It’s An Anti-Imperialist Struggle, Not a Clash of Civilizations

by RON JACOBS

In the machinations of Empire, religious and ethnic differences are often used to justify wars and repression. Historical examples abound. Animosity between nations’ ruling elites are framed in religious terms to rile up the populace and convince them the antagonisms between rulers over land and money are actually between the common people over religion. From there, the antagonism disintegrates into hatred and then war. Despite the conclusion of many religious adherents and teachers that all religions are merely different paths to the same godhead, people continue to cave into the fears propagated by other clerics and institutions that only their religion is the one true one. All others, therefore, are false and their followers are infidels. Once the flames of religious hatred are lit, it becomes very difficult to extinguish them. History has proven this over and over again.

Most recently, the world has seen this manipulation of faith take place against Muslims. This is not the first time Islam has been the focus of hate. Various Christian faiths have considered it a demonic religion over the centuries, from the Catholic Church to the small sect run by Terry Jones in Florida in the US. It was Islam, after all, that bore the brunt of the Catholic Crusades in the middle ages. It was also the Catholic Church that ravaged the lands of Spain during the Reconquista; and it was the Catholic Church that forced Jews and Muslims alike to renounce their faith or face death during that same period.

Like most prejudices that the ruling classes and their politicians stir up for their own ends, much religious hatred is based on ignorance and misunderstanding. This is certainly the case when it comes to Islam and its perception among many Christian churches. Despite the fact (or perhaps because of it) that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all derived from the legacy of Abraham, the level of ignorance about this among believers is astounding. Indeed, it would leave one to think that perhaps that ignorance was intentional.

This is one of the points argued in Deepa Kumar’s latest title, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire. Kumar traces the history of anti-Islamic imagery in the Christian west: its equation of the religion with Satan and sorcery, mysterious sexual practices and perversions. From this beginning, Kumar draws a line to the development of Orientalist scholarship and its use by colonialist nations to justify their domination and exploitation of what they termed “the Muslim World.” Orientalism is best described by the author of the best book on the subject, Edward Said. “Orientalism,” he wrote, “is a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the Orient” and (most of the time) “the Occident Thus a very large mass of writers, among who are poet, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, “mind,” destiny, and so on. . . . The phenomenon of Orientalism as I study it here deals principally, not with a correspondence between Orientalism and Orient, but with the internal consistency of Orientalism and its ideas about the Orient . . despite or beyond any correspondence, or lack thereof, with a “real” Orient.”

In other words, Orientalism is a framework developed by the West to define the non-European part of the world that emphasizes the differences between these two artifices. It often has little to do with the reality of life and thought in the non-European world and is a methodology used to justify the occupation of those lands, the subjugation of their peoples, and the use of whatever means it takes to do so. In addition, it ignores essential facts that do not fit its framework that assumes the superiority of the West. Kumar discusses five myths Orientalism bases itself on and, in doing so, effectively dismantles those myths. While reading this particular chapter it felt like I was reading any number of news articles from the past fifty years explaining how Washington’s enemies were less civilized, less worldly than Americans. Medievalist, sexist, less value placed on human life, incapable of democracy or rational thought; the rationales for opposing Islam are not much different than those given for slaughtering over a million Vietnamese. Kumar looks at these phenomena historically and provides a perspective rarely if ever considered by most Western commentators.

Much of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire is an examination of the relationship between the ruling elites in Washington DC and the various elements of Islam, especially during the last twenty or thirty years. The text takes a look at Washington’s relationships with state and non-state entities. This includes Washington’s self-serving support of the Saud family in Saudi Arabia to the CIA coup in Iran that led to the tyranny of the Shah; from the arming of the Afghan mujahedin against the Soviet army to the endless war on the Afghan people and its expansion into Pakistan via armed drones. Kumar explains the economic, political and military reasons for the skullduggery and death waged in Americans’ name in countries Kumar terms “Muslim majority.” She never lets the reader forget that underlying the entire Islamophobia project is the desire for hegemonic control of the world by Washington.

After exploring the reasons for and the results of the Islamophobic project in the Empire’s outposts, Kumar turns her eye inward to the United States. She chronicles the legal attacks on mosques and Islamic social service foundations under the guise of their “support” of terrorism and discusses the growth of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment stirred up by various right wing and Zionist individuals. Citing the example of the so-called “Ground Zero” mosque, she exposes the politics of the individuals and organizations behind the campaign to prevent the building of that structure. Although many readers identify Islamophobia with Zionists, the neocons and their Christian fundamentalist supporters (Kumar spends a fair amount of tine elucidating on this), the book makes it clear that this phobia is not limited to that particular mindset. In fact, Kumar labels the liberal version of this phobia and the policies it informs “liberal Islamophobia.” This latter incarnation is one that pretends to understand Islam, while simultaneously accepting many of the same myths about the religion maintained by the aforementioned groups.

There’s a lot in this book. Deepa Kumar takes a subject that is often intentionally misconstrued and brings a clarity that incorporates the multiple facets involved. Politics and religion are notoriously dangerous bedfellows, yet they have tended to define human history for as long as there has been such a thing. This phenomenon has only become truer as history moves on. While other books may explain the religion of Islam and its relationship to Christianity better, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire stands alone in its exploration of the relationship between western imperialism and the Muslim-majority world, especially as regards recent history. If recent events in the Middle East and other Muslim majority regions are an indicator, this relationship may be on the verge of a substantial change. This makes reading and understanding Kumar’s text even more essential.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal