The unbearable anxiety of being: Ideological fantasies of British Muslims beyond the politics of security
A succession of media scandals and policy arguments in the UK in recent years has been integral to the construction of a so-called Muslim Problem. Media and political attention paid to Muslims in British public life, across a vast and varied range of issues, suggests a social preoccupation that exceeds the security framing the ‘War on Terror’ once imposed. In this article, we develop and apply Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian theory of ideology to produce an original conceptual and analytic framework centred on the social functions served by, as well as the co-constitution of, anxiety and fantasy. We then apply this framework to explore three scandals relating to child sexual exploitation, halal meat and education. We show that the representations of British Muslims that these scandals entail are best understood as ideological fantasies, mobilized to suture traumatic gaps and conceal contradictions in wider social practices around such issues. We argue that the unrelenting media and political focus on myriad aspects of British Muslims’ imagined lives is symptomatic of what Žižek calls an ‘unbearable anxiety’: Islamophobic ideological fantasies conjure a ‘conceptual Muslim’ to sidestep confrontation with the Lacanian ‘Real’ – antagonistic and anxiety-inducing structures and practices underpinning British society, of which we do not speak.
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Citation : Ali, N. and Whitham, B. (2018) The unbearable anxiety of being: Ideological fantasies of British Muslims beyond the politics of security. Security Dialogue, 49 (5), pp. 400-417
Research Institute : Media Discourse Centre (MDC)
Peer Reviewed : Yes