Monash University
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War without end? One thousand years of anti-Islam discourse

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posted on 2017-02-02, 02:37 authored by Lyons, Jonathan Samuel
The years since the terrorist attacks on the United States of 11 September 2001 have seen the West revert to a familiar historical trajectory, one dating back a millennium and extending into the foreseeable future. This is the running contestation with the world of Islam. Underpinning this phenomenon is a persistent anti-Islam discourse whose roots can be traced to the early Western images of the Muslims, essentially Church propaganda crafted in the eleventh century CE amid the mobilization for the First Crusade. In such an atmosphere, a distinct portrait began to take shape, with the practices and beliefs of the Muslims conceived as mirror-images of self-evident Christian virtues: Islam is a religion of violence and cruelty; Mohammad and the Qu’ran stand for falsehood and deception; Muslims are sexual deviants. Later accretions to this discourse include a string of essentialist ideas that remain regular features in today’s political arena, on the Internet, on “talk” radio, and with greater erudition but much the same substance in the so-called quality press, and, all too frequently, in the Academy: Muslims are backward and fearful of modernity; the West is rational, Islam is fanatical; Muslims are jealous of Western lifestyles; they hate women; they are anti-democratic and despise Western notions of civic freedoms. Contemporary currents in sociology, from secularization theory to notions of globalization, have failed to predict or explain the appearance today of a “resurgent” Islam, or to account for what it is that Muslims say, and do, and believe in any meaningful way (Sutton and Vertigans 2005). Likewise, traditional Western history of ideas has proven unable to explain the unchanging nature of the anti-Islam discourse in the face of ever-new data amassed in ten centuries of trade, travel, study, warfare, and so on. These shortcomings exercise a profound, corrosive effect on a range of issues across the contemporary social sciences, including sociology, politics, intellectual history, law, theology, international relations, human rights, and security studies. In response, this thesis applies the analytical techniques of Michel Foucault to explore the creation of the anti-Islam discourse in the medieval period and the social, intellectual, and political influences that this has exerted ever since. It then applies a sociological framework which revolves around one central theoretical position – that the very idea of Islam has been perpetuated by those Western social groups and institutions that stand to benefit from its survival. Three interrelated research questions are examined: How is this discourse formed? How does it operate? And, lastly, Cui bono? Who benefits? Specific themes of concern to the contemporary West – Islam and science; Islam and violence; and Islam and women – are then explored in terms of these questions. Finally, new avenues for future research are proposed that would set aside, or “reverse,” central aspects of the anti-Islam discourse and open the way for sociologists and other social sciences to begin to fill the considerable gaps in the Western idea of Islam.


Principal supervisor

Gary Bouma

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Political and Social Inquiry


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts