“Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth,” states an epistemological folk theory. Successful theories of conspiracy – those that are ultimately true as well as false – all depend on what Stephen Colbert would call “truthiness”: “the quality by which you know something purely by feeling, without regard to logic, evidence, or intellectual examination.” While visual documentation, including photographs and charts, has long been used as “proof” in conspiracy theorizing, the role unrealistic images might play in generating feelings of truthiness has not been subjected to sustained analysis. This gap is even more jarring in the case of contemporary conspiracy theories regarding political Islam, given the importance of “looking” Muslim to both hate-crimes and conspiracy theorizing. An even larger gap in scholarship exists in terms of images and conspiracy theories regarding political Islam in Muslim-majority countries like Turkey.
The short slideshow to the side juxtaposes Turkish conspiracy book covers and cartoons about political Islam with U.S.-based images regarding “creeping Shariah” in the United States. It begins with two images used as “proof” and moves on to images that are clearly fake, but mobilize “truthiness.” There are some striking convergences in how a dangerous, subversive Muslim identity is constructed visually in these images, as well as politically telling divergences. The negative Muslim figures have quite a bit in common in both countries, most strikingly, the presence of some type of headdress or veil. The threat is also regularly gendered in both contexts.
In the United States, negative images of Islam cast the religion as an ahistorical, racialized, biologized force; in Muslim-majority Turkey, however, the “perversity” of political Islam is deeply historicized, politicized, and connected to capitalism. Actors are often not generic, racially-Othered Muslims but recognizable political and religious figures (e.g. Prime Minister Erdogan and U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen). Moreover, the American flag and/or Uncle Sam and Israel are never far from the scene, not as victims, but as the supporters and even overseers of a vast plot to balkanize and weaken Turkey through political Islam. Such images trouble any binary opposition between America and Islam, between tribal "Jihad" and capitalist "McWorld," and between anti-Americanism and Islamophobia. Lots of perceived clashes and alliances, but no "clash of civilizations" here.