Nov 242015
 

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We are trapped. Once again, we find ourselves wedged between the hammer of terrorism and the anvil of the European far right and of Republican neocons across the Atlantic. Every war has its mongers who profit from its sorrows, rubble and spilt blood. So too does terrorism. Along with its victims and perpetrators, it has its merchants who capitalize on its horrors, chaos and climates of fear and tension. To these, every terrorist bombing and shooting is a golden opportunity to revive arrogant racist notions in a new Islamophobic format, thus enabling them to penetrate further into the mainstream, gaining new territory and more votes. The target is no longer “Africans”, “Asians”, “blacks”, or “browns”, but “Muslims”, “Arabs”, “Middle Easterners”, or “Syrians”. Against these, all limits may be dispensed with, the unspeakable may be spoken, the unacceptable becomes acceptable.

Before the dust had settled in Paris, the old symphony of “we” and “they” reverberated once more. “Our” enlightened values, we were again told, were locked in existential struggle against “their” barbaric religion and savage culture. “They” here, of course, does not refer to extreme fanatical violent groups affiliated to al-Qaeda, or Isis, but to hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. Thus suddenly, ordinary working men and women going about their daily lives in Indonesia or Malaysia, Bangladesh or Senegal, find themselves cast as the enemy vying to destroy “our” western civilization, “our” sublime ideals and way of life.

What is worrying is that this rhetoric, which in Europe is more characteristic of the far right, is increasingly endorsed by mainstream Republicans in the US. It is ironic that, while Francois Hollande had declared in his address to the French Senate and National Assembly after the Paris attacks that “We’re not engaged in a war of civilizations, because the assassins do not represent any”, thousands of miles away, on the other side of the globe, US Republicans furiously insisted on the reverse.

The theme of civilizational clash between the West and Islam has been a favorite in the Republican debates. Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator and Republican presidential hopeful, went as far as to draw analogies between Islam and Nazism as he angrily reacted to Hillary Clinton’s statement that she did not believe the United States was at war with Islam. “That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party but weren’t violent themselves”, he suggested. “This is a clash of civilizations. For they do not hate us because we have military assets in the Middle East. They hate us because of our values.”

And just like the far-right in Europe, Republicans have swiftly moved to raise the question of Syrian refugees’ settlement in connection with the Paris attacks. While Marine Le Pen, leader of the xenophobic Front National demanded an “immediate halt” to the intake of Syrian refugees into France, Republicans lined up to urge a ban on any “middle Eastern” migrants in the US. A succession of governors, mostly Republicans, announced that they would not allow any Syrian applicants to be placed in their states, vowing to block the government’s plans to resettle a mere 10.000 of those fleeing the war in Syrian into the US.

Jeb Bush went further, demanding that the US only accept those applicants proven to be Christian, after thorough vetting and checks to ensure that they are indeed Christian. “We should focus our efforts as it relates to refugees on the Christians that are being slaughtered” he declared. Bush is not alone in calling for a discriminatory approach to the Syrian refugee question. The position has been endorsed by a number of senior Republicans such as Ted Cruz. “If there are Syrian Muslims who are really being persecuted”, he objected, they should be sent to “majority-Muslim countries.” “on the other hand, Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution.. we should be providing safe haven to them”.

That such bigoted, exclusionist language could be used by mainstream politicians in the 21st century is scandalous. Those fleeing brutality, death and destruction are no longer to be seen as human victims who deserve shelter and safety, but as Christians and Muslims, good victims and bad victims. As if it weren’t enough for Syrians to lose everything, their possessions, homes and loved ones, this sick narrative would have them stripped of their victimhood too.

Listening to Republicans chastise Obama and his administration over its Middle East strategy, one gets the impression that we are still in the early 1990s, in the aftermath of the Cold War. It is as if the US had never invaded Iraq, had never been defeated there and forced to withdraw in a hurry, exhausted and humiliated. They seem unaware of the chaos and destruction their absurd wars had unleashed on the whole region and the great damage they had caused to the United States itself. One of modern history’s greatest ironies is that no one has done more to dissipate the neoconservative dream of American world supremacy and bury the New American Century Project than the former Republican neocon administration itself.

What makes the Republicans’ discourse on Islam and the Muslim world dangerous is that it is disseminated through a wide and powerful network of media outlets and rightwing think tanks then consumed by a public with no direct contact or firsthand knowledge of the Muslim world. What gets generally confined to the shadowy margins of the far right in Europe, has in the United States, with its geographic remoteness from the Muslim hemisphere, lack of familiarity with Islam and the American tradition of religious based idealism, the potential of dominating mainstream public opinion of Islam and Muslims.

The truth is that cultures, civilizations and lifestyles do not clash. It is humans who clash, with their interests, ambitions, illusions and fantasies. Instead of the twisted binary logic of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’, terrorism should render us more keenly aware of the interconnectedness of our world, of our shared existence and the dangers that threaten us all. Terrorists do not ask for their victims IDs before mutilating their bodies in Paris, Beirut, or Tunis. The solution to the insane chaos into which we have been dragged since 9/11 begins with an active rejection of the ugly dualisms of “us” and “them”, of believers vs infidels and of Westerners/Europeans vs the Muslim other.

Jul 112008
 

Pick up any newspaper today in Britain or elsewhere in Europe, switch on the TV or tune in to any radio station, and you’re very likely to get the impression that “our societies” – if not western civilisation in its entirety – face an imminent Islamic threat, on a par with the old dangers of fascism. Since the terrorist bombings of New York, Madrid and London, the “fundamentalist peril” has become part of the air we breathe. It has become a rhetorical crutch for everyone from rightwing bigots to opportunistic politicians and repenting “former extremists”, each with their own agenda. Continue reading »

Apr 162008
 

When confronted about his infamous choice of language to describe black people – “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” – Boris Johnson’s responses ranged from claims of being misinterpreted to apologies for the offence caused. And when, a few days ago, Nick Ferrari questioned him on his no less distasteful statements on Islam, the Conservative candidate for the London mayoralty denied ever making them. He insisted that Ken Livingstone, the mayoral incumbent and his fellow guest on the breakfast show, was seeking to smear him. Islam, he emphatically declared, was “a religion of peace”. Continue reading »

Oct 242007
 

In a few days time a cluster of far-right groups under the name the Stop the Islamisation of Europe alliance will hold rallies in London, Copenhagen and Marseilles to demand an end to what they call “the overt and covert expansion of Islam in Europe”. Although the events are likely to attract no more than a handful of protesters, their message resonates widely. On Saturday the rightwing People’s party, notorious for its virulent hostility to ethnic minorities and Muslims, emerged as the victor in the Swiss elections, taking 29% of the vote, the best electoral performance by a party in the country’s elections since 1919. Continue reading »

Oct 182007
 

On Channel 4 News last night, Martin Amis stuck to the same strategy he has adopted since the eruption of the row a week ago over his statements on Muslims. The comments in question, he repeated, were not made in writing – as literary critic Terry Eagleton had suggested – but “conversationally” in a press interview. He has since written more than 25,000 words all of which, he maintained, he stands by. Continue reading »

The west has created fertile ground for al-Qaida’s growth

 Anti-War, Islamophobia, Palestine  Comments Off on The west has created fertile ground for al-Qaida’s growth
Jun 212007
 

It seems that al-Qaida’s dream is on its way to turning into reality. At last it has found a foothold on the Palestinian scene. Witness the kidnapping of BBC reporter Alan Johnston in Gaza by the al-Qaida affiliated Jaish al-Islam 100 days ago yesterday, and the heated battles in Nahr al-Barid refugee camp between the Lebanese army and al-Qaida sympathisers Fatah al-Islam over the past month. And with Gaza and the West Bank sliding further into anarchy, with Hamas and Fatah turning on each other after a year of crushing siege, this new presence can only grow stronger. Continue reading »

Europe’s Islamic self

 Islamism, Islamophobia, Religion & Secularism  Comments Off on Europe’s Islamic self
Apr 302007
 

“Identity is oneness in substance,” Aristotle tells us, meaning it is given, permanent and unalterable. To a large extent, this definition of identity still governs Europe’s consciousness. This is particularly so since the 17th century, with the end of wars of religion, the emergence of the European state system, the gradual secularisation of governments and the establishment of capitalism. Alongside these, the decline of the Ottoman empire and the new technological developments in shipping and weaponry that paved the way for overseas expansion and colonialism, meant that a rising Europe embarked on a quest to assert its uniqueness and purity. The guiding question in this search for identity was: What is it that Europe has which other cultures and countries lack? What is the source of its singularity, of its triumph over other nations? Continue reading »

Feb 072007
 

It looks like the Muslim issue is set to remain the subject of political polarisation for years to come: every time in a new guise and under a new title, from terrorism to integration, and from faith schools to the veil. This politically lucrative subject is now favoured by politicians of all colours and hues, from far right BNP extremists to centre left Blairites, and centre right Tories. Continue reading »