Islam and America’s Most Powerful Cult

by M. Junaid Levesque-Alam

In their spirited assault on Islam, conservatives have seized upon one notion with particular delight: the Abrahamic faith embraced by a quarter of humanity is a “cult.”

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey popularized the claim in July when a constituent asked about the “threat that’s invading our country from Muslims”; Ramsey wondered aloud whether Islam “is actually a religion or is it a nationality, way of life or cult” and later asserted that “far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion.” Soon after, some of Ramsey’s constituents set ablaze a planned mosque site near Nashville and fired shots when parishioners tried to inspect the damage.

Farther south, in Florida, Pastor Terry Jones proclaimed that Islam is not just a cult but a Satanic creation — hence his planned bonfire of Qur’ans. He is not alone among Floridians. Congressional candidate and retired Army officer Allen West announced earlier this year that Islam is “not a religion” but a “vicious enemy” intent on “infiltrating” America. Another candidate in the sunshine state, Ron McNeil, described Islam as a malicious plot to “destroy our way of life.”

And in upstate New York this August, teenagers who viewed the local mosque as a “cult house” terrorized mosque-goers by blasting a shotgun and sideswiping a parishioner.

What accounts for this renewed alacrity in attacking Islam?

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Christopher Hitchens and the Quest for Grade-A Muslims

by M. Junaid Levesque-Alam

Christopher Hitchens

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.

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The Price of ‘Existing’ as a Muslim Today

In the classic French novel, Adolphe, Benjamin Constant writes: 

There are things that for a long time remain unsaid, but once they are spoken, one never ceases to repeat them.

How true this is of so many of the things we keep inside for a time. Think, for example, of how an argument with a loved one often reveals the things that we have felt, but carefully hidden from them. Once spoken, those words repeat themselves with a frequency that suggests that we are seeking vengeance for the time they spent in silence.

The same is true of our secret prejudices, which often remain unsaid until the moment ‘feels right’ or circumstances seemingly produce the ‘necessity’ for their articulation.

It appears that circumstances today have produced a space in which articulating anti-Islamic sentiment both ‘feels right’ and ‘necessary’. It is an environment marked by series of events invoked as evidence in the ever-growing case against Islam.

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Kenan Malik: journey of an ex-anti-racist

During my recent visit to London I had the pleasure of meeting Arun Kundnani, editor of the superlative journal Race & Class, which, according to The Guardian, is a scholarly journal that bridges ‘the gap between the academic and the ghetto’. Kundani has been writing on the issue of race, with a particular recent emphasis on Islamophobia and the manner in which the so-called war on terror contributes to it. His article ‘Islamism and the roots of liberal rage‘ should be essential reading for students of the subject. Here he looks at. ‘Kenan Malik’s latest book From Fatwa To Jihad: the Rushdie affair and its legacy distorts anti-racist history and plays into the hands of today’s anti-Muslim politics,’ he writes.

Kenan Malik
Kenan Malik

DURING the 1980s, Kenan Malik was active with an organisation called East London Workers Against Racism (ELWAR). In response to racist violence, ELWAR organised street patrols and ensured the physical protection of families under attack. Malik thus spent much of 1984 camped out in a house in London’s East End defending its residents from racists. Nowadays, Malik is better known as a commentator on race issues and a mainstream media pundit.

According to his latest book, From Fatwa To Jihad: the Rushdie affair and its legacy (Atlantic Books, 2009), multicultural policies are to blame for fostering a sense of ‘tribalism’ in British society, for the growth of ‘radical Islam’, for censorship of the arts and for the cultivation of a bogus notion of minority victimhood. The book is not so much about the fatwa against Rushdie or 7/7; rather he uses these two events to narrate a shift he believes has occurred over the last twenty years in Britain: from anti-racism to multiculturalism, from universalism to identity politics and from issues of politics to issues of culture. What results is an often mystifying mix of anti-racist history and journalistic cliché, with parts of From Fatwa To Jihad reading like a Left pamphlet from the early 1980s and other sections regurgitating the half-truths and conventional wisdoms of Nick Cohen, Andrew Anthony and Trevor Phillips.

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