‘Islamism’ in the Western Imagination

March 5, 2010 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

In this 16-part series I have done my non-specialist’s best to make comprehensive sense of a complex ‘hot-button’ issue, taking care to give empirical evidence and historical examples based on variety of accessible sources. My goal is to situate the dangerous escalation of the conflict between Western democratic imperialism and radical Islam – the so-called ‘War on Terror’ – in the various contexts of ideology, history, geo-politics and popular struggles for democracy in the Muslim world. The 16 parts of this series add up to a coherent argument, but each deals with a specific context and stands on its own.

Under the headline ‘Appeasers,’ the Sunday book section the New York Times recently reviewed a book called Surrender : Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom by Bruce Bower. The Times’ critic Stephen Pollard, began breathlessly: ‘There is no more important issue facing the West than Islamism, Islamofascism or – to use another label – radical Islam. And there is no more necessary precondition to countering that threat than understanding it, where it springs from, how it is expressed, and the ways in which it is spreading. But before we do any of that, we have to agree that the threat exists.’

But does ‘the threat’ indeed exist? And is it really ‘more important’ than catastrophic climate change, proliferating WMD’s, or the world economic crisis? If we sincerely wish to analyse the social forces which express themselves under the various banners of what Westerners have lumped together under the heading of ‘Radical Islamism,’ perhaps we should begin by deconstructing the concept and to situating it in the context of the Orientalist ideology of Western colonialism/imperialism. And what better place to begin our study than America’s moderate, middlebrow Sunday Times Book Review, a generally a good barometer of middle-of-the-road opinion in the US and a publication which has reviewed one or more of the proliferating new books on the Islamic threat almost every week over the past decade?

Returning to the Times’ ‘Appeasers’ piece, the ‘insidious problem’ for Pollard is that ‘many liberals and others on the European left are making common cause with radical Islam and then brazenly and bizarrely denying both the existence of that alliance and in fact the existence of any Islamic threat whatsoever.’ Bower’s book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom supports Pollard’s thesis by rounding up the usual suspects : Tariq Ramadan, the insidiously charming Islamic theologian, Ken Livingston, the left-wing former Mayor of London, and the unnamed ‘Western leaders’ who allegedly failed to defend the publisher of the anti-Muslim Danish cartoons. The Times’ Pollard concludes somewhat hysterically: ‘Bower is unquestionably correct, and that fact is quite simply terrifying.’

Terrifying? To be sure the silver-tongued scholar Ramadan, does send different messages to the Faithful and to the kaffirs (Arabic for ‘goyim’) ; and Livingston was an unprincipled, opportunistic Left politician looking for votes among England’s fast-growing Muslim population (along with the British Socialist Workers’ Party and its erstwhile ally Respect). But this is old news. Neither has much influence any more, and although ‘insidious’ they were hardly ‘terrifying.’ On the other hand, equating Western leaders’ alleged ‘appeasement’ of political Islam with the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930’s is sheer hysterical (and historical) lunacy, as those of us who actually live in Europe can testify.

Far from ‘appeasing’ Islam, the Swiss, after a virulently anti-Muslem right-wing campaign, have just voted by referendum to ban the construction of minarets. Meanwhile, at this writing the right-wing Sarkosy government is orchestrating a summit-level discussion of ‘French national identity’ while simultaneously demomising and expelling non-white immigrants including long-time residents and human rights activists. Nor is there a dearth of French anti-Muslim books denouncing the ‘appeasement’ of Islamicism with titles like Conquering the West: the Secret Project of the Islamists and France Infected with Islamism: Terrorist Threats within the Hexagon.

In any case, writers representing the ‘Appeasers’ school of anti-Islamism (not to mention the Times’ fact-checkers) can hardly be unaware that for at least a decade the US and Britain (not to mention Israel) have been systematically boycotting, bombing, invading Islamic countries and assassinating Islamic leaders. They call that ‘Appeasement?’ The ongoing wars against Afghanistan and Iraq have already lasted much longer than WWII, with concomitant waste of lives and treasure and no end in sight. Can Messrs. Pollard, Bower and the Book Review editors who commissioned, headlined and ran this hysterical propaganda piece really believe that the feeble, phoney left-liberal voices of Ramadan, Livingston and the like threaten to prevail over negative stereotypes with which CNN, Fox News, the New York Times and Western leaders have been bombarding us for years as justification for hugely expensive oil-wars in the Middle-East?

What we read in their texts is not empirical argument but ideology that, like religion itself, is supremely indifferent to fact and logic. It is easy for us Westerners to laugh at the Ayatollahs’ depiction of dear old Uncle Sam as the ‘Great Satan,’ but harder to see the ideological demonisation of Muslems and Arabs in our own ‘liberal’ media.

The next article in series will appear in next week’s London Progressive Journal.

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This post was written by Richard Greeman

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