The Cultural Roots of American Islamicism By Timothy Marr (Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 309 pages.)

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Juliane Hammer

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Abstract

Perceptions of the “other” are a powerful force in day-to-day human interaction,
as well as in domestic and international politics. Since the publication
of Edward Said’s Orientalism almost three decades ago, many scholars
have appropriated and debated his thesis about the reality-changing power
of European (and American) discourses on Muslims and Arabs. In the book
under review, Timothy Marr, professor of English in the American Studies
Curriculum department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,
simultaneously broadens and criticizes Said’s ideas.
The Cultural Roots of American Islamicism (a somewhat misleading
title for a fascinating book) offers a rich analysis of how Americans appropriated
images of Islam, Muslim societies, and the Middle East during the
seventeenth to nineteenth centuries for various political, social, and cultural
– but ultimately American – purposes related to domestic and international
issues. The author argues that such perceptions, in light of their complex and
multiple uses in American history, are significant because they continue to
shape contemporary American approaches to the Muslim world.
Marr advances this thesis by looking at an impressive array of historical
sources and documents, as well as secondary literature on various aspects of
American history and culture, in which he finds a multitude of references to
Islam and Muslims (or Turks, Saracens etc., respectively). His analysis of
these references offers a stunning kaleidoscope of American images of the
Muslim “other,” but reveals far more about the inner dynamics of American
nation-building and cultural self-definition than about Islam or Muslims ...

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