Islam: Unmentionable in D.C.

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by ajtr, Jul 15, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Islam: Unmentionable in D.C.

    The recent suicide bombing against Pashtun tribal elders in Mohmand, a region not far from Peshawar, the capital city of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, made my mind return to conversations I’d had in Peshawar in 2000. Westerners could then roam the non-restricted areas of the province without much fear. Peshawar, which was a hotbed of Islamic militancy, still offered the full range of Pashtun cosmopolitanism: international hotels where VIP natives and foreigners could get alcohol; lots of Internet shops where locals emailed their relatives abroad and scanned porno sites; and video-and-DVD stores where you could easily get contraband copies of newly-released Hollywood blockbusters or, with a bit more effort, skin flicks. It was a lively, dirty, dilapidated, but relatively well-organized city (the British empire lived on) swamped with Pashtun Afghans who greatly preferred life there to the boredom, poverty, and religious unpleasantness of Taliban rule north of the border.

    What I liked best about the place was how easy it was to have conversations about Islam. Westernized businessmen and officials, journalists, imams from neighborhood mosques, the ordinary faithful after prayers, rug merchants, taxi drivers, soldiers, and die-hard Islamic militants pumping iron in god-awful gyms would all proffer their opinions about the faith, America, Christianity, Jews, and Osama bin Laden (most applauded the man). Pakistanis become intellectually serious pretty quickly. And even among the hesitant, it didn't take that long before you could have an energetic conversation about what many Westerners would describe as sensitive issues. After the attack on the USS Cole in Aden in October 2000, everyone there knew that bin Laden and the Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar had found some common ground. By and large, the Peshawaris saw jihad against the United States as understandable and acceptable, and those who agreed, and those who didn’t, weren’t offended when an American asked them about the earthly manifestations of their faith.

    I haven’t returned to Peshawar since 2000, but it’s a good guess that the same conversations are to be had, though undoubtedly in greater variation, since jihadist violence has now savaged Pakistan. It’s an odd situation: Throughout the greater Middle East, frank discussions about Islam are easier to have than they are in Washington, D.C.—especially among government officials. Ask someone in the Obama administration about jihad and, unless the official knows the conversation is off the record—and sometimes even if it is off the record—that official likely will become a bit panicked, nonplussed, and try to change the subject.

    It’s been 18 months since Mr. Obama became president; thirteen months since he gave his Cairo speech and rolled out his “New Beginning” approach to the Muslim world. Primary result: In the nation’s capital, conversations have become boring, lightweight, and sometimes inane.

    Although it’s deeply politically incorrect to say so, intellectually, things were better under the Bush administration. President George W. Bush struggled briefly with the issue of whether it was okay to use the word “Islamofascism.” I’m against its use but it’s not philosophically absurd to use this term in describing some of the modern Islamic movements that sprang from the Egyptian Hassan Al Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood and the subcontinent’s great modern theologian Abul Ala Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami (Maududi was quite open in his admiration of fascism’s inspirational capacity). President Bush’s public use of the term one time provoked considerable debate in the West and in the Middle East. Mr. Bush’s more adamant embrace of democracy-exporting rhetoric provoked even more discussion. Such controversy was all for the best. Muslim-versus-Muslim debate is always more robust when the West, especially the United States, is also actively engaged in the discussion. Whether the invidious subject is slavery, female genital mutilation, Sharia’s draconian corporal punishments (hudud laws), women’s rights, corruption, jihadism, “oriental despotism,” or representative government, intra-Muslim ethical deliberations on most of these subjects have been provoked by Westerners and Westernized Muslims taking issue with prevailing practices.

    President Obama’s operating philosophy toward the Muslim world appears to be that being “offensive” towards Muslims can’t be good for Muslim–non-Muslim relations. Mr. Obama’s dispensation more or less follows the arguments made by a wide variety of liberal intellectuals while Mr. Bush was president. To wit: The Iraq war (though not the Afghan war), Guantanamo, rendition, waterboarding, and Mr. Bush’s existential presence (his Christian Evangelical essence) accentuated the Muslim–non-Muslim divide, thereby contributing to anti-American anger and the manufacture of holy warriors. We never knew how many holy warriors Mr. Bush produced, but the implication was lots.

