Surfing on Islamophobia

September 1, 2009 § 2 Comments

On Sunday, our good friend Phil Weiss posted a sympathetic piece by Scott McConnell, editor of The American Conservative, on Christopher Caldwell’s new book about Islam in Europe. Here is the response by PULSE editors Muhammad Idrees Ahmad and Robin Yassin-Kassab which was published on MondoWeiss today:

There are two sets of population statistics about Europe, writes Eliot Weinberger in a post on the London Review Blog: ‘those of the Islamophobes and those of everyone else.’ Weinberger is commenting on the recent of flurry of books trading in the ‘Islamic threat’, among them one by neoconservative writer Christopher Caldwell. In his encomium to Caldwell, Scott McConnell couldn’t possibly have been referring to the statistics of ‘everyone else’. It would be hard otherwise to elevate a minority of 3.6 percent into a civilizational threat. So presumably he accepts the numbers of the Islamophobes. But he does more; he also echoes their assumptions. Small wonder then that he should consider ‘nuanced’ a book that describes Muslims as ‘conquering Europe’s cities, street by street’.

But before we get to Caldwell lets address McConnell’s own assumptions.

McConnell splits ‘the West’ and ‘the Muslims’ into opposing camps, and understands their relationship only in terms of harm. ‘Had I to weigh the extent to which the Islamic world is more victim or victimizer of America and the West’, he opines, ‘the scales would tilt decisively towards America as the more guilty party’. American crimes include the Iraq war and support for Israeli conquest of ‘the Arab sections’ of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Support for dictators, the proponderance of military bases, the exploitation of resources, Somalia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and support for the Israeli conquest of the ‘Arab sections’ of Tel Abib and Yaffa, clearly do not factor in McConnell’s narrow vision. But it’s fair enough in itself. Where logic fails McConnell entirely, or rather where he fails logic and turns to racism instead, is where he places Muslim immigration into Europe ‘on the other side of the ledger’.

So Muslim immigration–which boosts European economies, provides Europe with doctors, professors and engineers as well as those diligent cleaners, cooks and labourers who do the low-paid, unpleasant jobs that white Europeans often refuse to do–is for McConnell an act of war, a parallel activity to the mass slaughter in Iraq or the continuing ethnic cleansing of Palestine. I presume the couscous or tandoori restaurant, Rai and Bhangra music, and entertaining urban novels written by Muslims are all weapons in this war (Caldwell certainly thinks so. ‘If the spread of Pakistani cuisine is the single greatest improvement in British public life over the past half-century,’ he writes, ‘it is also worth noting that bombs used for the failed London transport attacks of July 21, 2005, were made from a mix of hydrogen peroxide and chapatti flour.’). Since war is an organised activity, McConnell implies that there is a hidden Muslim plan behind the immigration. So those Iranians and Kurds fleeing tyranny, and the war-refugees of Iraq and Sudan, and the economic migrants of Syria and Bangladesh, and the ambitious professionals of Pakistan and Nigeria – all are soldiers in this dastardly assault. (Note that for McConnell it is ‘Islamic’ rather than ‘Muslim’ immigration).

McConnell is a surfer on the current wave of Islamophobia – a process of scapegoating the weakest minority in European societies while Europe wages imperialist wars in the Muslim world. Clear-sighted Europeans remember the scapegoating of the Jews in the early twentieth century, and they worry for the future. Government ministers, TV commentators and editorial writers give the public a constant diet of barbaric-Muslim scare stories. McConnell meanwhile peddles the myth of European elites pussy-footing around the ‘Muslim threat’ in the same way that American elites avoid criticism of Israel (supposedly because those invading European Muslims have a unified, powerful lobby to equal the Israel lobby in the US?)

Anyway, McConnell informs us, the pussyfooting has finally stopped, because European Muslims have been caught engaged in such bad behaviour. In order to prove his point, McConnell takes a page from Cadlwell’s book and invents three out of the five examples he offers as evidence. He talks about “murders and riots over cartoons” – but nobody in Europe was murdered over the Danish cartoons. He talks about “riots of a more mundane nature”, by which one assumes he means the riots of the Parisian banlieu or of northern Britain’s ex-industrial wastelands. But these riots were about poverty, unemployment, poor housing, brutal policing and racism, not about religion. And when McConnell comes to “the murder of a leading anti-immigration politician,” one can only suppose he refers to the assassination of Dutch far-right leader Pim Fortuyn. But Fortuyn was killed by militant animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf, who is what McConnell would consider “indiginous”, not Muslim. For the revolution, McConnell tells us in Goebbels mode, is “not indiginous to Europe,” but it is “taking place on European territory.”

