The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged islamophobia
Islamophobia in France

In the run-up to the incredibly unpredictable French presidential election, I took a look at some of the books being written by prominent (and not-so-prominent) French scholars, and wrote about the vitriolic debate over Islamophobia, Islamic radicalism and the alleged creeping Islamization of France. It is hard to over-state both how complicated, personal and over-the-top this debate can get. 

I found Gilles Kepel's book Terror in France interesting as an overview of jihadism in France and of major political developments for France's Muslim minority since 2005 (including some analysis of political participation and of the question of a Muslim vote). Kepel is very critical of the idea of Islamophobia – not because he denies that there is discrimination against Muslims in France but because he says that Islamophobia has been politically instrumentalized to forbid criticism of Islam (Kepel is, not coincidentally, at loggerheads with the Comité Contre L'Islamophobie en France). Yet while I am sure that there are Islamists who use the victimization of Muslims as a means to set themselves up as leaders and spokesmen (always men) and to accrue political influence, there is plenty of criticism of Islam in France these days -- it's practically an intellectual and media industry. 

Which brings us to one of the other books I discuss, which is representative of the genre. Below is an excerpt:

"That is one of the arguments of a book published this year for which Bensoussan was the lead editor: Une France Soumise, Les Voix du Refus (A Vanquished France, the Voices of Refusal). A collection of essays and interviews with public employees and officials, the book paints a dire picture of France turning into "a foreign land," its culture, identity, and rule of law threatened by the advance of Islamism. France faces a choice, a passage in the books warns, between civil war or "Houellebecquian" submission to Islam (a reference to the best-selling 2015 satire by Michel Houellebecq, Submission, in which the country elects a Muslim president and adopts Shariah law).

As evidence of creeping Islamization, the book cites demands for prayer rooms and halal meals; husbands who will not allow their wives to receive medical care from male doctors; reports of Muslim high-school students’ refusing to observe the moment of silence after terrorist attacks or expounding conspiracy theories. Many of the interviews are anonymous or do not specify when and where particular incidents took place. Bensoussan admits that it "is not an exhaustive investigation and does not have scientific pretensions." Yet he insists that it exposes a reality that France’s elites refuse to acknowledge."

Another book, now out in English, I strongly recommend is Olivier Roy's Jihad and Death, a beautifully written analysis of the narcissism and nihilism of jihadis and a critique of the paranoid view of Islam as an imminent threat to France. Also, although I don't write about it in this piece, French journalist David Thomson's book Les Revenants ("The Returnees"), a collection of interviews with young French jihadis (and their female supporters/partners) who have returned from Syrian, is also a riveting work of reportage. 

Dunn on the necrophilia law hoax

It's gone around the internets a lot already, but I really think Michael Collins Dunn of MEI deserves kudos for his excellent deconstruction of the stupid "necrophilia law" hoax. It's really amazing how many people completely suspended their common sense and took it seriously. As he writes:

It's a case study in the down side of instant 24/7 reporting, and it tells us something about the tendency for Western media to believe absolutely anything about Islamists.

Run! Sharia is coming!

Much has been written about the recent Center for Security Policy report, headed by neocon loony Frank Gaffney, about the plot to impose Sharia on America. It fits the current mood of hysteria perfectly, and just shows one other element of the carefully crafted campaign of Islamophobia taking place at the moment. But I particularly liked this response by Joshua Micah Marshall of TPM:

In our investigation into the growth of Sharia Law in the USA we came across some surprising findings. Numerous American cities now have one or more Muslim 'religious courts' in operation where believers go to adjudicate family law disputes, real estate transactions and various other matters according to Sharia Law by binding arbitration. These religious court verdicts can then be enforced by civilian American courts. Various states have also passed laws to codify Muslim dietary laws, though a few of these laws have been struck down. And numerous national corporations now process foods to suit Muslim dietary standards. Finally, one jurisdiction in New York has been settled entirely by devout Muslims; no candidates run for office except those approved by the local imam; road signs in the town are all printed in both English and Arabic; and various local practices have been brought into line with Sharia.

Actually, there's one detail I didn't mention. The law here isn't Sharia; it's Halakhah, Jewish religious law. And all the above are true if you change 'Muslim' to 'Jewish' and 'Arabic' to 'Hebrew'. (Actually, Yiddish written in the Hebrew script, to be specific.)

Marshall goes on to say, who cares if this is happening? Personally, I care: I don't think any religious law should be implemented or honored in the US (or for that matter elsewhere.) But that's a separate debate.

Do read TPM's investigative piece on the origins of Sharia-scare in Amreeka.

Black man mistaken for Muslim...

I'm traveling at the moment so posting will be light for a couple of days, but do watch this jaw-dropping video in which a black man is "mistaken for Muslim" at an anti-mosque rally in New York. From the video's description:

A man walks through the crowd at the Ground Zero protest and is mistaken as a Muslim. The crowd turns on him and confronts him. The man in the blue hard hat calls him a coward and tries to fight him. The tall man who I think was one of the organizers tried to get between the two men. Later I caught up with the man who's name is Kenny. He is a Union carpenter who works at Ground Zero. We discussed what a scary moment that was for him. I told him that I hoped it did not ruin his day.

On Cordoba House

My new column at Masri al-Youm, on Obama's communication problem, is out. It argues that despite the recent polls showing disappointment with Obama in the Arab world, the real communication problem with regards to Islam that the administration has is with the American people. I've been following with horrified fascination the development of the "controversy" over Cordoba House, which has been cathartic in that it had revealed the strong unease — far beyond the lunatic fringes, the professionals manipulators and the populist opportunists — have with the project. This is America's Danish cartoon crisis.

The key here is to recognize that a large number of ordinary people have a problem with the mosque project as inappropriate or insensitive. This means that they are implicitly making the link between Islam and al-Qaeda in some respects, despite the exhortations of Bush and Obama that the two are different. If that weren't the case, after all, why would people think the mosque is a problem? It's not enough just to cry out about Islamophobia, enough people have strong feelings about this that it's worth rethinking the poor leadership Americans have had (in politics and the media) in thinking about Islam and what its place might be in American life.

Not just conservatives, nativists and full-blown racists are to blame for this. After 9/11, an insidious meme was allowed to prosper in the mainstream media: the question "why do they hate us?", where the "they" is loose enough to apply not only to the 9/11 hijackers, but was also extended to Arabs or Muslims indiscriminately. I wrote about this in the introduction to a review of Lee Smith's terrible book, which is out in the current issue of Bidoun magazine but unfortunately not online. Here's the relevant excerpt:

On 20 September 2001, President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress. The speech was structured around a series of questions about the terrorist attacks that had occurred nine days earlier  — who had conducted them, why they had done so, how the United States would retaliate and what was expected of Americans. The second of these questions was phrased by Bush as follows: “Americans are asking, ‘Why do they hate us?’” 

The “they” in that interrogation, in Bush’s speech, was in reference to “the terrorists.” But it soon took on another meaning as it was re-appropriated by newspaper columnists. In a 6,791-word essay that appeared  in Newsweek’s 15 October 2001 edition, titled “The politics of rage: Why do they hate us?”, Fareed Zakariya gave that question a broader answer, looking beyond the motives of the 9/11 hijackers and delving into sociological analysis of the countries they came from. Zakariya is one of America’s most influential middle-brow public intellectuals, through his editorship of Newsweek’s international edition, his CNN world affairs show GPS, and his numerous books. In his essay he planted the seed of one of the most pernicious ideas of the last decade’s “war on terror,” the idea of the collective responsibility — of a pseudo-civilizational sort — of Arabs (and often, also Iranians) for the actions of al-Qaeda’s 19 hijackers. 

Zakariya focused not on al-Qaeda, but the Arab world and Iran, whose dysfunction — the product of failed ideological projects, Western-backed authoritarianism and resurgent religious millennialism — had created a culture of visceral anti-Americanism that culminated in the events of 9/11. “Arabs, however, feel that they are under siege from the modern world and that the United States symbolizes this world….  This is the culture from which the suicide bombers have come,” Zakariya wrote.

“Why do they hate us?”, as it sublimated into a standard meme in American media, has become not a question but an indictment of nearly 300 million people and an affirmation that “they” are the problem behind Islamist terrorism. Like another closely related bromide, “They hate our freedom”, it presents a stark, black-and-white clash of cultures in which the “they” is both hostile and victimized, an enemy that needs to be rescued fron itself. As Zakariya concluded his essay, “If the West can help Islam enter modernity in dignity and peace, it will have done more than achieved security. It will have changed the world.”

"Why do they hate us?" is what some may now be asking in the Muslim world — particularly after Cordoba House, Switzerland's minaret ban and France's very loaded discourse on national identity, which after all are the product of state policies and mainstream politics, not a fringe group.