    And the black Barack Hussein Obama would do wonders to fix all this. In the immortal words of The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, Mr. Obama’s “face” would be “the most effective potential rebranding of the United States since Reagan.” In December 2007, Mr. Sullivan asked us to consider this hypothetical: “It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image,

    America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm…. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close.” What does one do with this extreme mirror imaging of one’s one biases into the minds of foreigners? Senator John McCain obviously didn’t know how to handle it. (But I have a suggestion: In 2010 Mr. Sullivan and I should travel together through Pakistan, visiting the Pashtun and Punjabi breeding grounds of jihadism and see how President Obama’s “face” is doing.)

    The history-annulling quality of this “New Beginning” line of thought (Islamic militancy has a very long history; it attracted many of the Muslim world’s best minds to its standard long before President Bush destroyed Saddam Hussein; being a black Christian son of an African Muslim is much more important and estimable in America than in the Middle East) really should have encountered a bit more resistance from those who knew the Muslim world.

    But time is quickly cruel. Although Mr. Obama could make a recovery among devout Muslims, he appears to have become more or less irrelevant to fundamentalist discussions—except on the issue of Israel/Palestine where there is considerable disappointment. (President Obama was supposed to come down hard on the Jewish state; that he has not done so has significantly diminished his “change” appeal among both religious and secular Arabs). Radicalization among

    American Muslims seems to have actually increased during Mr. Obama’s presidency and, if this is true, it would be dubious to suggest that anything Mr. Obama has done provoked that increase. The radicalization of Europe’s Muslim community—probably still the greatest jihadist threat to the West—doesn’t seem to have changed course because Barack Obama is in the White House.

    The number of die-hard jihadists may have gone down in the Muslim world since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but if this is so it is undoubtedly because (1) the United States military and allied armed forces have killed and imprisoned jihadists more quickly than they could reproduce and (2) Arabs and Pakistanis—the two big constituencies for Al Qaeda and like-minded organizations—have seen so much Muslim-on-Muslim bloodshed in the Middle East and Central Asia in the last decade that they have begun to recoil from the organizations that once fascinated so many of them. Muslim militants aren’t children. They know a hell of a lot more about their faith than do American presidents who assert that “Islam is a religion of peace.” (What Islam is, as with Christianity and Judaism, is an evolving question, but it’s not just Muslim holy warriors who don’t care for the Prophet Mohammad being depicted as a pre-modern peacenik.)

    Since the inauguration of Mr. Obama, the Saudis certainly haven’t reformed their massive, state-financed export of virulently anti-Western Wahhabi ideology, or their own school books, which still depict Jews and Christians as being pretty far down the evolutionary ladder. Mr. Obama’s outreach to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was certainly used as a rhetorical battering ram by Iran’s pro-democracy dissidents; but these dissidents no longer shout "U ba ma" (“he is with us”) in Persian since it became obvious that the president really only wanted to talk to Mr. Khamenei about his nukes, not about representative government. Needless to say, the supreme leader’s Islam is not the Islam of Barack Obama, who declared in Cairo, “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” (Is it possible that President Obama discussed the “negative stereotyping” in his private correspondence to Khamenei?)

    Now it’s possible that President Obama’s play-nice approach to the Muslim world won’t leave us in any worse shape than we were in when he arrived in the White House. It is, however, questionable. When Mr. Obama’s attorney general twists himself into knots trying to avoid juxtaposing the word “Islam” with the word “terrorism,” and when the president’s senior counterterrorism advisor gives speeches on Islam that would be more appropriate on “Sesame Street,” you gotta wonder whether the dumbed-down level of public Washington discourse is the visible sign of internal bureaucratic rot. In any case, we would do well to remember the observation that Princeton historian Michael Cook made about Islamic history:

    "It was the fusion of … [an] egalitarian and activist tribal ethos with the monotheist tradition that gave Islam its distinctive political character. In no other civilization was rebellion for conscience sake so widespread as it was in the early centuries of Islamic history; no other major religious tradition has lent itself to revival as a political ideology—and not just a political identity—in the modern world."

