Puar, “The Turban is not a Hat.”

Puar’s “The Turban is not a Hat” is the fourth chapter in Terrorist Assemblages. I thought I would start with a gloss of the book to help situate the chapter we read for today.

Terrorists Assemblages (2007)

Terrorist Assemblages draws heavily on Foucault’s biopolitics (in frequent conjunction with Achille Mbembe’s “necropolitics”) and Deleuze and Guattari’s “assemblages” to propose a way to think about concatenations of “identity” (race, nation, class, gender, sexuality) outside of the frame of intersectionality.  Puar lays out three important frames for the book: sexual exceptionalism, regulatory queerness, and the ascendancy of whiteness (xxiv).  Puar importantly details the ways these three frames work together to produce a legitimately “homonational” white, gay subject, shunting queerness onto the body of the “terrorist,” and rendering illegible a gay-identified South Asian subject.  Sexual exceptionalism (3-11) does this by holding up the inclusion of white, gay subjects as a sign of “modernity,” simultaneously requiring the performance of “patriotic” homosexuality (for example, the gay rugby player who took down one of the planes on Sept 11, 2001).  “Queer as regulatory” (11-24) works by thinking queerness in a fiercely secular frame (rendering “Muslim queer” unthinkable; 13) and more importantly, names the process by which white gay men (such as Pim Fortuyn, for example, in the Netherlands) can “enact forms of national, racial, or other belongings by contributing to the collective vilification of Muslims” (21).  Finally, “the ascendancy of whiteness” (24-32; which Puar borrows from Rey Chow) describes the process whereby the state and the market offer some forms of national belonging (or love, borrowing from Ahmed) to multicultural heteronormative subjects, while remaining committed to exclusionary/homophobic/xenophobic practices (26).  The ascendancy of whiteness also relies on a belief that people of color are more homophobic than queers are racist (29).

“The Turban is not a Hat”

This chapter analyzes responses of Sikh lobbying and community groups to hate crimes committed against Sikhs mistaken for Muslims (always assumed to be terrorists).  These groups’ campaigns to educate the American public are misguided, according to Puar, for assuming that the potential attacker is interested in attending to distinctions between turbans and brown bodies of various religious and ethnic backgrounds (167).  Furthermore, these educational campaigns tend to perform a heteronormative masculinity through anti-Muslim sentiment “as a rite of initiation and assimilation into U.S. heteronormative citizenship” (168; this idea parallels her “queer as regulatory” frame mentioned above).  This performance of heteronormativity is necessitated, in a way, by the “perverse sexuality, queerness, and gender nonnormativity” already installed in the figure of the “terrorist” (169).

Puar questions the assumption that educating would-be attackers into “seeing” the differences between Muslims and Sikhs is an effective project (170).  She discusses Butler’s treatment of the Rodney King case (183) and Sara Ahmed’s analysis of racial hate crimes (184), noting that both of these pieces continue to treat race as a primarily visual phenomenon.  Puar says, “Visibility is an inadequate rubric because of an old liberal predicament—visibility invites surveillance—but also because regimes of affect and tactility conduct vital information beyond the visual.  The move from visibility to affect takes us from a frame of misrecognition, contingent upon the visual to discern the mistake (I thought you were one of them), to the notion of resemblance, a broader affective frame where the reason for the alikeness may be a vague or repressed (You remind me of one of them): from ‘looks like’ to ‘seems like’” (187).  Puar draws on Arun Saldanha to shift our understanding of racial difference from a primarily visual frame to “phenotype experienced outside of or beyond the visual, through the haptic where the visual induces the sensation of touch” (190).

Key “biopolitics” mentions

180—hate crimes against Sikhs “have become immanent to the counterterrorism objectives of the state, operating as an extended arm of the nation, encouraging surveillance and strike capacities of the patriotic populous.”

195—Drawing on Foucault’s definition of racism from Society Must be Defended.

200—“Pivotal here is the notion of capacity, in other words, the ability to thrive within and propagate the biopolitics of life by projecting potential as futurity, one indication of which is performed through the very submission to these technologies of surveillance that generate these data.”  In this paragraph, Puar seems to adding to more circumscribed definitions of biopolitics (the fostering of/management of birth rate, death rate, health…).  She seems to be adding a sort of hopeful/forward-looking (“potential as futurity”) and happy patriotism (submission to surveillance technology) as attitudes that biopolitical techniques might seek to foster.  But then I’m having a difficult time puzzling out what’s really going on in this paragraph.



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