Islamophobia = Islamism (Replies to John)

John asks (all further blockquotes will be from the linked comment):

[W]hy make the claim that [the Islamophobes’] approach is useless or dangerous…?

By now I’ve written fairly extensively on what I think is wrong with an Islamophobic approach, and I have also been involved in lengthy and contentious thread exchanges both here and at HotAir.  We’ve discussed why an alternative term like “anti-Islamism” creates confusion, and we have repeatedly discussed what it might mean to assert a “rational Islamophobia.”  I’ve argued from the other angle as well – criticizing the Obama Administration’s initial refusal to recognize the role of Islamism in the Hasan killings last November, or more recently arguing in favor of the Bush Administration’s willingness to name the enemy.

I suppport speaking directly and accurately.  However, attaching collective guilt to all Muslims or to “Islam itself” for the acts of some Muslims is in my view just the flip side of refusing to address Islamism for fear of offending Muslims.  Both approaches, beyond all of their other faults, wrongly validate the Islamists’ claim to represent Islam.

Specifically to the question: I’ve not made the claim that the work of the Islamophobes/anti-Islamists is “useless.”  I believe, however, that it would be much more useful if more carefully considered, both on its own terms and in relation to ongoing military operations, political initiatives, and economic concerns worldwide.  I have also lately grown more concerned about what that lack of care, as well as the (usually dismissive and hostile) refusal to reflect on it, implies about the conservative Islamophobes’ aims, emotional investments, and political trajectory.

I do argue that the Islamophobes are dangerous – not least to conservatism.  The eventual emergence of an openly anti-Muslim political movement in the United States, and to the precise extent it does emerge, would be harmful to our interests (including but not limited to those operations, initiatives, concerns).  A betrayal of foundational American values, it deserves, to paraphrase our Iraqi friend Ayad Allawi, to be fought room to room and house to house.

Especially if you claim that [the Islamophobes] are the mirror image of the Islamists, I would think we should take them seriously in an age when, whether it is singular or multiple, Islamism is on the rise.

I think there is symmetry or mirroring between Islamophobes and Islamists, but one thing I don’t think I can be accused of is a failure to take either seriously.

Islamophobic discourse overlaps with and in critical respects tends to validate the Islamist discourse, in particular by supporting Islamist claims to representation of all of Islam.  In that sense, my position is that Islamophobia – particularly the conservative Islamophobic discourse of Geller, Chesler, McCarthy, Bawer, Spencer, Steyn, and their numerous followers and supporters – is an Islamism:  A radically reductive pseudo-mediation between (supposed) Islam and (supposed) non-Islam, tacitly allied with and dependent upon what we generally call radical or fundamentalist Islam.  Islamophobia is radical Islamism for non-Muslims, and radical Islamism is Islamophobia for Muslims.

All of this is predictable and inevitable – but no less deserving of criticism and resistance for being so.

The Islamophobes write indictments of Muslim bigotry in the language of collective prejudice.  Those who favor pluralism, freedom of conscience, and universal human rights should, to the best of our abilities, seek always to speak in ways that demonstrate respect for pluralism, freedom of conscience, and universal human rights.

Where and as justified, with appropriate care but forthrightly, go ahead and indict “Hamas,” or “Hezbollah,” or “tribalism,” or “fundamentalist Islam,” or “oppression,” or “radical Islamism” or “terrorism” or “rejectionism” or “Wahhabism” or “Salafism” or “the government of Iran” or “the Free Gaza Movement” or “radicalized European immigrants” or “the AKP” or “The Taliban” or “Al Qaeda,” and so on, but never “Muslims” or “Islam.”

Use whatever terminology accurately and incisively describes what we oppose, in a way that demonstrates and advances our values, while dividing our less committed adversaries as much as possible from the stubborn enemy; converting as many in the latter category as possible, as much as possible, to a non-threatening position; and isolating and neutralizing the non-convertible and implacably aggressive remnant.

Understanding that radical Islamism is a collaborative construct, we need to define, encourage, and enable free and democratic post-Islamist identities.  We begin with ourselves, because there is no other option.

You seem to imply that we could somehow better understand the complex of Islam by absenting those who are proving successful in drawing warring lines. Why?

