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Constructing civilisations: Embedding and reproducing the ‘Muslim world’ in American foreign policy practices and institutions since 9/11



Since 11 September 2001, the ‘Muslim world’ has become a novel religio-culturally defined civilisational frame of reference around which American foreign policy has been partly reoriented and reorganised. In parallel, the ‘Muslim world’, is increasingly becoming, at this historical juncture, a civilisational social fact in international politics by being progressively embedded in, and enacted onto the world by, American foreign policy discourses, institutions, practices, and processes of self-other recognition. This article theoretically understands and explains the causes and consequences of these changes through an engagement with the emerging post-essentialist civilisational analysis turn in International Relations (IR). In particular, the article furthers a constructivist civilisational politics approach that is theoretically, empirically, and methodologically oriented towards recovering and explaining how actors are interpreting, constructing, and reproducing – in this case through particular American foreign policy changes – an international society where intra- and inter-civilisational relations ‘matter’.



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1 Petito, Fabio, ‘In defence of dialogue of civilisations: With a brief illustration of the diverging agreement between Edward Said and Louis Massignon’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 39 (2011), pp. 759–79, 767.

2 Considerable generalisation is involved when using terms like ‘Islam’, ‘Muslims’, ‘Muslim world’, and ‘Islamic world’, hence the quotation marks at this point, which will be omitted given that the article traces the persistent and increasingly uncontested use of these categories as identity markers in US foreign policy.

3 George W. Bush, ‘“Islam is Peace” Says President: Remarks by the President at Islamic Center of Washington, DC’, available at: {} accessed 3 July 2013.

4 Barak Obama, ‘President Obama Addresses Muslim World in Cairo’, available at: {} accessed 3 July 2013}.

5 See, for example, Hady Amr, ‘The opportunity of the Obama era: Can civil society help bridge divides between the United States and a diverse Muslim world?’, Analysis Paper 1 (Doha: Brookings Doha Center, 2009); GAO, ‘U.S. public diplomacy: State department efforts to engage Muslim audiences lack certain communication elements and face significant challenges’ (Washington, DC: United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), 2006); Marc Lynch, ‘Rhetoric and reality: Countering terrorism in the age of Obama’ (Washington DC: Center for a New American Security, 2010).

6 Social facts are facts that ‘exist only because people collectively believe they exist and act accordingly’. Finnemore, Martha and Sikkink, Kathryne, ‘Taking stock: the constructivist research program in International Relations and comparative politics’, Annual Review of Political Science, 4 (2001), pp. 391416, 393.

7 Hall, Martin and Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, ‘Introduction: Civilizations and International Relations theory’, in Hall, and Jackson, (eds), Civilizational Identity: the Production and Reproduction of ‘Civilizations’ in International Relations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 112, 4.

8 Huntington, Samuel P., ‘The clash of civilizations?’, Foreign Affairs, 72 (1993), pp. 2249 ; Huntington, , The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

9 Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, ‘How to think about civilizations’, in Katzenstein, Peter J. (ed.), Civilizations in World Politics: Plural and Pluralist Perspectives (New York: Rountledge, 2010); see also Hall and Jackson (eds), Civilizational Identity (2007).

10 There are two broad ways of thinking about civilisation/s: in the ‘plural’ and in the ‘singular’. As Johann Arnason, argues, civilisations-in-the-plural are invoked when discussing ‘the criteria for distinguishing and comparing civilizations, the ways of drawing boundaries between them, or the various inventories and typologies which have been proposed by analysts of the field’ (p. 1). Civilisations are understood as distinct macrocultural, macrosocial, and/or macrohistorical units or contexts, which may rise and fall and interact in multiple ways, across time and space. Civilisation-in-the-singular is used, instead, when speaking ‘of the origins, achievements or prospects of civilization’ (p. 1). Civilisation is thought of as progress, as a certain standard of economic, social, political, and cultural attainment that distinguishes the ‘civilised’ from the ‘uncivilised’. Arnason, Johann P., Civilizations in Dispute: Historical Questions and Theoretical Traditions (Leiden: Brill, 2003). Even if the two concepts of civilisation/s, plural and singular, are distinct, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive as critical-reflexive approaches highlight.

