FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The “War” Against Radical Islam

Labels count. While the old wisdom that judging books by their covers is a business fraught by error, covers do sway buyers. In the business of finding labels for political consumption, the grabbing slogan is fundamental.

The political salesmen and women know this, which explains the often clinical resort to such terms as a “war” on anything that comes to mind. A “war” on a concept is patent nonsense – there are no such things as wars against diseases, ideas, or drugs – but they are still sold as such, the mobilising cry for a public in need of a catchy narrative.

The “war” on radical Islam is no different from that of previous, ill-fated constructions about fighting intangibles, and here, the usually judicious avoidance of such logically flawed terms took something of a dive with the remarks of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. It may well have been a genuine rhetorical moment of weakness – furious and bloodied by three days of killing in Paris, France had to find some response that was strong, eschewing weakness.

Hence, the following remarks by Valls at Evry on Saturday. “We are war – not a war against religion, not a war against a civilization, but to defend our values, which are universal.” What then, of the nature of this war? “It is a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom and solidarity.”

The supporters have been forthcoming, eager to get on the train of history against an unspecific aim or concept. Emotionalism has been the grand substitute. Former US Senator Joseph Lieberman, in endorsing the French position, suggested that “the civilized nations of the world must acknowledge that we are at war with violent Islamic extremism and that as long as these extremists continue to recruit, attack and expand territorially, the civilized world will continue to lose and the number and frequency of attacks like those in France will increase” (Wall Street Journal, Jan 12).[1]

Such is the ease of declaring wars in cavalier fashion, ignoring causality and replacing it with an infantile prescription: they do it, because they don’t like us. But it is even more cavalier that the target is non-specific, being the sort of crude pamphleteering that earned Samuel P. Huntington a good number of sales for the flawed premises of The Clash of Civilizations (1993). Farewelling the Cold War, for Huntington, suggested the next phase: wars between rivalling centres of power, framed rather neatly by the language of civilization. The rattled pundits are following suit, if some years later, taking note of Islam, in particular.

Given that cultures exist, not in silos, but in webs and networks of exchange and appropriation; given that a homogenous civilization is, of its own accord, impossible, “wars” on Islamic terrorism seem dangerously frivolous. Not that it troubles the canonical high-priests such as Bernard- Henri Lévy and an assortment of American commentators thrilled by newfound French assertiveness in the hyperbole of a “Churchillian moment” (Haaretz, Jan 10).[2]

The pitfalls of the previous grand error – that of the “War on terror” – would have been in the minds of those in the Obama administration. Attorney General Eric Holder, for that reason, decided to evade the issue and stick to the status quo, which is as savage as any “war” on the radicals. Indeed, with ongoing air-strikes against Islamic State positions, drone strikes on an assortment of targets in the Middle East and Pakistan, the Obama administration was never one to shirk the chance to kill radicals on the Islamic hit list, or those who fell within its designation classification.

In Holder’s words in response to a question from George Stephanopolous on ABC’s This Week regarding the French prime minister’s statement, “we are at war with those who would commit terrorist attacks and who would corrupt the Islamic faith in the way that they do, to try to justify their terrorist actions. So that’s who we are at war with, and we are determined to take the fight to them, not to prevent them from engaging these kind of activities.”

The perceived failure to join in the proclaimed armed crusade against radical Islam – at least in the rhetorical sense – has produced a somewhat different reaction from those who have customarily seen the French as habitual “cheese eating surrender monkeys”. Now, it is Paris taking the lead in bellicosity and belligerence, eager for summaries and sound bites. Has this left the United States looking meek and refrained?

Rush Limbaugh was one such individual thinking so, keen to do the battering rounds on his show against the administration for having both failed to be conspicuous at the Paris march, or involved in terms of open commitments. For Limbaugh, Obama was playing the one card he truly knew: that of narcissism. “Forty-some-odd people and Obama’s going to be part of that? There’s no way. He’s not gonna subject himself. He’s not going to put himself in a group where he is seen as one of many, many equals.”[3]

More to the point, Limbaugh saw Obama’s refusal to endorse an unvarnished full frontal commitment against Islamic radicalism as a sign of his pietism towards Islam proper. “It was Obama who said at the UN, ‘The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet.” I mean, it makes total sense he wouldn’t show up to this thing.”

Other outlets have similarly seen Obama’s actions over the Paris attacks as those of “pathetic disengagement” suggesting a lack of direction. A rambling David Limbaugh on CNS news (Jan 13) could only see a president of “confused” world view, one probably attributed to his “upbringing”. Professing to be a Christian, he could hardly seem to understand the nature posed by Islamists. Holder’s response to embracing Vall’s declaration was a disgraceful and feckless demurral.

Long time Democrat commentator Dough Schoen has also thrown in his lot with the simple world view, taking issue with Obama’s perceived sense of moral distortion. “We are at war with radical Islam. And President Obama needs to say it”. According to Schoen, “President Obama morally abdicated his place as the leader of the free world” on Sunday (Fox News, Jan 12).[4]

Interestingly enough, in refusing to send an official to the march, the President may have unwittingly seen the hypocrisy of it all, marching in solidarity for the values of a perceived free world, one rich in free speech, along with leaders avidly against the very idea. That would suggest less narcissism than the cynicism this entire effort needs to be treated with. Beware such universal credos – they sound awfully similar to the enemy supposedly being fought.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Notes.

[1] http://www.wsj.com/articles/joseph-lieberman-a-global-war-on-radical-islam-1421106699

[2] http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.636383

[3] http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2015/01/12/obama_holder_refuse_to_join_unity_rally_reject_call_to_join_the_war_against_radical_islam

[4] http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/01/12/obama-awol-in-paris-message-to-america-allies-is-dont-care/

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail