This study focused on orientalist stereotypes of Muslims in a particular blog. "Blog" is a contraction of "web log," a new form of public dialogue made accessible to all through the Internet. The goal of this study was to find out whether orientalist stereotypes persisted in public discourse, as seen in messages posted to a topical blog that had raised the question "Why Do Americans Hate Muslims?" The study was situated in scholarly research that said western media were to blame for perpetuating orientalist stereotypes, such as those originally defined by the work of postcolonial scholar Edward W. Said who examined depictions of Muslims in western art, stories, and news coverage. The problem of widespread discriminatory slurs against Muslims after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, inspired the present study.
The research questions were: What are the key or dominant orientalist stereotypes that emerge (in the blog messages)? What semantic clusters support and reinforce these stereotypes? How do these orientalist stereotypes connect to the historical stereotypes which date back to the eighteenth century?
The methodology used was cluster analysis, as developed by Sonja K. Foss (1996) and Kenneth Burke (1973). Cluster analysis is a method used to analyze the language used by a rhetor in discourse.
The analysis identified and grouped orientalist stereotypes under four categories, each category with two sets of keys (or central concepts). These included: Descriptors of identity, with key terms demons or evil doers and followers of an evil religion. Descriptors of character, with the key terms negative character and prone to commit evil acts. Descriptors of activity, with key terms engage in acts of evil against others and engage in acts of evil against their own people. Descriptors for the religion of Islam, with the key terms Islam is evil and Islam produces evil. Surrounding each key term were clusters of words which supported the central descriptors with additional meaning to as to how the respondents identified Muslims.
The study posits that certain powerful structures in society may encourage a wider social discourse of orientalist stereotypes, which can be detected in specific locations, such as in blog discourse. These structures include the commercial mass media, including film and television. One possible effect of orientalist stereotypes in public discourse may be that they cause Muslims to live in fear of retaliation by those in the West. If these powerful media structures were to change the images of Muslims to more positive ones, the public discourse and opinion it shapes toward Muslims may also change. There is also a role for scholarship. Edward W. Said (1981) suggested that academic scholars can change the way the West views Muslim by re-writing history to reflect on the positive side of Muslims and Islam.
There was a limitation to the research because a qualitative method employing interviews was not used to fully understand why orientalist stereotypes persist in public discourse. This study urges further research to find out the reasons behind the usage of orientalist stereotypes in blogs. Though this study was limited in certain ways, it did accomplish its goal to find out whether orientalist stereotypes exist in public discourse through the blogosphere.