, it also pervaded the Orientalism that shaped the encounter of the emergent west with Muslim societies in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
This paper examines what the histories of race and coloniality, and their attendant gender and sexual politics, reveal about the contemporary formation of the west. Focusing on US nationalism and Canadian multiculturalism, I study their relation to Orientalism and its transmutation into Islamopobia in relation to North American Muslim communities. The cultural politics of these two nation-states are presently defined as antithetical: the US is seen as attempting a return to its foundational racial/gender ideologies while Canada is considered to have transcended its racial/colonial past. Comparing the cultural politics of both, I highlight the divergences as well as convergences in the constitution of their national imaginaries with regard to Islam and Muslims. My study demonstrates that although the white supremacist discourse that now constitutes US nationalism is at variance from the multiculturalism that shapes Canadian national identity, the experiences of Muslim communities, particularly Muslim women, demonstrates these discourses to be twin aspects of the ongoing racial/colonial and gender/sexual politics that give meaning to the west.