Plainly Islam was not, up to 1976, anywhere near the front of anyone’s mind in conservative intellectual circles.For as long as I've been paying attention to the world around me, a point in time that corresponded closely with 9/11, Islam has been a perennial media subject. But I'm aware that that coincidental timing will leave me with a skewed understanding of Islam's historical importance with regards to the country that is my home if I don't force a little perspective.
The same was still true in 1986. By 1996, I think, there had been some modest awakening. Now, of course, we are all up to speed. Book-reading aside, the ordinary attentive reader of newspapers, magazines, and websites has taken in a million or so words on the topic of Islam this past few years. We all have our ideas now, though no doubt some are better-founded than others.
I assumed the war in Serbia, Desert Storm, the barracks bombing in Lebanon, the Iraq-Iran War, and the Iranian hostage crisis would cause spikes in attention paid to Islam, but figured 9/11 would dwarf them. Thanks to Agnostic, I have a handy method of quantifying (and improving) that generalized conception.
Utilizing the New York Times' online article archive, the following graph shows the number of articles containing at least one of the three words "Muslim", "Moslem", or "Islam" as a percentage of all articles written that year:
It's my understanding that Zionism was, in the late forties and fifties, largely an issue supported by the American left but over time lost its luster as the greatly outnumbered Israelis obliterated their Arab neighbors in every conceivable dimension--economic, political, cultural, military--causing the progressive David steadily morph into the imperialistic, merciless Goliath. So I'm surprised to see that the Muslim world was given so little media attention in Israel's early days, though it's also my impression that, prior to the sixties, the Establishment didn't much care about the world's backwaters. The American public presumably didn't either. Today, the difference is that the Establishment now clearly does care about the third world, though the public remains largely uninterested, as the Derb recently noted by pointing to Eastern Congo. In any case, throughout the fifties, fewer than 1 in 200 articles mentioned Muslims or their religion.
The 1973 oil crisis, putatively precipitated by the US' favoring of Israel in the Yom Kippur War, represents the first noticeable spike in coverage. The Iranian hostage crisis pushed Islam near the 1 in 50 articles range, a level it wouldn't return to until the onset of the Bosnian War more than a decade later. When the World Trade Centers were brought down, 1 in 35 articles mentioned Islam. It has fluctuated modestly year to year from that point since 2001, hitting its historical zenith in 2006 when the bloodletting in Iraq was at its worst.
Tangentially, it is at some point in late 1988 or early 1989 that "Moslem" is replaced with the contemporarily favored variant "Muslim". For the last couple of decades, "Moslem" has been a relic. I understand the change was a result of "Moslem" translating into something nasty in Arabic, while "Muslim" is quite flattering. I wonder if any readers are aware of where the push for what was apparently a very acute change came from. If so, please edify your humble host.