FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Guantanamoized Age

Stark images of spectral men – their appearance in bright orange jumpsuits belied by legal invisibility – have been seared into the minds of many Muslims as an index of America’s anger.

But for American Muslims, abuse and disappearance of detainees are not the defining features of the “war on terror.” Eyed by the national media with a mixture of fear, anxiety, and frustration, we face heated questions that implicitly place not just individual suspects but an entire community in the crosshairs.

The questions aimed at us fall into two broad categories: “Why aren’t more moderate Muslims condemning terrorism?” and “What is it about Islam that produces terrorists?”

As the latter question assumes an inherent relationship between Islam and terrorism, the best kind of “moderate” Muslim is apparently as far removed from Islam as Mecca is from Montana.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Anxious interviewers who press their Muslim American guests to inveigh against Islamist terrorism often appear flustered when these guests fail to utter the appropriate noises. The hapless targets sometimes forget their role in the script and fail to jump through pre-assigned verbal hoops.

But why should they? One does not, after all, apologize without having done something wrong, and one does not renounce something without having first belonged to it.

Nitpickers may protest that denouncing terrorism is not the same as renouncing or apologizing. But in a poisoned media atmosphere where the terms “Muslim” and “terrorism” are as inseparable as a bow and string, such a distinction flies off into irrelevance like an arrow without fletchings.

Applying this Muslim litmus test in a different setting demonstrates the point: If a white worker was assaulted in a black neighborhood, would he march into work the next day demanding his black colleagues “denounce” the attack?

The demand to denounce is, in short, a demand for an a priori admission of guilt.

American Muslims did not elect or appoint Islamist terrorists. Al-Qaeda is not a Muslim version of Congress.

Although the word al-Qaeda means “the base,” the label is more “aspirational” than operational, to borrow a phrase from the fine wordsmiths at the White House. The movement survives on the fringes and in the hinterlands, taking advantage of tribal customs of hospitality, preying on poverty and desperation, and terrorizing locals in lawless areas.

Indeed, the terrorist movement reviles Muslims who do not adhere to its impoverished idea of Islam and has spilt more than enough Muslim blood to prove it. So alienating is its ideology that even those Iraqis most opposed to the U.S. occupation ultimately turned to America’s help in killing al-Qaeda and away from al-Qaeda’s help in killing Americans.

Therefore, the questioners’ implicit lumping-in of Muslims anywhere and everywhere with Islamist terrorists is not only ignorant but ironic: they lend the terrorists a veneer of legitimacy not afforded them by the Muslim community in America or anywhere else.

Most perplexing, however, is that those prodding American Muslims to continually condemn violence are themselves least likely to condemn violence when it appears in a more virulent form. For while al-Qaeda killed almost 3,000 Americans on September 11th, the U.S. and its staunch ally Israel have killed tens of thousands and displaced millions in shattered communities across Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine.

From the American Muslim viewpoint, this is a particularly curious oversight.

We are, after all, ceaselessly reminded that terrorists subscribe to totalitarianism whereas America upholds democracy. But it appears that our bumptious questioners think it is the other way around: why else do they press us to answer for the crimes of fanatics whom we never chose, while rarely questioning the ease with which many of our countrymen accepted the far deadlier decisions made by elected representatives?

It is precisely because Americans live in a democratic society that there is a genuine opportunity – one not available to Muslims vis-à-vis terrorists hiding in the mountains – to oppose serious injustices, such as torture, occupation, collective punishment, and disproportionate use of force.

A disturbingly consistent failure to exercise this opportunity leaves Muslims around the world – who sometimes develop the temerity to formulate questions of their own – wondering: “Where are the moderate Americans?”

The U.S. media also wonders aloud in a tone of feigned anguish what defects within Islam “cause” terrorism. Swirling their paintbrushes in palettes of their own prejudice, sundry pundits and preachers strip Islamic ideas out of context to depict the Muslim faith in sinister hues.

This line of condemnation via questioning is particularly unctuous because the “Islam” behind today’s terrorism was once sustained by the United States. The facts about this Cold War decision have been well-documented elsewhere and require no recounting here. Suffice it to say that by backing the most radical strains of Islam and suppressing the nationalist, socialist, and secular forces that were at work in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine, Egypt, and elsewhere, the U.S. altered the political balance of forces in the Muslim world to disastrous effect.

It is also instructive to compare the trendy “what is wrong with Islam” approach with other examples from history.

The 20th century bore witness to unparalleled bloodshed and violence: the incineration of Japanese cities, widespread devastation of Vietnamese villages, systematic genocide of European Jews, and assaults unleashed against struggling colonies all come to mind.

If the death toll of Islamist terrorism was set against this backdrop, it would appear as but a droplet lost in the oceans, with the West’s fratricide against Jews and its depredations against ex-colonies comprising the Atlantic and Pacific of terror.

And yet, these millions of deaths did not spawn agonized questions about what is inherently “wrong” with Christianity – even though, for instance, the Nazis capitalized on anti-Semitism explicitly expressed by Martin Luther in his screed “On the Jews and their Lies.” Rather, these conflicts were framed in terms of social and political circumstances.

Even in more recent cases where religious animosity has played a supporting role in atrocities, religion has been left untouched.

When Serbian forces massacred 8,000 Muslim Bosnian men and boys as the world idly stood by in 1995, or when Christian militia given a green light by the Israeli military killed 1,000 Palestinians in refugee camps during the 1982 Lebanon war, no media personalities pored over the Bible to see what scriptures “caused” these incidents.

When Israel, buoyed by Christian fundamentalists and internal hardliners, invokes religious concepts like the “promised land” and “chosen people” to justify what late Israeli historian Baruch Kimmerling aptly termed the “politicide” of Palestinians, no rhetorical questions about Christian or Jewish fundamentalism are splashed across American television screens. Indeed, the mere mention of the Palestinian plight is a taboo in American politics, prompting cries of anti-Semitism.

Only Islam, it appears, is on the dining menu, and it is cooked to order.

The chattering classes’ questioning recalls an often-invoked but rarely remembered truth: it is always easier to criticize the Other.

But this banal observation cannot suffice. In light of the vast gap in casualties and carnage, the insistence on grilling American Muslims can only be understood as a decoy, a way of avoiding uncomfortable questions about unseen others.

It is, in short, the extraordinary rendition of reality.

This is a painful but clear reminder to Muslims here and elsewhere that Muslim life does not occupy the same plane as American life: that if ten, twenty, or even one hundred Muslims die for every fallen American civilian, it is not sufficient cause for introspection; and that if a Muslim plays no role in attacks on Americans, he is still subject to a harsher judgment than an American who cheers policies that leave tens of thousands of Muslims dead.

Far from rising above the moment, the media has sunk beneath what should be expected of a free press. Its loaded questions, arrayed alongside other weapons of war, herald a new age of Guantanomized discourse – one in which the crucial difference between the interrogation inside the detention center and the one outside is that a person can be released but a people remain condemned.

M. JUNAID LEVESQUE-ALAM blogs about America and Islam at Crossing the Crescent and writes about American Muslim identity for WireTap magazine. He works as a communications coordinator for an anti-domestic violence agency in the NYC area and can be reached at: junaidalam1 AT gmail.com.

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

M. JUNAID ALAM, 21, Boston, co-editor of radical youth journal Left Hook (http://www.lefthook.org), feedback: alam@lefthook.org , first published in Left Hook

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail