Georgetown Professor’s New Book Tackles the Long History of Islamophobia in the U.S.

Oct 19, 2015

Professor of History at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) Karine Walther will be on hand at the school’s public book store on October 19 at 6:00pm for the launch of her widely praised book, titled: “Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921,” about the deep history of American Islamophobia, showing how negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims shaped U.S. foreign relations from the Early Republic to the end of World War I.

Relying on research of American diplomatic archives, as well as non-government sources such as the correspondence of Protestant missionaries and humanitarian organizations, Dr. Walther builds a clear picture of U.S. reactions to and involvement in major events that were taking place in the Muslim world, including the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Jewish life under Muslim authority in Morocco, American attempts to aid Christians during the Armenian Genocide and American colonial policies in the Philippines. Walther examines the American role in the peace negotiations after World War I, support for the Balfour Declaration, and the establishment of the mandate system in the Middle East. The result is an important understanding of the crucial role the United States played in the Islamic world during the nineteenth century.

This interaction, Walther argues, is one that has: “shaped a historical legacy that remains with us today. After 9/11, I saw negative stereotypes of Muslims that I had already seen in 19th century European ideas of Islam so I became interested in finding out where these recurring negative ideas came from.” By understanding the history of the ideas of race, she argues, “then we can begin to move away from them.”

“This wide-ranging and learned book provides essential background for understanding the missteps and misunderstandings in the dealings of the United States with the Muslim world and the Middle East over more than a century,” said Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Chair of the Department of History at Columbia University. “By showing how intimately connected Christianity has been to American understandings of the non-Christian world, and how this has frequently contributed to a patronizing and condescending attitude toward others, Walther has performed a great service not only to historians of U.S. foreign policy but also to analysts of American culture.”

Vijay Prashad, author of The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, commented on the significance of this new book, saying: "We have here the prehistory of today's wars of humanitarian intervention--rooted as they are in fantastic notions of Islam and of American innocence. Sacred Interests is a tremendous achievement that deserves wide readership."

Karine Walther is an Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown the School of Foreign Service in Qatar. She holds a PhD in history from Columbia University, a Maîtrise and Licence in Sociology from the University of Paris VIII and a BA in American Studies from the University of Texas, Austin. Her new book is available in hardback from UNC Press. Anyone interested in attending the public book launch please RSVP

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