The Lucrative Business of Islam- hating: the Rise of Religious Bigotry
The currently trendy phenomenon of Islamophobia and the lucrative business of Islam-slamming ominously condemn us to recycling history through the irrational processes of reciprocated hate. But it is much more than the fear of repeating history that is at stake here. Muslims are no longer parts of a dominant civilization and are not co-participants in defining the norms of our lived world. No part of the Muslim world could be considered coherent units of integrated economic and political power as in the cases of Europe, Russia, China or India, and Muslims leverage very limited actual power in their lived world. But according to the dogma of the modern world, wars of aggression and foreign occupation are no longer permitted, and unlike pre-modern barbarisms, people and individuals need not rely on their ability to leverage power because all human beings and all nations have rights. Unfortunately that is where theory largely differs from reality.
We only wish if the United Nations was truly a democratic governance and that the Security Council applies the international law fairly and justly. But the gap between the reality and the ideal is what makes the contemporary condition so precarious for Muslims. There is not a single permanent member of the Security Council that is Muslim, and in this age, Muslims play a largely marginal role in governing or influencing global issues. The fact is that in this modern world the fate and well-being of most Muslim countries depends on the good faith and fair mindedness of the non-Muslim world powers and not the opposite.
World powers that have near hegemonic influence on today’s world are not immune to the numerous subjectivities that normally affect decision making. The rule of law and world order in the modern age presumably is premised on the assumption of the illegitimacy and wrongfulness of racially biased policies, but no one would seriously suggest that racism wittingly or unwittingly does not affect the subjectivities of policymakers. This however is one of the reasons that Islamophobia and Islam- hating is emblematic of the foundational failures of the modern age- policies that target or profile Muslims as a group aiming at a cultural invasion of Europe or that legitimate the denunciation and deprecation of the Islamic faith, very much like the institution and logic of apartheid, undermine the fundamental structure of legitimacy in the modern age. In this regard there are many reasons to be concerned.
Policies that are found on the presumed inherent dangers of Islamic theology or law, or policymakers who effectively legitimate religious bigotry by seeking the “expert” counsel of professional Islam haters do nothing less than undermine the very logic that provides structure and authoritativeness to the order of this age. The problem is not only about the existence of superstitious religious bigotry but the problem is that this religious bigotry is rationalized and legitimated. It is cleansed of all sense of shame and fault and then stated as a normative value. The fact on the ground is shocking, deeply troubling and overwhelming. For example, since 2002, thousands of books published in the United States and Europe spewed sheer hateful venom against Islamic theology, law and history. More troubling is the fact that many of these pseudointellectualized displays of bigotry became massive best sellers in Western countries. The writers of these hate-filled tracts were endowed with star status in the West as they consistently appeared as authoritative voices on everything Muslim in the media and were integrated into positions of authority by being given various institutional roles either as advisors to governments, members of government or references for specialized agencies within government.
Part of the very widespread phenomenon of religious bigotry was the opportunistic and parasitical celebration and promotion of so-called native informants- people who fit the Muslim ethnic and cultural profile claimed either that they are Muslim or used to be Muslim and above all were willing to perform the dramatic role of the archetypal Muslim who gazes in the mirror only to discover his/her hideous ugliness and then overcome by tragic destiny, plunges into cathartic self-flagellation which ends with the entirely predictable realization that all the ugliness in the mirror after all is Islam’s fault. Of course, for the bigoted but paying reader’s ecstatic enjoyment, the native informant climactically confesses Islam’s sins and bombastically declares, lest it be damned that Islam and of course Muslims too must repent.
What fuels Islam-hating in the West is that many sincerely believe that they are reacting rationally to a cultural, political and militaristic threat. But it is important to remember that every social movement that has demonized a feared and hated other has constructed its hate narrative as an unpleasant but necessary defensive response to a perceived threat- whether real or imagined. The very nature of bigotry and prejudice is that they are paranoid reconstructions of reality- they grossly exaggerate a kernel of truth into an enormous lie. So for instance bigots do not imagine that Muslim terrorists exist but they imagine that terrorism is the prevailing reality of Islam.
What is especially troubling about Islam- hating is that it is a powerful indication that the West, which led the world into modernity, has been unable to overcome its own historically rooted religious prejudices and bigotry. Islam-hating and Islamophobia are among the few remaining sanitized and legitimate social pathologies in the West, not because bigotry against Islam and Muslims is practiced or tolerated but because it is affirmatively honored and even glorified as part of the analytical discipline of national security and interest.
