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The lesser-evils paradigm for imagining Islam: U.S. executive branch (re)framing of Islam in the early Cold War era of racialized empire-building

Pasquinelli, Sydney (2018) The lesser-evils paradigm for imagining Islam: U.S. executive branch (re)framing of Islam in the early Cold War era of racialized empire-building. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Rhetorical criticism of declassified United States executive branch intelligence documents produced by the Truman and Eisenhower administrations (1945-1961) illuminates how US agents (re)imagined Islam in this crucial yet understudied era of racialized empire-building. Two case studies help unravel characteristics of this dominant discourse: The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to delegitimize the Nation of Islam by characterizing its leadership and doctrine as violent, racist, and unorthodox; and the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department’s simultaneous effort to validate Islam and Islamism in the Middle East by positing them as ideological forces against communism and Arab Nationalism. Interactional and interdisciplinary consideration of archived rhetorical artifacts uncovers how motives to expand US empire, quell anti-imperial and anti-racist resistance, and advance early Cold War objectives encouraged executive agents to reframe Islam. Tropic analysis reveals how the discourse of US intelligence deviated from Orientalism, a dominant discourse used to legitimize European colonialism, and originally deconstructed by Edward Said. By establishing identifications between Islam and the West, US agents rejected the discursive construction of a transcendental racial hierarchy between the Orient and the Occident. And by differentiating “good Muslims” from “bad Muslims,” agents ceased exclusively invoking the image of a monolithic and unchanging Islam. Designated the lesser-evils paradigm for imagining Islam, this post-Orientalist reconceptualization of Islam permitted US executive agents to form alliances with some (lesser-evil) Muslims, like Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood, while mobilizing forces against other (greater-evil) Muslims, like Elijah Muhammad and Gamal Abdul Nasser, and ultimately against the (greatest-evil) Soviet Union. Rooted in the logics of utilitarianism and governmentality, this paradigm helped US agents manipulate geopolitical identities to sustain a notion of Euro-American (white) geopolitical superiority, even as it began abandoning appeals to scientific racism which had undergirded European colonialism. Deconstructive criticism enhances scholarly understanding of the co-constitutive relationship between rhetoric and Western imperialism in the post-colonial era of US hegemony. Attunement to the US intelligence apparatus presents an opportunity to consider how domestic and foreign policy cohere into one “intermestic” imperial agenda, which is legitimated by, and which helps legitimate, the interacting constructions of anti-black racism and Islamophobia.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Pasquinelli, Sydneyspp15@pitt.eduspp15
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMitchell, Gordon R.gordonm@pitt.edugordonm
Committee MemberJohnson, Paul Elliotpaul.johnson@pitt.edupaul.johnson
Committee MemberKumar, Deepadkumar@comminfo.rutgers.edun/a
Committee MemberReid-Brinkley, Shanara Rosereidbrinkley@gmail.comn/a
Committee MemberLyne, Johnjlyne@pitt.edujlyne
Date: 28 June 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 27 October 2017
Approval Date: 28 June 2018
Submission Date: 20 March 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 190
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: rhetoric, rhetorical criticism, Islamophobia, anti-blackness, Nation of Islam, Islamism
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2018 19:23
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2018 19:23


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