11 Adib-Moghaddam, Arshin, A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations: Us and Them Beyond Orientalism (London: C. Hurst & Co., 2011); Bowden, Brett, The Empire of Civilization: the Evolution of an Imperial Idea (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Browning, Christopher S. and Lehti, Marko (eds), The Struggle for the West: a Divided and Contested Legacy (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010); Gheciu, Alexandra, Securing Civilization? the EU, NATO, and the OSCE in the Post-9/11 World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Hansen, Lene, Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War (Abingdion, Oxon: Routledge, 2006); Hobson, John M., The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics: Western International Theory, 1760–2010 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, Civilizing the Enemy: German Reconstruction and the Invention of the West (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006).

12 Bettiza, Gregorio, ‘Civilizational analysis in International Relations: Mapping the field and advancing a ‘civilizational politics’ line of research’, International Studies Review, 16 (2014), pp. 128 .

13 Bettiza, ‘Civilizational analysis’; O'Hagan, Jacinta, Conceptualizing the West in International Relations: From Spengler to Said (Houndmills, NY: Palgrave, 2002).

14 Petito, ‘In defence’.

15 Bettiza, ‘Civilizational analysis’.

16 Kumar, Deepa, ‘Framing Islam: The resurgence of Orientalism during the Bush II era’, Journal of Communication Inquiry, 34 (2010), pp. 254–77; Mullin, Corinna, Constructing Political Islam as the New Other: America and Its Post-War on Terror Politics (London: I. B. Tauris, 2013); Mustafa Kamal Pasha, ‘Civilizations, postorientalism, and Islam’, in Hall and Jackson (eds), Civilizational Identity (2007), pp. 61–79; Salter, Mark B., Barbarians and Civilization in International Relations (London;: Pluto Press, 2002); Mark B. Salter, ‘Not waiting for the barbarians’, in Hall and Jackson (eds), Civilizational Identity (2007), pp. 81–93.

17 O'Hagan, Conceptualizing; O'Hagan, ‘Discourses of civilizational identity’, in Hall and Jackson (eds), Civilizational Identity, pp. 15–31; Catarina Kinnvall, ‘Civilizations, neo-Gandhianism, and the Hindu self’, Civilizational Identity, pp. 95–108; Peter G. Mandaville, ‘The heterarchic Umma: Reading Islamic civilization from within’, Civilizational Identity, pp. 135–48.

18 Wendt, Alexander, ‘On constitution and causation in International Relations’, Review of International Studies, 24 (1998), pp. 101–18.

19 See especially Klotz, Audie and Lynch, Cecelia, ‘Translating terminologies’, International Studies Review, 8 (2006), pp. 356–62; Lupovici, Amir, ‘Constructivist methods: a plea and manifesto for pluralism’, Review of International Studies, 35 (2009), pp. 195218 ; Pouliot, Vincent, ‘“Sobjectivism”: Toward a constructivist methodology’, International Studies Quarterly, 51 (2007), pp. 359–84.

20 Walt, Stephen M., ‘Building up new bogeymen’, Foreign Policy, 106 (1997), pp. 176–89.

21 Ikenberry, G. John, ‘Just like the rest’, Foreign Affairs, 76 (1997), pp. 162–3.

22 Halliday, Fred, Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East (London: I. B. Tauris, 2002).

23 Edward Said, ‘The clash of ignorance’, The Nation (2001).

24 See Hoge, James F., The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2010).

25 Hall and Jackson, ‘Introduction’, p. 4

26 Ibid., p. 7.

27 I use here historical sociology in a broad sense to include work by scholars that generally are identified with historical materialist or more structural-oriented constructivist modes of theorising. See Cox, Robert, ‘Thinking about civilizations’, Review of International Studies, 26 (2000), pp. 217–34; Hobson, John M., The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Katzenstein (ed.), Civilizations in World Politics; Puchala, Donald J., ‘International encounters of another kind’, Global Society: Journal of Interdisciplinary International Relations, 11 (1997), pp. 529 .

28 On civilisations-in-the-plural and civilisation-in-the-singular see fn. 10.

29 The critical-reflexive perspective is a broad tent that includes scholars working from critical theoretical, poststructural, postcolonial, and more postpositivist constructivist approaches. For examples, see fn. 11.

30 Bettiza, ‘Civilizational analysis’.

31 As Stefano Guzzini puts it, constructivism is in its broadest form about the social construction of meaning/knowledge and about the construction of social reality. Given these premises, the constructivism identified here is largely analytical-explanatory, rather than critical-reflexive, in character. This means it is less concerned with problematising the power-knowledge nexus, focusing instead on exploring the power that actors' meaning have in bringing about international change and in constituting social reality. Stefano Guzzini, A Reconstruction of Constructivism in International Relations, 6 (2000), pp. 147–82, 149.

32 O'Hagan, Conceptualizing, p. 11.

33 Ibid., and Bettiza, ‘Civilizational analysis’.

34 Petito, ‘In defence’.

35 Halliday, Islam, 7

36 On discourses and social construction see, among many, Milliken, Jennifer, ‘The study of discourse in International Relations: a critique of research and methods’, European Journal of International Relations, 5 (1999), pp. 225–54.

37 On the power of institutions and, especially, practices in ‘reify[ing] background knowledge and discourse in and on the material world’, see Adler, Emanuel and Pouliot, Vincent, ‘International Practices’, International Theory, 3 (2011), pp. 136, 6.

38 On recognition and identity construction see, among many, Lebow, Richard Ned, ‘Identity and International Relations’, International Relations, 22 (2008), pp. 473–92.

39 Bettiza, ‘Civilizational analysis’.

40 See fn. 16.

41 Lebow, ‘Identity and international relations’.

42 See fn. 17.

43 Williams, Michael C. and Neumann, Iver B., ‘From alliance to security community: NATO, Russia, and the power of identity’, Millennium-Journal of International Studies, 29 (2000), pp. 357–87.

44 Wendt, ‘On constitution and causation’.

45 On combining discourse analysis with process tracing see Klotz and Lynch, ‘Translating terminologies’; Lupovici, ‘Constructivist methods’; Pouliot, ‘“Sobjectivism”’.

46 Katzenstein, ‘A world’, pp. 12–13.

47 Ibid., p. 13

48 Haas, Peter M., ‘Introduction: Epistemic communities and international policy coordination’, International Organization, 46 (1992), pp. 135, 3.

49 Bevir, Mark, Daddow, Oliver, and Hall, Ian, ‘Introduction: Interpreting British foreign policy’, The British Journal of Politics & International Relations, 15 (2013), pp. 163–74.

50 Ayoob, Mohammed, The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2008); Kepel, Gilles, Jihad: the Trail of Political Islam (London: I. B. Tauris, 2002); Roy, Olivier, Globalized Islam: the Search for a New Ummah (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

51 Bevir, Daddow, and Hall, ‘Introduction’.

52 For discourses as schemas that define categories of thought and action, see Milliken, ‘The study of discourse’, pp. 231–36.

53 Principled beliefs are ‘beliefs about right and wrong’ prescribing the appropriate norms of conduct; causal beliefs are ‘beliefs about cause-effect, or means-end, relationships’; and policy ideas are ‘special programmatic ideas that derive from causal or principled beliefs or from ideologies … ideas that facilitate policymaking by specifying how to solve particular policy problems’. Tannenwald, Nina, ‘Ideas and explanation: Advancing the theoretical agenda’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 7 (2005), pp. 1342, 16.

54 Checkel, Jeffrey, ‘Tracing causal mechanisms’, International Studies Review, 8 (2006), pp. 362–70, 364.

55 Ibid.

56 Haas, ‘Introduction’, p. 30.

57 Quoted from James G. McGann, ‘European think tanks: Regional and trans-Atlantic trends’, Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania, 2009, p. 16.

58 Lewis, Bernard, ‘What went wrong?’, Atlantic Monthly, 289 (2002), pp. 43–5.

59 Huntington, The Clash, pp. 217–18.

60 Huntington, ‘The clash of civilizations?; Huntington, The Clash; Lewis, Bernard, ‘The roots of Muslim rage’, The Atlantic Monthly, 266 (1990), pp. 4760 ; Lewis, Bernard, ‘The West and the Middle East’, Foreign Affairs, 76 (1997), pp. 114–30.

61 I borrow language from Mamdani, Mahmood, ‘Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: A political perspective on culture and terrorism’, American Anthropologist, 104 (2002), pp. 766–75.

62 See, for example, Frum, David and Perle, Richard N., An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (New York: Random House, 2003); Joshua Muravchik and Charlie Szrom, ‘In Search of Moderate Muslims’, American Enterprise Institute, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013; Podhoretz, Norman, World War IV: the Long Struggle Against Islamofascism (New York: Doubleday, 2007).