If we have to draw lines (that may be a concept for prior eras of warfare), we should draw them in positions that maximize our chances of victory, at the least risk and cost, and under the moral imperative of the “last resort.”

If we go looking for another, more expert, more liberal, center of opinion [other than Islamophobic] around which to discuss Islam and the West, just what is it about the present situation that makes our quest likely to succeed?

No single person, no school, no discourse can claim a complete grasp of all possibilities and potentials.  If one course of thought and action enables us to proceed in a morally, intellectually, and strategically sound manner, and the other doesn’t, the choice should not be difficult.  A morally and intellectually unsound approach – one that requires us, among other things, to sacrifice the very things that we are seeking to protect – cannot be “likely to succeed.”  It is certain to fail in the most important ways, and at best preserve the possibility for some future recuperation of what has been lost.  If war is forced upon us, maintaining a firm grasp on what we’re fighting for becomes even more important, for the sake of a victory worth having.

How come all the liberal and “moderate” Islamic experts have so far done little in way of focusing the debate? Is it really because Pamela Geller (etc.) keeps getting in the way?

I’m not sure that we’re in a position to characterize the debate as a whole, but a concern about valid and inevitable responses getting channeled into counterproductive pathways isn’t the same as accusing the conservative Islamophobes of being the chief obstacle to better-directed responses.  However, within the conservative “blogosphere” and among “hard” conservatives, the influence of Islamophobes should not be underestimated.

I don’t quite understand why you think my statement implies that Islam can be funneled into a singular mediating process. No doubt any mediation is something of a funnel; how could I begin to discuss Islam without some such device?

I don’t accept that we are discussing “Islam,” or that we should even try to discuss “Islam” in such terms.  Any attempt at a political discussion of Islam as such is an affront to Muslims first, but beyond that the very mode of speaking is an affront to all who believe in freedom of conscience.

Confronting some Islamic essence – talking meaningfully and responsibly about Islam as such – is far beyond conventional political discussion, and, where not “foolish and dangerous,” it is at a minimum disrespectful to pretend otherwise.  Very few of those compulsively discussing Islam have in any respect established their qualifications for doing so.  Fewer still can pretend to do so from a neutral, balanced, or objective standpoint.

The insistence on a “singular mediating process” requires the reduction of “Islam” to some particular “Islamism” – as any political discourse will inherently require:  If our objective is to support pluralism, and to encourage and support alternatives to “bad Islam,” then a mode of analysis that begins by subordinating and erasing all alternatives seems to me to be the worst possible and precisely wrong starting point.

[I]t’s not satisfactory simply to be told that we must wait some time for history to show what are and aren’t the more powerful trends. While it is more important for us to focus on what we love and to advance its claims for renewal over our desires to express resentment of others, attending to the latter is necessary to help clarify the former and create terms for alliances and honest enemies.

Because these are already matters of life and death, and potentially matters of the greatest imaginable global, historical, and moral significance, we need to treat the “terms for alliances and honest enemies” with the greatest seriousness.

I’m going to skip over the interesting quote from Roger Scruton, because it addresses a particular radical community and set of conditions (at most a set of particular communities), without a clear justification for more general application – and thus takes on the the form of the same collective judgment/non-pluralist/etc. approach I’ve been arguing against all along.  I’ll note, however, that political “representation” is not an easy question in Western societies either.  It was a major subject of dispute over many years during the time that this country was putting itself together, for instance, and the conclusions reached have been continually contested up to this day – as alternative conclusions are in other democratic polities.

Somewhat similarly, the cyclical rise and fall of political orders within Islam described by Ibn Khaldun also has counterparts in Western philosophy and history – and the latter examples also happened to weigh heavily on the minds of America’s founders.  Though it’s tempting to assign Khaldun’s re-founding “tribesman” role to all of Islam on a global level, that would certainly be an oversimplification.  Additionally, since that process would take place in cultural evolutionary/historical time, we can also expect that the Sharia absorbed in the relatively distant future on a global level would look a lot more like advanced, relatively “decadent” (pragmatic, adaptive, re-interpreted) Sharia, than like the fundamentalist-literalist Sharia of revolutionary Iran or a village in Waziristan (or an Islamophobic blog post).

It’s conceivable that the evolutionary process may be accelerated in our time.  If so, the examples – successes as well as detours – of reformers and revolutionaries of the Western Enlightenment may be helpful, and it may be from this perspective that we can begin to talk about Islamic law, philosophy, culture, history, and tradition “as such.”  Characteristics of Islamic thought, culture, and practice that are typically ignored – where not belittled and ridiculed – by Islamophobes may also prove helpful.

Destruction is much easier than production and requires far fewer resources.

Only at first.  Sustained and extensive destruction is extremely expensive – especially once you start calculating the cost of dealing with resistance, and the difficulty of sustaining motivation among the destroyers.

In short, if we are to defeat the more nihilistic forms of contemporary Islam, and if we are to avoid alienating all Muslim potential allies, can we really avoid the fight between Islamists and Islamophobes, instead of engaging it to represent it in ways that help push our fight along?  The problem with Spencer, Geller, et. al, is that they are weak when it comes to articulating the faith that makes liberal society compelling. We should try to work on that without denying the necessity of at least some of their resentments.

Absolutely.


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19 comments on “Islamophobia = Islamism (Replies to John)

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  1. I get it we cannot point out any manifestation of radical Islam, because that is prejorative of all of Islam, and we can’t point to them
    because you know the Crusades, the Inquisition are always to cast
    a shadow over Christianity, that was suspiciously like the argument
    that Bill Clinton used right after 9/11

  2. @ narciso:

    However, attaching collective guilt to all Muslims or to “Islam itself” for the acts of some Muslims is in my view just the flip side of refusing to address Islamism for fear of offending Muslims. Both approaches, beyond all of their other faults, wrongly validate the Islamists’ claim to represent Islam.

    Cast shadows, narc, all you can, but don’t claim to have darkened more than your evidence allows you to cover.

  3. narciso wrote:

    I get it we cannot point out any manifestation of radical Islam, because that is prejorative of all of Islam, and we can’t point to them

    How you extract that from anything I’ve written makes me wonder who and what you’ve been hanging around with.

  4. You’ve said Hamas, Hezbollah et al, isn’t a terrorist group, but there are members who are. I pointed to AQ, and you say it is, although one could just characterzie it as amovement to force out all Western influence from the Middle East (as Gadahn’s hudna plea, suggests)
    however it is a manifestation of Radical Islam, which I agree with you, that of Wahhabi-Deobandi character, You say most Moslems are peaceful. also agree, but among those who are committed to their faith, in a systemic way, there is a preponderance of Wahhabi influence

  5. narciso wrote:

    You’ve said Hamas, Hezbollah et al, isn’t a terrorist group,

    Where did I say that? Both groups employ terrorist tactics – and terrorists. I understand why someone like Rauf refrains from applying the collective characterizations – wasn’t it to Hamas, though? I don’t recall his being asked to characterize Hezbollah. I did raise questions as to whether Hezbollah is a genocidalist organization. The only evidence for that accusation turns out to be systematically fabricated or based on extrapolation.

    Rauf, and, in a clumsier way the Obamites, want to allow for the positive re-definition of identities wherever they are contestable. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of giving your enemy an escape route – or a path to honorable surrender – rather than requiring a war of total annihilation (at the highest cost to yourselves and to those caught in the middle).

  6. Hezbollah is an extension of the Iranian Pasdaran network, how many Jews you think they would allow to live, considering their statements.
    The flotilla occupants made explicit reference to Khaybar, what happened there, again, back around 610. Both Rauf and the Obama
    administration want to legitimize a terrorist organization, as does that piece from Ashrarquat ,that cannot be allowed to happen

  7. .
    narciso wrote:

    Hezbollah is an extension of the Iranian Pasdaran network, how many Jews you think they would allow to live, considering their statements.

    There are 15,000 Jews living in Tehran,and a dozen murdered since the Ayatollah took over.

    Hostile, hateful bigots aren’t genocidal maniacs. They’re hostile,hateful bigots

  8. narciso wrote:

    Hezbollah is an extension of the Iranian Pasdaran network, how many Jews you think they would allow to live, considering their statements.

    According to most of their actual and official statements, they would leave Jews as Jews unharmed – as opposed to whoever resisted the imposition of Islamist hegemony. This isn’t an absolute defense of Hezbollah. It’s simply a more strongly supported description of their political agenda. Likewise, though Hezbollah may be dependent on Iranian support, it would never have achieved its current status in Lebanon merely as an “extension” of another state’s security apparatus. By all evidence, Hezbollah commands the active support and loyalty of a very substantial and highly motivated portion of the Lebanese population, according, rightly or wrongly, to calculation of local interests. Pretending otherwise is to base a policy on wishful thinking, and to make the cardinal error of underestimating your enemy.

    If Hezbollah was simply a genocidalist organization operated as a front for another nation’s foreign policy, it would be much easier to dislodge and defeat. You don’t win battles by fighting the enemy you wish was on the other side, rather than the enemy that really is on the other side.

  9. Atheism really isn’t a very attractive opinion until you start hearing the opinions of Jews,Christians,and Muslims concerning religion. The tragedy of all Religions is that the Founder passes on leaving the system to the followers to ruin.

  10. Well it has done that more through ‘the persuasion of power’ than the power of persuasion, how many opponents to Hezbollah and their Syrian sponsor died just after the “Cedar REvolution” . Withdrawing from Southern Lebanon was a horrendous error in judgement, as it left
    Hezbollah in charge, same with Hamas, in Gaza

  11. During the Middle Ages, Islamic astronomers made important discoveries.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_astronomy
    In Europe, at that time, Copernicus was afraid to let his theory of a heliocentric solar systen be published. He feared he might be burned at the stake because his conclusions contradicted Genesis, Chapter 1.
    Could one imagine science blooming in the world of Islam today? At this moment in history, as I often say, there are only two doctrines that people accept with blind faith: Marxism and Islam.

  12. When Atheists view Religious Wars,all parties look like idiots fairly equally. The Islamists create an ongoing PR nightmare for their religion,as do the Jews,frequently. And the Christians are hardly peacemakers,many are bloodthirsty for an Apacolyptic event.
    “Wipe the Jews off the Map” “Bomb Bomb Iran” “Dump Phosphorus on Gaza” It’s all so inspiring. Religion has been the basis for many cruel wars,Crusades,Reformation/Counter Reformation,Islamic Wars of Conquest,Shintoism destroying Confucianism,etc etc,Are things so different today? And when Religion teams up with State power,well,they all Suck.

  13. For the life of me, I don’t see how our sentiments and those of Allawi
    are any different. I’ll excuse the fact that Iraqiya is the local branch of
    the Moslem Brotherhood, but it does not behave in that way, unlike other groups across the region.

    Now are we to consider Hezbollah legitimate, why, what is the logic of that. Just like Hamas, it’s objectives are not to clean the streets, feed the people, collect taxes, the goal is spelled out in the charter

  14. narciso wrote:

    Now are we to consider Hezbollah legitimate, why, what is the logic of that. Just like Hamas, it’s objectives are not to clean the streets, feed the people, collect taxes, the goal is spelled out in the charter

    So now the question is “legitimacy”? If you objective is to “de-legitimize” Hezbollah, you might want to consider new tactics. Cuz the ones everyone has been trying seem to have had the opposite effect – up to the day before yesterday anyway. False or weakly founded, exaggerated attacks tend to strengthen a political movement’s claims to legitimacy.

  15. You know better than that ,CK, otherwise the Bush administration wouldn’t have been in such bad odor, even before September 2008. Now what you mean is any attack by the right, has to be pitch perfect, even to those who have every intention of distorting both
    the action and the intent. Similarly Hezbollah fired from populated
    areas, in violation of the laws of war, and they get a pass. Hamas
    blows up pizza parlors and synagogues, high value targets all, and
    they get a pass, because they have a noble objective

  16. narciso wrote:

    You know better than that ,CK, otherwise the Bush administration wouldn’t have been in such bad odor, even before September 2008.

    The Bush Administration was not a “political movement.” The mechanism I described functions as I stated. It’s not the only mechanism that affects a movement’s or politician’s popularity, which is not the same thing as legitimacy.

    Now what you mean is any attack by the right, has to be pitch perfect, even to those who have every intention of distorting both
    the action and the intent.

