The paranoid style in international politics
in Conspiracy theory and American foreign policy
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The purpose of this chapter is to situate the Arab-Muslim paranoia narrative in relation to a common-sense understanding of conspiracy theory pervasive in American culture. A crucial starting point here is Richard Hofstadter’s paradigmatic account of ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, which locates conspiracy theories on the periphery of pluralistic American democracy as the irrational pathology of angry extremists, and contrasts it with a rational political centre where sensible politics occurs. I identify a powerful dynamic of ideological reproduction embedded in the Arab-Muslim paranoia narrative, which delegitimises Arab-Muslims and affirms a particular Western liberal identity. I show how the paranoid style framework is reinforced by an influential orientalist narrative prominently forwarded by Bernard Lewis and likeminded Arabist scholars, which situates Arab-Muslim culture as fundamentally anti-modernist and points to a culture of bitterness, self-denial and blame as an explanation for resentment towards the West.

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