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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Terror Talk: A Genealogy of the Racialization of the Muslim Body and of Right Wing Anti-Terrorism Rhetoric in Trump’s America

(2017)

On September 11th , 2001, men working for the extremist group, Al-Qaeda, hijacked commercial airplanes and targeted several United States federal buildings: The Pentagon, The White House, and the World Trade Center in New York City. This caused an uproar within the US state and civil society, along with a mass-media coverage on the “terrorist” attacks; this event also resulted in an outbreak of hate-crimes towards Muslims, and those who were believed to be Muslim. The Muslim body was somehow identifiable. A set of religious beliefs turned into an indicator of appearance, and it was the way that the United States utilized biopolitical tactics to marginalize and control this new racial “other.” It is tactics such as Special Registration, among others like preemptive strike that were implemented by the Bush administration that exacerbate the discourse surrounding Muslims as “terrorists.” The term becomes racialized, and the identity of the Muslim becomes intertwined within its meaning. Islam as a religion has been turned into something that can be aesthetically identified. Things like special registration have become ways to make legible and simplify a set of religious beliefs. Sets of thoughts. Ideas.

On November 9th 2017 Donald Trump was elected as the next president of the United States. The predecessor to the first black president--Barack Obama--and former reality TV star, was inaugurated in January 2017. The rhetoric during his campaign explicitly targeted minority communities such as the black, latinx, and Muslim population living in the United States. Trump’s tactics such as the border wall, discrimination towards black people, and the Muslim ban heightened the number of hate crimes. Donald Trump’s rhetoric spurs from a long-intact pattern of the Muslim as “other.” In this thesis, I trace a genealogy to reveal the structures that were the foundation of the United States that allow President Donald Trump to continue using the rhetoric of terror to expel Muslims from this country. I analyze Donald Trump's Muslim Ban, the president's own rhetoric, as well as alt right news media. I use Giorgio Agamben’s framework of the state of exception, as well as the histories involving the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of the Moors to lay bare the power structures that created what Nicholas DeGenova calls the specter of Terror.

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Monstrous Mechanized Man: The Transubstantiated Laboring Body in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

(2017)

The mechanization of labor and its effects on the body are central concerns in Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick. In Call Me Ishmael Charles Olson provides an historical context for the status of whaling in the mid-19th century. Olson insists that critics have not placed enough emphasis on whaling’s influence on the American economy, and reminds us that, “whaling expanded at a time when agriculture not industry was the base of labor” (18). Despite agriculture’s prominence, Olson understands whaling as industrially innovative, and so reads the “whale ship as factory” (23). Correspondingly, industrial transformation requires the transformation of the laboring body. Thomas Carlyle’s prescient essay “Signs of the Times” (1829) explores how mechanization extends beyond the factory, converting man and his social relations into mechanisms designed to maximize value production. On the basis of these two claims, my project will explore how whaling transforms not simply the laboring body of the crew, but also that of their captain as he, in turn, transubstantiates the crew and the vessel (the ship of state) into an instrument apt to the ends of industrial capital. Through an examination of Ahab’s leg, my second chapter explores how Captain Ahab perceives that his transubstantiated leg grants him access to the metaphysical. My third chapter reveals how Ahab’s body complicates his attempts to scorn his physical limitations, a scorn that highlights the absolute mixing of his body with the logic of capital. I conclude with an inquiry into Ishmael’s use of free indirect discourse to argue that in choosing to listen primarily to Ahab’s voice, Ishmael precludes himself from imagining any ending other than the Pequod’s death.

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The Gospel of Mary: Reclaiming Feminine Narratives Within Books Excluded from the Bible

(2017)

Religious history is often preserved by the winners of ideological debates. The twenty-seven books composing the New Testament canon were selected by prevailing players in the battle for ideological supremacy within the early Christian movement and the emerging Catholic Church. The struggle culminated with an accepted definition of orthodoxy and a tradition of apostolic succession for legitimizing religious texts. The Gospel of Mary is an early Christian text deemed unorthodox by the men who shaped the nascent Catholic church, was excluded from the canon, and was subsequently erased from the history of Christianity along with most narratives that demonstrated women’s contributions to the early Christian movement. My thesis explores the intricacies of early canon formation within the context of the controversy surrounding women’s participation in authoritative roles within early Christianity and how the Gospel of Mary was labeled as an unorthodox text due to its pro-feminine narrative. I maintain that the motive for excluding the Gospel of Mary was not the text’s lack of conformity to the requirements of apostolic succession or orthodoxy, but was grounded within the struggle to suppress the agency and participation of women from the patriarchal hierarchy that defined the developing structure of the Catholic Church. I claim the exclusion of the gynocentric narrative of the Gospel of Mary facilitated the androcentric interpretation of religious doctrine and history that has predominated Christian scholarship for almost two millennia.

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Blood, Guns, and Plenty of Explosions: The Evolution of American Television Violence

(2017)

American television, as a mass medium of storytelling, often gets scrutiny over its content, facing industry standards, censorship, and audience pushback. While sex and obscenity have been intensely studied, TV violence has had most scholarship aimed at the effects of viewing violence. This study is focused in a different direction, seeking to analyze the evolving presentation of violence on American airwaves. TV violence is composed of two parts: The first is the graphic portrayal of violence through fights, gunshots, and death. The second is the role violence serves within TV narratives, which has morphed from acts of justice and self-defense to plotlines intertwining moral indifference with pointless killing and righteous vengeance. Three case studies utilizing close reading and image analysis of various shows are used to analyze both aspects of TV violence. The first case study centers on Bonanza, a TV western that presents violence within strict moral boundaries. The second looks at The Day After, a TV movie that employed special effects, dialogue, and set design to portray the aftermath of nuclear Armageddon. The third case study analyzes The Walking Dead, a culmination of the changing TV landscape of the 2000s that led to a hyperreal level of graphic violence and storylines that emphasized moral ambiguity, villains that escaped punishment, and endless death. The portrayal of violence on American television has changed drastically in the last 80 years, and this study hopes to reflect the reciprocal relationship between a changing TV industry and a shifting American society.

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When Things Fall Apart: Understanding (in) the Postcolonial Situation

(2017)

Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) published his major novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), in postcolonial Nigeria. In it he presents a colonial narrative using English as its primary mode of communication. However, his use of native Igbo words and the world they invoke problematizes a eurocentric assumption of the totality and universality of a given language, in this case, English. He employs acts of translation and introduces hybrid languages in order to engender dialogue that subverts the dominance of any one language and the world that it creates for its speakers. In a parallel fashion, this thesis uses two different theoretical approaches that have not typically been placed in dialogue with each other — postcolonial theory and hermeneutics — to view and interpret the nuances present in Achebe’s text that neither could illuminate on its own. This dialogical approach reveals insufficiencies in the independent theories and allows them to mutually supplement each other. Together these theories show how the novel subverts the presumed authority of the English language and universalizing discourses in order to identify the confrontation of lived linguistic worlds and horizons in the postcolonial context. The novel reorients those structures of understanding and interpretation around a subject that has historically been denied a voice.

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