63 Cheryl Benard, ‘Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies’, RAND Corporation Report (2003); RAND, ‘The Muslim world after 9/11’, Project Air Foce, RAND Corporation Report, (2004); Angel Rabasa, Cheryl Benard, Lowell H. Schwartz, and Peter Sickle (eds), ‘Building moderate muslim networks’, Center For Middle East Public Policy, RAND Corporation (2007).

64 See, for example, the series Trends in Islamist Ideology, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

65 For a more detailed overview of neoconservative thinking on Islam and the Muslim world, see Lynch, Timothy J., ‘Kristol Balls: Neoconservative visions of Islam and the Middle East’, International Politics, 45 (2008), pp. 182211 .

66 US-Muslim Engagement Project, ‘Changing course: A new direction for US relations with the Muslim world’, Report of the Leadership Group on US–Muslim Engagement (Washington DC: 2009).

67 See Ahmed, Akbar S., Journey Into America: the Challenge of Islam (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2010); Esposito, John L. and Mogahed, Dalia, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (New York: Gallup Press, 2007); Esposito, John L. and Voll, John O., Islam and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

68 Rashad Hussain and al-Husein N. Madhany, ‘Reformulating the Battle of Ideas: Understanding the Role of Islam in Counterterrorism Policy’, Analysis Paper, the Brookings Project on US Relations with the Islamic world (2008), p. ix.

69 US-Muslim Engagement Project, ‘Changing Course’.

70 Hussain and Madhany, ‘Reformulating’, p. ix.

71 Forst, Brian and Ahmed, Akbar S., After Terror: Promoting Dialogue Among Civilizations (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005).

72 See Esposito, John L., Islam and Politics (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991); Esposito, John L., The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Esposito, John L., The Future of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

73 See Mandaville, Peter G., Transnational Muslim Politics: Reimagining the Umma (London: Routledge, 2001); Mandaville, Peter G., Global Political Islam (London: Routledge, 2005).

74 See fn. 3.

75 Dick Cheney, ‘Vice President's Remarks at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia Luncheon Honoring Professor Bernard Lewis’, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013. See also Ian Buruma, ‘Lost in translation’, The New Yorker, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

76 For instance, Elliot Abrams, who in Bush's National Security Council (NSC) held key senior advisory positions on democracy promotion and the Middle East, has repeatedly argued that the ‘struggle against Islamic extremism is a battle of ideas as well as a military and police activity’. For Abrams, focusing on ‘fighting terrorist attacks’ is not sufficient to win this war, America needs to ‘[fight] Islamic extremism’ more broadly. Elliott Abrams, ‘The Citizen of the World Presidency’, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

77 Fukuyama, Francis, ‘The neoconservative moment’, The National Interest, 76 (2004), pp. 57a–68 ; Mann, Jimm, Rise of the Vulcans: the History of Bush's War Cabinet (New York: Viking, 2004).

78 NSS, ‘The National Security Strategy of the United States of America’ (2002), available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

79 See {} accessed 20 October 2013.

80 See Dalacoura, Katerina, ‘U.S. democracy promotion in the Arab Middle East since 11 September 2001: a critique’, International Affairs, 81 (2005), pp. 963–79; and Lynch, ‘Kristol Balls’, p. 201.

81 ‘George Bush's Speech to the UN General Assembly’, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

82 Thomas Carothers, ‘Democracy: Terrorism's uncertain antidote’, Current History (2003), pp. 403–6, 403.

83 Haass, Richard N., ‘Toward greater democracy in the Muslim world’, Washington Quarterly, 26 (2003), pp. 137–48, 144.

84 See {} accessed 20 October 2013.

85 Jeremy M. Sharp, ‘U.S. Foreign Assistance to the Middle East: Historical Background, Recent Trends, and the FY2011 Request’, CRS Report for Congress (Washington DC: 2010), pp. 19–20.

86 GAO, ‘U.S. Public Diplomacy: Interagency Coordination Efforts Hampered by the Lack of a National Communication Strategy’ (Washington, DC: United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), 2005).

87 Ibid.

88 PCC, ‘U.S. National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication’ (Washington: Communication and Public Diplomacy Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC), 2007), p. 3.

89 Ibid.

90 See Amr, ‘The opportunity’.

91 ‘A U.S. ear in the Muslim world’, Asia Times, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

92 David E. Kaplan, ‘Of Jihad Networks and the War of Ideas’, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013; David. E. Kaplan, ‘Hearts, Minds, and Dollars: In an Unseen Front in the War on Terrorism, America is Spending Millions … To Change the Very Face of Islam’, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

93 Lynch, ‘Rhetoric and reality’, p. 15.

95 Emily Pease, ‘U.S. Efforts to Reform Education in the Middle East’, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013, pp. 8, 15.

96 Amr, ‘The opportunity’, p. 8.

97 William Inboden, ‘Personal communication’, phone conversation, 29 June 2011. Inboden was Senior Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Council during the second Bush administration.

98 Al-Qaeda based much of its ideological appeal on a clash of civilisation narrative and an essentialisation of the West opposing Islam and Muslims. See, among many, Kepel, Gilles and Ghazaleh, Pascale, Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: the Future of the Middle East (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

99 See {} accessed 20 October 2013.

101 John L. Esposito, ‘It's the policy, stupid: Political Islam and US foreign policy’, Harvard International Review (2 May 2007).

103 Ahmed, Journey, p. 6. See, also, Forst and Ahmed, After Terror.

104 See fn. 67.

105 Obama, Barak, ‘Renewing American leadership’, Foreign Affairs, 86 (2007), pp. 216 .

106 On Obama's priorities see Amr, ‘The opportunity’, p. 7.

107 For a detailed comparison of Obama's strategy and the report see R S. Zaharna, ‘Obama, U.S. public iplomacy and the Islamic world’, Word Politics Review, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

108 ‘A New Era of Partnerships: Report of Recommendations to the President’, President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Washington, DC (2010), pp. 69–93.

109 During his childhood Obama lived in Indonesia, he would often describe his Kenyan father as ‘Muslim’.

110 Before Cairo, Obama had also made similar conciliatory overtures towards a category of people and states singularly identified with their religious identity as Muslim and supposed shared beliefs in Islam. For instance during his inaugural address, in an early interview to Arab TV channels, and during a state visit in Turkey. For instance during his inaugural address, in an early interview to Arab TV channels, and during a state visit in Turkey.

111 Obama, ‘President Obama Addresses Muslim World’, speech, Cairo, 2009.

112 NSS, ‘The National Security Strategy’ (2010), available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013, pp. 19–22.

113 Lynch, ‘Rhetoric and reality’, pp. 18–20.

115 Meaning someone who has memorised the Quran.

117 See Andrea Elliott, ‘White House quietly courts Muslims in U.S.’, The New York Times, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

118 {} accessed 20 October 2013.

119 Lynch, ‘Rhetoric and reality’, p. 19.

122 Lynch, ‘Rhetoric and reality’, p. 20.

123 See also Olivier Roy and Justin Vaisse, ‘How to win Islam over’, The New York Times, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

124 Farah Pandith, ‘Plenary Session Roundtable: Perspectives on Muslim Engagement featuring Farah Pandith’, US Relations with the Muslim World: One Year After Cairo Conference, Washington, DC 2010, available at: {} accessed 20 October 2013.

125 This article does not claim that all American debates about how to respond to 9/11 were framed along civilisational lines. Nor that the entirety of America's response to the attacks of 9/11 and its Middle Eastern foreign policy have been influenced by civilisational-in-the-plural discourses. What has been shown, hopefully successfully, is that that these discourses have become an authoritative source of American foreign policy thinking and practice following the events of 9/11.

* The author would like to thank Emanuel Adler, Mark Bevir, Maria Birnbaum, Adam Bower, Timothy Byrnes, Oliver Daddow, Katerina Dalacoura, Peter Katzenstein, and Fabio Petito for invaluable comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of the article. The author would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the journal editors for their detailed and constructive comments. The article benefitted from feedback at the 2012 joint BISA-ISA International Conference in Edinburgh, the 2013 ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshop in Maintz in 2013, and post-graduate research seminars on IR and on Religion and Politics held at the European University Institute (EUI). Finally I would like to thank the EUI's Max Weber Programme and its team for the support I received while writing the article. Any errors or mistakes are solely my own.

Constructing civilisations: Embedding and reproducing the ‘Muslim world’ in American foreign policy practices and institutions since 9/11



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