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“The Best Country in the World”

“The Best Country in the World”

Imagining America in an Age of Empire

(p.109) 3 “The Best Country in the World”
Unsettled Belonging
Thea Renda Abu El-Haj
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 3 analyzes the dominant public discourses of American liberal multicultural nationalism as they were re-articulated in the post 9-11 era—discourses that link America and Americans to a set of liberal values for which the nation stands. This dominant discourse of liberal multicultural nationalism implicitly and explicitly co-constructs self and “Other”, belonging and not belonging, civilization and barbarism. This dominant national imaginary is deeply interwoven with the United States’s imperial ambitions, mitigating its economic, political, and military interests in the Middle East and South Asia. At this historic moment, the normative articulations of what it means to be American—and the values and beliefs that this nation is imagined to embody—have been drawn in relation to a particular discursive construction of Islam and the “Muslim world.” Drawing on a decade of scholarship on the cultural politics of the “war on terror” this chapter illustrates the connection between these broad political discourses of nationalism, and the everyday nationalism that, as the following two chapters show, Palestinian American youth encountered in their schools and communities. It illustrates how these nationalist discourses unfold in curriculum, and a student newspaper.

Keywords:   liberal, multicultural nationalism, democracy, diversity, tolerance, imperialism, radical innocence, cultural politics, colonial amnesia, curriculum

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