In July 2010, Terry Jones, the pastor of a small fundamentalist church in Florida, announced plans to burn two hundred Qur’ans on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Though he ended up canceling the stunt in the face of widespread public backlash, his threat sparked violent protests across the Muslim world that left at least twenty people dead. In Terrified, Christopher Bail demonstrates how the beliefs of fanatics like Jones are inspired by a rapidly expanding network of anti-Muslim organizations that exert profound influence on American understandings of Islam.
Bail traces how the anti-Muslim narrative of the political fringe has captivated large segments of the American media, government, and general public, validating the views of extremists who argue that the United States is at war with Islam and marginalizing mainstream Muslim-Americans who are uniquely positioned to discredit such claims. Drawing on cultural sociology, social network theory, and social psychology, he shows how anti-Muslim organizations gained visibility in the public sphere, commandeered a sense of legitimacy, and redefined the contours of contemporary debate, shifting it ever outward toward the fringe. Bail illustrates his pioneering theoretical argument through a big-data analysis of more than one hundred organizations struggling to shape public discourse about Islam, tracing their impact on hundreds of thousands of newspaper articles, television transcripts, legislative debates, and social media messages produced since the September 11 attacks. The book also features in-depth interviews with the leaders of these organizations, providing a rare look at how anti-Muslim organizations entered the American mainstream.
Christopher Bail is assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
"Christopher Bail's book is not only a carefully researched, subtly written, and thorough account of anti-Muslim panic, but an astute demonstration of investigative sociology at its best, combining big data, content analysis, interviews, and the history of a whole ecology of sentiment. Terrified is one of the best studies of media impact in many years."--Todd Gitlin, Columbia University
“This book explains how the media’s emphasis on fringe messages and sensational issues has produced a massive shift away from favorable views of Islam to ones where Muslim Americans are viewed as harboring terrorists and supporting harsh Shari’ah law. Terrified is perhaps the most advanced study yet done on what shapes changes in public opinion.”—Randall Collins, University of Pennsylvania
“In this important and groundbreaking book, Bail uses a rich combination of data to map the efforts of civil society organizations to shape the popular understanding of Islam in the wake of September 11. Empirically rich and theoretically compelling, Terrified will find a large and receptive audience among those interested in September 11, Islam, and the dynamics of cultural change.”—Doug McAdam, Stanford University
"Many Americans are terrified of Islam, or at least of a version of Islam portrayed in the mainstream media. As this pioneering and well-researched book demonstrates, the first step to combat this error is to expose its sources. Terrified is a necessary read for all who care about freedom of speech and protection of minorities as foundational American rights."--Bruce B. Lawrence, author of Shattering the Myth: Islam beyond Violence