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On Demonized Muslims and Vilified Jews: Between Theory and Politics

  • Joyce Dalsheim (a1)

In this article I engage the work of three scholars, each of whom speaks to reactions to Muslims or interventions in their lives in the United States and Europe. Each is critical of these reactions and interventions, and traces them to inconsistencies in liberal thought and practice. My purpose is to interrogate their theorizing by applying it to the interface of liberalism with another religious Other, one that tends to generate far less sympathy in the predominantly secular and liberal academy: religiously motivated Jewish settlers in Israeli-occupied territories. The first scholar is Saba Mahmood, who recently argued against U.S. involvement in trying to alter the theology and practices of Muslims in the Middle East. The second is Judith Butler, who in a 2008 article addressed Muslims in the Netherlands, the problems of citizenship, and the right to religious freedom. Finally, Talal Asad has spoken to issues of violence, arguing that suicide bombing is really not so different from state violences perpetrated by the United States and Israel. Each of their arguments contains critiques of secular liberalism and the contradictory ethics and inconsistencies within liberal thought and practice, and each carries different but related implications. My intent is to begin to explore the possibilities of applying the analyses of these writers to the case of conflict between religiously motivated settlers in Israeli-occupied territories and left-wing, secular, and liberal Israeli Jews. Although this case mirrors broader representations of “Islam and the West,” it is rarely considered in comparison when such representations are deconstructed. The questions raised through this uncomfortable comparison will, I hope, contribute to broader conversations about the challenges and complexities of living together with differences that may be threatening if not altogether incommensurable.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
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