    Osama bin Laden, a rebel if there ever was one, is much older than he appears. We would do well also to remember that the libraries in Iran’s dissident-rich universities and the homes of the country’s increasingly secular intellectuals are full of books that are chapters to the exquisitely invidious but enormously productive dialogue between the West and Islam. And great books, like great statesmen, are almost never nice.

    Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard.
  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
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    By stereotyping a group of people in a negatively hurting manner only makes them more insular and dangerous.

    The US has to learn the British way of governance - divide and rule. If you club all Muslim as Islamofascists when many amongst them are trying their best to keep on the right side of law and international niceties, one will only harden them and push them on the wrong side of the divide.

    Islamofascism is a slur. Terrorism is fine since that can be observed and endorsed as right, but fascism?

    Fascism difficult to define

    If Bush's exporting democracy is above board, then why was there so much brouhaha over USSR exporting Communism during the Cold War era? This is merely forcibly slotting a square peg in a round hole. The logic of the argument is flawed. In fact, most of the world , including those who were favourably inclined towards the US, found the exporting of democracy as a mere front for neo colonialism.

    The Israel Palestine question is not that easy to solve. It has become a Gordian Knot. But, for the first time, there has been movement on the issue, where Israel has not got a free hand. It maybe a right move or it maybe wrong. Debatable at best. However, to the non US world, it has kindled hope and it is now for the Palestinians to respond and they must abhor violence since the step by the US has been real bold. If the Palestinians don't reciprocate, the consequence for them will be real serious and they will lose any sympathy that they might be having!

    Bush could not solve Iraq nor could he 'bring boys back' from Iraq. The new US Administration has done something in this direction. The violence is still present, but not the extent it was before and more responsibility has been given to the Iraqis to do the task themselves.

    In Afghanistan, Obama has increased the drone attacks in Pakistan (and there is less of feigned rhetoric from the Pakistan govt) and forced Pakistan to take action against the terrorists in Swat and elsewhere.

    The internal terrorism in Pakistan has increased and of that there is no doubt. That should give heart to the right wing Americans since it shows that the US is succeeding and the Islamists are losing heart and hence the increased show of frustration.

    Maybe a Black as a President is an insult to the white US, but to the world, the US and its action is more acceptable than ever before. Not because the US President is a Black, but because his policies shows evenhandedness to a great extent compared to the gung ho, wild west image the US has enjoyed through its history.

    The "with us or against us" had failed since most were against. Today, it is not so. Inspite of US actions not suitable for many nations, yet there is much less animosity towards the US. Even the Pakistan govt is less rhetorical to the repeated drone attacks.

    The colour divide in the US still exists and it has been a rude shock for the Bible thumping, fire and brimstone evangelists, hillbillies and the rednecks and the vast majority of the illiterate Joe the Plumbers who form a large majority of the US population that they have a Black as a President and that is the problem. They supported Bush all through till it became too much for them that there were too many of their loved ones returning home, not as victorious soldiers, but in body bags!! Bush ensured body bags and now even though there is a lot of fighting in Afghanistan, the body bag count is much less!

    To put my views in the correct perspective, I would say Bush was a best friend of India than all US Presidents. Obama is no patch and one can hardly feel he is a friend of India. Yet, we have to pragmatically analyse issues; and regarding the US international image in view, it is way better than ever before and the US is succeeding slowly but surely rather than the earlier floundering that was seen in Iraq.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2010
    ajtr and Yusuf like this.
  4. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    The representations prevailing in the West about the Muslim
    world stem from a complex elaboration process where historical and
    political factors are intertwined.
    Historical and geographical proximity always means complex and
    competitive relations between the geopolitical entities concerned. And
    this has certainly been the case between the European and the Muslim
    world since the Middle Ages and implied handing over an historical
    memory of conflicts.The rivalry between Islam and Chistianity, between
    Al-Andalus and the Christian kingdoms, between the Christian and
    Ottoman empires triggered conflicts of interests and ideologies tending
    to turn the other into the Devil. You just have to read Amin Maalouf's
    book "The Crusades seen by the Arabs" or to sea Youssef Chahine's
    film "Saladin" to realize that their interpretation of such historic events is
    just the opposite of the one we have built in the West with a reverse
    symbolism. Nevertheless, the distorsions brought about by such a
    situation did not prevent the development of mutual influence. The
    Bizantine Empire had close links to the Omeyas and th Abbasis in the
    East ( even closer than with the European Christian kingdoms), there
    will be constant economic and cultutral exchanges between Al-Andalus
    and the Christian kingdoms just as the westernization of medieval Islam
    is an undeniable historic process ( Sicily, the Iberian peninsula, the
    However, the modern and contemporary times witnessed the
    development by the West of an ideology based on western cultural
    superiority, which will be the corner stone of its relations with others,
    and more intensively so with Islam, giving rise to what apparently
    looked like a cultural gap but that had, in effect, deep political roots.
    The time when Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain, as
    well as the discovery of America represent the starting point of a
    process whereby Europe sees itself as a close identity and proclaims it
    is the only one to possess the attributes of mankind, considering as a
    consequence other peoples as inferior. The ideological elaboration
    process that supports this European vision was completed during the
    Renaissance and is still at play nowadays. It has to do with a selective
    interpretation of History, which eradicates the East from European thinking and gives birth to the myth of Greco-roman culture being its sole and only original source. In other words, the founding mith of European thinking expelled radically the oriental contribution , and within this contribution, the significant role played by Muslim thinking in the safeguard and revitalization of hellenistic philosophy as well as in the development of a rationalistic philosophy of its own. As a result, the concept of two different isolated worlds that do not have the least common heritage, flourished.
    Later on, with the development of colonialism, we came to consider European culture as superior to all others and to look upon the cultures of colonized peoples as inferior. Since then, Europe is infused with a deep cultural ethnocentricism through which it looks upon other cultures in an essentialist manner (that is to say as if they were closed up, inmutable and monolithic, incapable of progress nor evolution, in a way that is determinant for their future). As a result we tend to consider that the notions of progress, dynamism and innovation belong to European civilization, that was then transformed in Western, and it should be universally imitated1. At a later stage, when the anti-colonial movement developed in Europe, it will question the legimacy of the methods used ( political domination and economic exploitation), but not the vocation of the West to serve as the cultural model that would enable the world to modernize. Progress and development could not be but the identical reproduction of what had happened in the West.
    In the Arab and Muslim world, the colonial vision at work will look upon the native cultural heritage and trsnmit the idea that everything that came from from the Islamic heritage was backward and contrary to progress and modernity. From then on, the idea according to which Islam and modernity are mutually exclusive gained more and more strength, the only valued contribution will be the one coming from Arab and Muslim intellectuals who are close to European thinking, since this is yet an other way to stress their dependance vis à vis Western supremacy.
    The problem is that the belief in such a supremacy prevailed also among the nationalist elites that lead the way to independance and then constitued the governments of the newly born Nation- States, which were convinced that the ideal solution lied in the imitation of the West.
  5. Calanen

    Calanen Regular Member

    Jun 10, 2009
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    The behaviour of the followers of the Religion of Peace do far more to 'stereotype' muslims than anyone noticing what they are doing ever could. It's not just Islamafascism as a term that is supposedly off limits, but any reference to Islamic terrorism at all - just 'terrorism'. One of the most important factors in criminal law in the West is intent, the reason for committing the act of terror. These people say they are doing it for Islam, and that needs to be faced up to squarely - not whitewashed with politically correct apologism. Westerners noticing Islamic terrorists for what they are - Islamic terrorists - do not give Islam a bad name, those who are Islamic terrorists do. The whole debate is like saying that police create more criminals by issuing a description of who they are looking for on the news.

    The other point is, that Islamic terrorists do not care what Westerners or other infidels call them.
  6. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    The real fact is that west is islamophobic.It puts militant groups on terror list according to its interests.The same mujahedeen west is fighting now at one time were the darling of west.
  7. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Islam, Muslims, and the US

    By Arshad Zaman
    June 17, 2010

    The US subscribes to the ‘melting pot’ rather than the ‘mosaic’ model of unity — seeking unity ‘from’ diversity, rather than unity ‘in’ diversity. Confronted by the ‘other,’ the American way is to absorb or to kill. Live and let live is not an option. Historically, race (African-Americans) and ideology (communism) have raised the most profound anxieties among Americans. American Muslims are burdened by both.

    Until the 1973 Arab-Israeli War in October, which led to a spike in oil prices, Americans had been scarcely aware of Islam and Muslims. In 1973, however, as Americans queued at petrol stations, Walter Cronkite informed them on “CBS Evening News” that Arabs were “Mawz-lems” who subscribed to a religion “Iz-lum”. That many Arabs are Christians as well as Jews is even today a well-kept secret from most Americans, as is the lack of church and clergy in Islam, and the differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Although the Nation of Islam was a precedent, mainstream Islam did not emerge on the radar of American consciousness until the 1979 Iran revolution. The revolution blindsided the Americans. They simply could not understand why a ‘mediaeval cleric’ would be preferred by Iranians to a modern, progressive ruler. The detail, that the CIA had engineered a coup in 1953 against a democratically elected secular government to install a dictator, the Shah of Iran, was largely forgotten.

    It was the hostage crisis of November 1979, covered night after night on live television, more than the revolution itself that provided the Americans with their first introduction to Islam and Muslims. ABC — one of only four TV channels that existed, before cable and Internet — ran a nightly special, ‘America Held Hostage,’ and Walter Cronkite added to his signature sign-off a running count of the number of days the hostages had been in captivity. In his 1981 book, Covering Islam, Edward Said documents the birth of the reductionist racist caricature of Muslims and Islam that emerged. By 1990, a Yale professor of Pakistani-Welsh descent, Sara Suleri, would say that “the only form of licensed racism today is anti-Muslim racism.” This popular anti-Muslim racism acquired intellectual respectability during the 1990s. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 altered the balance of power in the Middle East and threatened the future of the military-industrial-financial complex in America. A Christian-Zionists alliance, aided by Israeli intelligence, re-cast the Palestinian uprising against occupation as Muslim terrorism against democratic Israel. Tapping into an abiding American phobia, an ‘–ism’ was added to Islam, to create ‘Islamism’ as the new Communism. “9/11” acted as rainfall on seeded ground as America found a new bête noire.

    In December 2001, African-American novelist Ishmael Reed wrote in Time magazine, “Within two weeks after the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings, my youngest daughter, Tennessee, was called a dirty Arab, twice.” By 2008, Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson, discussing racial profiling in The New York Times, dispensed with an African-American example, “nearly all of us have a civil liberties threshold: imagine Pakistani madrassa graduates lining up at airport security; race matters in such cases, and need no animus.” In the ongoing 2010 Population Census “Pakistani” is a race! In sum, race is the essential substance onto which Americans graft all the attributes — like religion, or the propensity to violence — that constitute an individual, and a people. This essential negritude of Muslims, and Islam, requires that Muslims re-construct Islam to accept the moral superiority of the white race, or they accept exile, or death.

    The writer is a retired economist who blogs at ([email protected])
    Published in the Express Tribune, June 17th, 2010.

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