[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.