Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
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. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]