    I guess what you mean is that the right should just say anything and assume it will serve a good purpose because the right is right.

    Similarly Hezbollah fired from populated
    areas, in violation of the laws of war, and they get a pass. Hamas
    blows up pizza parlors and synagogues, high value targets all, and
    they get a pass, because they have a noble objective

    Who distributes this “pass,” can I bring along a guest, and does it include drinks?

  17. Colin,

    I’m grateful for such a thoughtful reply. But I am slow to respond (at least in blogging terms) as I mull over what to make of such a carefully-hedged statement. I don’t disagree with it so much as wonder what possibilities it points to for a political discussion that does not only insist on decorum but opens up some real exchange of differences that can be truly revelatory, to those involved. If one is not actively trying to convert the other, professing good and evil, pushing revelation, is one having a political conversation? and can politics ever approximate an ideally-disinterested academic discussion, with its ways of mixing disinterested commentary and particular confessional statements?

    There are contexts in which I share your revulsion for collective guilt. Even though I consider what i would call “faith/guilt” societies to be freer and more productive than honor/shame societies, guilt to be productive needs to be freely accepted as part of one’s understanding of a shared covenant. Does it also have to be freely offered?

    One has little patience for the person who says all Christians are in some degree guilty of Nazi crimes because some Nazis were nominal Christians and this shows some logical endpoint of Christian thinking (say the Gospel of John). And yet, at the end of the day, one has to be able to acknowledge on some level that the Nazi movement was some kind of perversion of the Christian (or Judeo-Christian) tradition. But to be confident in calling it a perversion, I have to have some decided sense of what Christianity (or the Jewish model of nationhood) properly entails. On what grounds might I claim such? Are broad brush strokes only to be allowed or encouraged of charitable interpretations?

    I am confounded by statements like this:

    It’s conceivable that the evolutionary process may be accelerated in our time. If so, the examples – successes as well as detours – of reformers and revolutionaries of the Western Enlightenment may be helpful, and it may be from this perspective that we can begin to talk about Islamic law, philosophy, culture, history, and tradition “as such.” Characteristics of Islamic thought, culture, and practice that are typically ignored – where not belittled and ridiculed – by Islamophobes may also prove helpful.

    Here you seem to allow for what you reject elsewhere (at least in the domain of political speech): generalization about the nature of Islam “as such”. I suppose you recognize that on some level we must be able to talk about an Islam “problem” – the very nature of the Koran as a response to pre-existing forms of monotheism constitutes the problem which Islam generally discusses in terms of the turning away of historical Jews and Christians from the eternal truth of Islam. And yet the Islam problem – with the “unbeliever” and his (only apparent) precedence in the history of monotheism – should not be politicized you seem to say (I hope I am not framing your words too freely):

    I don’t accept that we are discussing “Islam,” or that we should even try to discuss “Islam” in such terms. Any attempt at a political discussion of Islam as such is an affront to Muslims first, but beyond that the very mode of speaking is an affront to all who believe in freedom of conscience.

    Confronting some Islamic essence – talking meaningfully and responsibly about Islam as such – is far beyond conventional political discussion, and, where not “foolish and dangerous,” it is at a minimum disrespectful to pretend otherwise. Very few of those compulsively discussing Islam have in any respect established their qualifications for doing so. Fewer still can pretend to do so from a neutral, balanced, or objective standpoint.

    No doubt those politicizing Islam are generally without qualifications, neutrality and objectivity. But just how can we begin to imagine a world in which Islam – and I think the vast majority of Muslims would recognize that Islam has at least some political dimensions – is not politicized, least of all in a country founded as a self-ruling republic with a deep populist impulse (your argument might get more traction up here in Canada)?
    Just how can the problems you recognize – “valid and inevitable responses getting channeled into counterproductive pathways” – be mediated productively by those with the kinds of bona fides you seem to desire? As we seek to inflect the valid and inevitable response, do we not have to defer more to the kind of polarized world in which we now live?

    Collective guilt is a problem but it is the problem of our times. The guilt ascribed by Islamophobes to Muslims is perhaps a response to the culture of White Guilt that has arisen in the West in the last 20-40 years, or it may be an inversion of the Koranic discourse against the kaffir. I see in a more recent post that you belittle Shelby Steele’s call on Westerners to feel less guilty – as if his suggestion is feel-good propaganda. YOu do seem to want to hold us to high standards by which a liberal society functions, to demand observance of a shared covenant for protecting the other’s freedom, a covenant which should produce in us a high degree of guilt that we may sustain our responsibilities.

    What would you say to the hypothesis that the only way we are going to get a renewal of shared covenants by which civil society can evolve and mediate present tensions is if we all learn to affirm a good deal of guilt and that this must entail all of us, including Muslims, better seeing and recognizing (our) victims and the potential for victimization in the very founding revelation and forms of our religious and political faiths? If one allows for some such hypothesis, one must then return to the question of what kind of politics will be more likely to produce it in a (populist) constitutional democracy like the USA. I am not convinced that your seeming ode to the era of liberal experts centering public discussion has still the means to create new iconic persons and memorable events that will redefine civil society and make personal what ultimately must become personal.

    You also say:

    I’m going to skip over the interesting quote from Roger Scruton, because it addresses a particular radical community and set of conditions (at most a set of particular communities), without a clear justification for more general application – and thus takes on the the form of the same collective judgment/non-pluralist/etc. approach I’ve been arguing against all along.

    -Scruton does refer to the situation in the UK and the problem of Islamism but it’s unfair to write him off because he seeks some general application for an understanding of core Islamic concepts like the waqf. Whatever the diversity in the ways of being an Islamic society, it’s surely the case that one can identify much which is generally characteristic of Muslim-dominated societies, in comparison to others. And surely it is important to note and discuss these things, politically and otherwise.

    Just as an aside, I came across this very curious story today. [Later Edit: I just reread the story and it may be that the description of the “offensive” book that follows is not quite right; still, the idea that there is a conpsiracy to mislead the Aga Khan speaks to Scruton’s point] Apparently there are a couple of Ismailis who profess loyalty to the Aga Khan but who refuse to recognize that he is the author of some writing with which they apparently take offense. They insist there is some great conspiracy to create a forgery even after the Aga Khan signs a notarized affidavit that he is the author. It strikes me that here is a unique instance, in a community not generally considered “radical”, of what is recognizably, to my mind at least, the general problem of which Scruton talks.

    Finally, I’ll just ask you about this:

    we can also expect that the Sharia absorbed in the relatively distant future on a global level would look a lot more like advanced, relatively “decadent” (pragmatic, adaptive, re-interpreted) Sharia, than like the fundamentalist-literalist Sharia of revolutionary Iran or a village in Waziristan (or an Islamophobic blog post).

    Can you in any way begin to imagine what this Sharia (sacred) law would look like? How will it get around the problem that Islam, I think we can generalize, does not have an easy time thinking of itself as a historically-unfolding revelation? As far as I am aware no school of fiqh allows for continual reinterpretation of its classical jurisprudence. Rather Islamic law evolves not so much by secularization – representing the old sacred in some distinctively new dress – but rather through the “Islamization” of new knowledge, through attempts to maintain the sacred forms of the original revelation and its classical interpretations. Or is this just another false generalization – but how could you prove it if so (what measure of sameness or difference could convince me? must you not offer also a politicized faith?)

  18. @ John:
    Please don’t apologize for taking your time to respond. I’m grateful for all stubbornly thoughtful resistance, and I’m not in any way committed to the infinitely unrolling toilet paper quality of blogging. I’m all in favor of the re-animation of seemingly dead posts or discussions – even from whole days or weeks in the past (imagine, something written weeks ago still being of interest to someone!).

    This exchange has given me the idea of making a point of re-visiting and reviewing ancient posts/discussions.

    As for the (anti-)Islamism discussion in particular, I’ll be thinking over a reply to your above comment. I’m also not through reacting to initial reaction to the first Cost of Islamophobia post, which was itself a kind of reaction to a series of posts. And I’m anticipating one or more book reviews addressing aspects of this topic that I find most interesting.

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  1. […] John asks: If one is not actively trying to convert the other, professing good and evil, pushing revelation, is one having a political conversation? and can politics ever approximate an ideally-disinterested academic discussion, with its ways of mixing disinterested commentary and particular confessional statements? […]

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