But let’s imagine that McConnell is the kind of writer to whom facts matter, and let’s say for the sake of argument that all five of his examples are pristine instances of unadulterated Muslim savagery. OK. Would these crimes and idiocies therefore implicate all European Muslims? Only according to the same logic by which all Americans are “crusaders” guilty of assaulting the Muslim heartland, and thus legitimate targets. Only according to a logic which notes the contribution of poor white racists to rioting in northern Britain, and then declares these white people to be unacceptably alien, a demographic problem and a civilisational threat.

But comparing logics won’t get through to McConnell, because his assumptions are racist. They don’t require definition or context. He thinks that honour killing is “Islamist political activity.” Like elections for Muslims, presumably? There are Christian families in the Middle East who kill for ‘honour’. And one of the leading causes of death among women under the age of 35 in Britain is domestic violence, a.k.a ‘honour killing’. But never mind all that; why allow facts get in the way of inflamed prejudice? McConnell tells us he would mourn the loss of Europe’s social liberalism, and he asks, “Which is more troublesome, Amsterdam’s window displays of naked prostitutes, or the burka?” Well, to us, both are equally troublesome, yet less troublesome than invading American Islamophobes. But the point here is that McConnell’s question is deeply illiberal. It’s like, “Which is the bigger problem? Metalheads or hip hop fans?” To a liberal, neither is a problem. Of course, the editor of The American Conservative is no liberal, even if he shares his disdain for Muslims with his liberal counterparts. This was evident in who he chose to review Caldwell’s book. If the New York Times had the book reviewed by Caldwell’s fellow neoconservative Fouad Ajami, The American Conservative had it reviewed by Caldwell’s fellow Islamophobe Rod Liddle. This Murdoch scrivener competes with Caldwell in what McConnell would call ‘nuance’. He makes documentaries with titles such as ‘Immigration Is A Time Bomb’ (which he also used to mainstream the views of Nick Griffin of the fascist BNP), and statements such as

Islam is the real problem — the ideology rather than simply facets of the ideology or rogue individual adherents. And further, that there is no great philosophical divide between those whom our governments delineate as ‘moderate’ and those whom they consider ‘extremist’…the totalitarian nature of the ideology does not differ very much; the motor for each transgression of human rights, major or minor, comes from within Islam itself.

So much for the reviewer; lets now turn to the reviewee. It is clear from Caldwell’s book that his problem is not just with Islam, but Muslims in general. He freely pronounces on ‘the penury, servitude, violence, and mediocrity of Muslim societies worldwide’. The Islamic world for Caldwell is ‘an economic and intellectual basket case, the part of the potentially civilised world most left behind by progress’ (emphasis added).

So what if Muslims constitute 3.6 percent of the population? ‘Of course minorities can shape countries’, Caldwell retorts, ‘They can conquer countries. There were probably fewer Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 than there are Islamists in Europe today’. Next he attempts something even more daring; he tries to resurrect disgraced Tory politician Enoch Powell — he of the ‘rivers of blood’ fame — as a prophet, a tribune of the people, for having anticipated Cadlwell’s arguments by four decades. Caldwell would have likely had more success varnishing a turd.  His ire isn’t reserved for Muslims alone, he also chastises Europeans for opposing American wars. Even in countries that did support the war, he accuses Europeans of encouraging Muslims to be anti-American:’When Muslims marched in anti-war demonstrations, after all, their secular and Christian fellow citizens marched alongside them’. Imagine that!

The problem is that one can’t just dismiss these views as eccentric any more. This type of alarmism has already contributed to the rise of fascism across Europe. ‘The primary threat to democracy in Europe is not “Islamofascism”…but plain old fascism’, journalist Gary Younge observes. Fascism, he notes, has returned to Europe ‘as a mainstream ideology’. This has consequences for the lives of the Muslim minority which has been the target of bomb threats, assassination attempts, vandalism and other forms of hate crime for the past several years. Before he pronounces on this subject, McConnell could at least do his readers the courtesy of getting his facts right. As regards who is threatening whom, he could begin by watching this Channel 4 documentary.

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