by M. Junaid Levesque-Alam
Almost 50 years ago, Frantz Fanon raced against death to finish his famous indictment of colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth. In that book, he wrote:
“Western bourgeois racial prejudice as regards the nigger and the Arab is a racism of contempt; it is a racism which minimizes what it hates.”
But there was a twist.
The ideology of Western prejudice, Fanon observed, “manages to appear logical in its own eyes by inviting the sub-men to become human, and to take as their prototype Western humanity…”
Today this ideology is once again attracting robust defenders, as conservatives and some liberals arrogate the right to judge which Muslims are worthy of their good graces.
Christopher Hitchens, for one, has recently declaimed that Imam Feisal Rauf of the embattled Cordoba House fails to make the grade. Hitchens mutters that as far as Muslims go, Rauf is “no great bargain.” The more Hitchens learns about him, the more “alarmed” he becomes.
He scolds the soft-spoken man for not barking with the demanded fervor against Hamas and for not whimpering at the desired pitch about September 11th.
Rauf, Hitchens complains, has the gall not to submit to the neoconservative line that Hamas is an exclusively terrorist organization. The imam even has the audacity to adopt what Hitchens darkly describes as “his sinister belief” that American policies abroad helped fuel the terrorist attacks.
Not incidentally, Rauf’s stance has also incensed those responsible for manufacturing outrage over the “Ground Zero mosque” (which is neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero). The right-wing lynch mob — a label that is just barely metaphorical — has maligned the imam at every turn, distorting his take on Hamas and September 11th to paint him as a closet radical. That the painters wielding these brushes are themselves radicals — Israel-first zealots, advocates of endless war, admirers of fascism, and deeply hateful of Islam — is irrelevant. No one judges the judges.
Hitchens claims to reject this madness. Indeed, he laments the poisonous rhetoric about the proposed Muslim center (“stupid and demagogic”) and offers his own reasons as more valid ones for skewering Cordoba’s imam. This distinction, however, does not prevent Hitchens from evincing some of the same arrogance and tendency toward delusion exemplified by Rauf’s severest detractors.
For instance, when Hitchens assails Rauf for not blithely condemning Hamas as “terrorists,” he feigns a fantastic ignorance of reality that is shared only by neoconservatives. Hamas, Hitchens avers, is nothing but “racist” and “dictatorial.” This tongue-lashing might apply if the group’s members were taught at a nearby kindergarten, but as Hitchens is well aware, they have been educated by more than forty years of unchecked Israeli brutality. To pretend that the organization arose out of thin air, as if for no purpose other than to offend Hitchens’s noble sensibilities, is to erase history. The gadfly cannot be unaware of Israel’s far deadlier racism — what late Israeli historian Baruch Kimmerling called the complex of “a master people” — or how the Jewish state’s racially-driven ethnic cleansing and mass terror gave rise to the Palestinian plight in the first place.
To be sure, Hamas has committed atrocities. But that is hardly the whole picture: part-social services and part-resistance organization, it was also chosen by the Palestinian people as their elected representative in a democratic process that the West was for before it was against it.
It is worth asking whether Hitchens would meet his own avowed standards of respectability were he, like most Gazans, thrown out of his home for not being one of God’s “chosen,” locked in a cage of cruelty and repeatedly robbed, invaded, tortured, and kidnapped.
Hitchens also excoriates Rauf for identifying American foreign policy as “an accessory to the crime” of September 11th. But it’s not just uppity Muslims who have made the connection between a violent foreign policy and its violent consequences. Prominent American intelligence officials and scholars, including Chalmers Johnson, Michael Scheuer, Ray McGovern, and Robert Pape have all observed that American policies encouraged or inflamed Islamic extremism for decades.
In fact, when the Pentagon tasked its civilian advisory board with answering the pressing question of “why they hate us” in 2004, the underreported response was clear: “American direct intervention in the Muslim World has…elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists” and “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ rather, they hate our policies.”
Does Hitchens think the Pentagon, too, is guilty of “sinister beliefs”? Someone should inform him that there are other, equally devious forces that have also made the connection between inflicting and suffering violence.
The US military, for one, is counting on the assumption that reducing civilian casualties will stanch support for the Taliban. And General Petreaus, the top commander of the U.S. military, has told Congress that the American agenda in the Middle East is hampered by the widespread “perception of U.S. favoritism of Israel” and “Arab anger over the Palestinian question.”
Having become a U.S. citizen three years ago, Hitchens should also understand on a more direct level that when foreigners kill civilians in one’s country, one’s countrymen can erupt in a convulsion of anger. They can become so filled with bloodlust that one can easily incite them to destroy a country that had nothing to do with the attacks. “They,” of course, are the Americans who acceded to a war that destroyed Iraq — and Hitchens, who did not even have the excuse of being an American back then, was among the most vociferous inciters.
The irony is priceless. A man who succumbed to post-September 11th Western war fever against “Islamofascism” and who hankered for war against a country that did nothing to him, his country of birth, or his adopted country cannot comprehend that Muslims might be motivated to anger or violence against the United States or Israel for their repeated attacks on other Muslims.
What enables such awe-inducing cognitive dissonance? Is this perhaps a symptom of the ideology Fanon identified — “a racism which minimizes what it hates?” Having anointed himself arbiter of one besieged Muslim’s acceptability, Hitchens has perched himself so high above all Muslims that he may no longer be able to discern their human features, their human motivations, or their humanity at all.
Doubtless Hitchens “manages to appear logical in his own eyes.” Whether he appears so in the eyes of anyone else is another matter altogether.
– M. Junaid Levesque-Alam is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies. His pieces have previously been published in Antiwar.com, AltMuslim.com, Colorlines, and The Nation.com. His own website is Crossing the Crescent. This article first appeared on Antiwar.com.