Islam- hating and Islamophobia is fairly unremarkable because, like all prejudices, it is rationalized from a defensive posture and it thrives in a fertile ground of misinformation and ignorance. But what is remarkable about this particular form of prejudice and bigotry is that despite its deep roots in history-although it was exploited in the past to rationalize and incite numerous acts of aggression and violence and although it continues to do so today- there is remarkable resistance in the West to acknowledging its existence or to coming to terms with the crimes committed because of it, leave alone to attempt to atone for its consequences. A person who openly advocates for racism for instance or anti- Semitism will be seen as a pariah and an outlier to mainstream society. No mainstream publisher or media outlet will broadcast speech that is openly racist or anti- Semitic not because there social ills do not exist. They do exit but there are social processes that shame, ostracize and hold accountable those who blatantly indulge these pathologies. The same is not true for those Islam or Muslim haters. For example, intellectuals and policymakers are admirably frank about studying, admitting and atoning for the western legacy of anti-Semitism. Studies that document and analyze the pathology of anti- Semitism have emerged into a sophisticated critical discipline and no serious intellectual would question whether anti- Semitism has been a recurring form of prejudice and bigotry in Western history. Logically, however, if one admits that anti- Semitism is a widespread social pathology that must be resisted and not encouraged, it would seem to follow that substantially the same position should be adopted in regard to anti- Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia. Put simply can hardly imagine any place or time in Europe where Jews were persecuted while Muslims were tolerated. Without exception, any time Jews were the target of persecution in Western history, this persecutionincluded the archetypal representative of Islam of the time- whether that archetype was the Turk, Arab, Saracen, Morisco or Mohammedan. Moreover, as is well illustrated by the complex and problematic notion of a Judaea Christian culture or civilization, the history of Jews in the West was a complex one- it ebbed and flowed and went back and forth between begrudging tolerance to outright persecution, to eventual efforts at reconciliation, and at time to atonement as in the Western guilt- ridden support for the Zionist movement. But the history of Muslims in the West has consistently ranged from slaughtering to begrudging tolerance to extermination and eventually to total and unequivocal hegemony and domination. From a historical logic, the reluctance, dead silence and quiet avoidance that confronts the Muslim victims of religious persecution in the west and that confronts researchers in the pathology of Islamophobia and Islam-hating is itself a shocking manifestation of the pathology. What is rather symptomatic of the deeply ingrained prejudice is the continual effort to justify Muslim suffering as an unfortunate but necessary cost for security or to understate and minimize the existence of actual concrete and harmful results from the existence of such a prejudice.
An example of this is the insistence on the part of some that the use of torture against Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is not linked to deeply rooted prejudices as to the ego, pride, sexuality, religiosity and body of a Muslim man or woman. Another common tactic that is actually symptomatic of the deep entrenchment of the problem is to admit instead of a pathology with a stubbornly persistent history or to dilute its particularity and distinctiveness by dismissively equating it to other prejudices and biases minorities suffered and in due time defeated. The relatively muted response of the intelligentsia in the West at the widespread occurrence of civil rights violations against Muslims in the west and also in reaction to the documented humanitarian violations and war crimes inflicted on Muslims in several countries and contexts in the name of the war on terror is again a strong indication of the desensitization and suppressed consciousness of the West toward the presence and wrongfulness of anti- Muslim prejudices. Sadly, the West has managed to confront many of the demons of its own history, but its fear of Muslims and hate of Islam is one demon that proved too powerful to confront.
The one thing that the so-called war on terror has shown is the fragility of the Western ego, which as already explained, was inordinately shaped by its antithesis to Islam. After the terrorist attack of 2001 on the United States, it is truly remarkable how quickly so many intellectuals and policymakers were willing to abandon the arduous human labor that took human beings through two world wars and that painfully created the structure of legitimacy for the world in the twenty-first century only to revert back to the dichotomous paradigms of the good versus evil, the forces of light against the forces of darkness, the knights of Christendom versus infidel barbarians, the clash of civilizations and ultimately the satanic religion that is out to haunt the world with demonic forces. The fragility of the Western ego leaves one wondering: if murderous terrorist attacks can generate such a powerfully effective and lucrative hate culture in the enlightened west, what could centuries of colonization, occupation, and brutalization produce in the Muslim world? This seems to be a dangerous question because the Quran consistently teaches Muslims that one injustice cannot justify another- in the same way that no amount of terrorism committed by people who affiliate themselves with the Islam if faith may possibly justify religious prejudice and bigotry no amount of persecution or oppression may excuse or justify the harming or terrorizing of civilians in order to protest an injustice. If injustice is reciprocated by further injustice, we do not somehow miraculously end up with a just situation or with justice achieved. But his itself point to a quintessential affinity between all acts of terrorism- no matter the trappings, the ugliness remains the same. Whether terrorism is committed by a particular group holding a person hostage in order to win certain concessions or by an army holding a population hostage in order to force submission to its will, the moral quality of the act is the same. This of course is in moral theory alone. The reality is very different. In legal theory, for instance, the rich and the poor are treated according to the same standards of justice- although an ideal, it is seldom fulfilled. Nevertheless, the ideal must remain the normative yardstick, and the failures of reality must never be treated as normatively correct.
This precisely why the phenomenon of Islamophobia and Islam-hating is so unsettling- it is not a concession to reality while upholding the ideal; it is a corruption of reality while deforming the ideal. Islam hating is extreme in its ugliness because it stands everything on its head. It twists and distorts the space that Muslims are pushed into occupying in the modern age. If it is allowed to persist then the whole Muslim experience since colonialism becomes nothing but a deceptive fantasy. Not only does this prejudice mean the failure of the ideals on which modernity was built and a regression to the exploitatively religious wars of the Crusades and counter crusades, but worst of all, it means that religion will be denied the role of the medicinal healer to the ignorance suffered in this age.
Source: Reasoning with God, Khaled Abou El- Fadl