Liberal Extremism Disguised as Defense of Muslims
By Matt Peppe
After 14 people were
killed and 22 more injured in the San Bernardino massacre by a
couple whom authorities claim were “radicalized“ by
Islamist ideology, Islamophobia among the American public has
seemingly reached a fever pitch. But while many people are fighting
back against hateful discrimination against Muslims, many are doing
so with a liberal narrative of American values that rationalizes and
perpetuates American state violence, while failing to recognize this
violence as its own form of extremism.
Bernardino, hate crimes against Muslims have been widely reported
across the country. In one
week alone, a hijab-wearing woman was shot at and several
mosques firebombed. Additionally, there have been attacks against storeowners, community
centers, and civic
organizations. Muslims have been intimidated outside their
places of worship by armed, right-wing vigilantes.
Trump, the current Republican front-runner for the Presidential
nomination, whose racist demagoguery has
prompted debate over whether he is a fascist,
reacted with the most extreme policy
proposal of any politician. Trump called for “a total and
complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States because of
the “dangerous threat” they pose.
way people have been denouncing bigotry against Muslims is through
seemingly-progressive stories of American and British soldiers who
fought in Iraq or Afghanistan vocally embracing Muslims, despite
their experiences on the battlefield and the loss of their friends
and fellow servicemen.
In a post
former US Army soldier David Swan writes an open letter to Muslims
in which he states, “I don’t hate you. I don’t fear you. I don’t
want you to leave this country.” Swan goes on to say he would like
to have Muslims over for a barbecue, to talk about fantasy football,
and for their children to play together.
differentiates Muslims that are willing to accept this type of
assimilation from”the radical Islamist.” The moderates, he claims,
share the American value of being “peace loving.” On the other hand,
the Islamists who have been radicalized are “wolves” – irrational,
barbaric and inherently violent – who “will not stop killing sheep
until they are put down… Please do not blame us for using our staff
to protect the flock.”
is seen as a virus that can turn normal people into the equivalent
of bloodthirsty zombies. The notion that someone’s beliefs – if
taken too literally or too seriously – can turn them from a normal
person deserving rights into a subhuman is problematic, to say the
least. Though it is unsaid, this virus is implicitly understood as
unique to Muslims. There is no such popular imagery of radical
Christian, Jewish or Mormon death cults.
States and its imagined values are seen as impartial and neutral.
Swan sees his own actions as purely reactive. The Army was forced to
invade and occupy Iraq because the radical Islamists gave them no
choice. “We take no joy in killing you, but we will do it because
you have forced our hand,” he writes.
being an innocent bystander simply seeking a peaceful coexistence
among nations, the United States has a long, sordid history of
bloody interventions and human rights violations across Muslim
countries in the Middle East and beyond.
For the last
70 years, the US government has been an active participant in
dispossessing Palestinians from their lands, erasing their culture
and endangering their very survival as a people. They have enabled
the illegal occupation by giving Israel more than $100
billion in military aid, and vetoed 42
UN Security Council resolutions and countless more General Assembly
resolutions seeking to hold Israel accountable for its violations of
the early 1950s, the US government meddled in Syrian, Lebanese,
Iraqi and Iranian politics to prevent moderate nationalist forces
who sought to utilize their countries’ natural resources (primarily
oil) for the social and economic benefit of their populations.
government recruited, armed and trained foreigners and sent them on
a mission in the 1980s to go to Afghanistan and fight a Holy War
against the “infidels.” Under the Carter
Doctrine, the US government declared that the Persian Gulf
region was of “vital interest” to the United States, thereby
justifying a proliferation of bases in Saudi Arabia and across the
Middle East to protect access to petroleum reserves.
government invaded Iraq twice, killing hundreds of thousands of
people and reducing what was a modern nation with advanced highways,
infrastructure, hospitals and cultural sites to crumbling ruins. In
the 12 years between illegal invasions of sovereign Iraqi territory,
the US enforced horrifyingly deadly sanctions that caused the deaths
of 576,000 children.
Two UN officials overseeing the sanctions regime resigned when their
protests against the inhumanity of the program were ignored.
Confronted with the shocking toll of lives lost, a Clinton
administration official said “it was worth it.”
Al Qaeda and ISIS did not form in a vacuum but as a reaction to this
historical context . They are not a manifestation of Islamic
theology found in texts like the Quran, but of specific social,
political and cultural conditions – conditions the United States
played no small role in creating. Some people who feel powerless and
desperate will inevitably resort to violence against those they see
as responsible. While indiscriminate violence is not morally
justifiable, it is also not irrational.
metaphor of radical Islamists as wolves mercilessly attacking a
flock of sheep, detached from any social or political objectives,
evokes Edward Said’s description of Islam symbolizing among
Westerners “terror, devastation, the demonic, hordes of hated
argument, when reduced to its simplest form, was clear, it was
precise, it was easy to grasp,” Said writes in Orientalism.
“There are Westerners, and there are Orientals. The former dominate;
the latter must be dominated, which usually means having their land
occupied, their internal affairs rigidly controlled, their blood and
treasure put at the disposal of one or another Western power.”
America is imagined as being free of the toxic ideology infecting
radical Islamists, the narratives driving the US’s many violent
interventions across the Middle East can be seen as a manifestation
of Said’s description of Orientalism. The assumption that Muslims
acting without reason must be brought under control by more
civilized nations is itself a highly ideological position.
Kundnani explains in The
Muslims Are Coming!, the dominant discourse about Muslims
has changed since the days after 9/11 when blanket fear of all
Muslims was prevalent:
But now, liberals say, we have moved beyond
that, and we understand that Muslims in America are just like
the rest of us. However, just as in The
Russians Are Coming!, the liberal caveat is that Muslims
are acceptable when depoliticized: they should be silent about
politics, particularly US foreign policy and the domestic
national security system, and not embrace an alien ideology that
removes them from the liberal norm.
In other words,
Muslims should feel free to barbecue and talk about fantasy
football. But speaking out against American imperial wars in Muslim
countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, questioning whether they are
really a battle of good versus evil, would indicate extremist
ideology – which, in turn, would suggest a disposition for
“Those defined as moderate Muslims can have their
religious traditions valued within the parameters of Western
tolerance,” writes Kundnani, “while the state focuses its powers
on surveillance, coercion, and violence on those categorized as
British soldier who lost his leg in the Iraq war writes that
despite people expecting him to hate Muslims because of what
happened to him he refuses to hold an entire religion responsible
for groups and individuals who sought him harm.
This is an admirable
sentiment. But it presupposes that the violence against the soldier
was more reprehensible than the violence he was himself responsible
for. The soldier was a combatant taking part in an illegal war of
aggression. The people who took up arms in resistance against him
have a legal and moral right to do so, just as he would have a right
to defend his own country from a foreign invasion. If people
selectively condemn individual Muslims for violence, it should be no
surprise that many people will use this to fuel racist stereotypes.
Murderous assaults on hospitals, sadistic
and awe” aerial bombardment, and assassinations against
unknown targets are terrorism just as much as indiscriminate
shooting sprees, suicide bombings or summary executions of hostages.
Those seeking to defend Muslims would be well served to question
whether their own their own nationalist doctrines help rationalize
the plague of state terrorism that the War on Terror has normalized,
and which is falsely portrayed as moderate and noble.
Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and
Latin America on his blog.
You can follow him on twitter.