"I’m Not an American": Sovereign Masculinity and Images of Black Muslim Men during the War on Terror

Mika’il Petin

Advisor: Jessica Scarlata, PhD, Screen Cultures

Committee Members: Timothy Gibson, Amal Amireh, Mark Hopson

April 25, 2016, 10:00 AM to 07:00 AM


African American men have been the faces of Islam in the cultural mainstream of the United States for most of this country’s history. In the twentieth century, whether it was Malcolm X’s indignation and radical politics contrasted against Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s pacifism, Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War that epitomized disloyalty, or Mahmood Abdul Ra’uf's refusal to stand for the national anthem before NBA games, the combination of Islam and Black masculinity has conveyed an ambivalence towards U.S. national interests and political ideals. However, in the wake of 9/11, popular culture has had a steady flow of new characters who do not express contempt in similar ways as Malcolm, Ali, and Abdul Ra’uf. Instead, recent representations have Black Muslim men uncritically protecting middle-to-upper class values in the U.S., and fighting in the War on Terror as patriots. This dissertation contends that the unmaking and remaking of Black Muslim manhood from a pariah of U.S. democracy to a defender of its freedoms is due to a national obsession with re-establishing the country’s authority during years of grappling with terror. Characters in popular film and television, this study puts forth, are shaped by a new cultural hegemonic definition of sovereignty, which is a conflation of political supremacy, institutional violence, and a collective sense of national masculinity. The concern is over how the U.S. social imaginary is teeming with Islamophobia and negrophobia stoked by both the Bush and Obama administrations and their War on Terror discourses. Imagined and real-life Muslims will continue to rival each other for authority to speak for Islam as well as for its soul in the United States. In whatever way more men and women convert to Islam, view fictional portrayals of Muslim lives, expatriate to fight along with Islamist groups abroad, or seek to limit the inalienable human rights of Muslim Americans and immigrants, what narratives come to light on screen?