FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail