Avarice and Bigotry: A crusade unmasked

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

We, in the imperial sense of we, seem to have reached a contradiction.

A war “on terror” principally but not admittedly against Muslims has been unmasked for the latter-day crusade that it is. And elites see maintaining the fiction that this is not a crusade as crucial to their imperial ambitions in south Asia.

Islamophobia first entered my consciousness in the 1970s, but our present predicament appears to date to 1968, when as Thaddeus Russell writes:

The history of Israel and its relationship with the U.S. is infinitely complex, but there’s one damning fact that’s ignored as often as The Question: There was not a single act of Arab terrorism against Americans before 1968, when the U.S. became the chief supplier of military equipment and economic aid to Israel. In light of this fact, it’s difficult to credibly sustain the argument that Arab terrorism is spawned by Islam’s alleged promotion of violence and antipathy toward American culture or by a “natural” Arab anti-Semitism. It also suggests that no matter what policies Israel enacts to protect itself—even a withdrawal from the occupied territories or a two-state “solution”—it must be a perpetual wartime state.

Russell refers to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy:

The killing came shortly after President Lyndon Johnson declared that the U.S. would become Israel’s major sponsor, and Kennedy announced that if elected president he would supply Israel with whatever weapons it needed so that the Jewish state “can protect itself” against its Arab neighbors.

In reversing a Truman administration decision, Johnson privileged Israel’s much smaller population against tens of millions of Muslims. It was, as Truman’s cabinet recognized, a choice for endless war, a crusade in which Israel can only prevail with the blessings of a power far superior even to the United States.

I deplore Islamophobia, but as hateful as a small-time pastor’s threat to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks may be, I can only be grateful that we as a people are now compelled to confront the fact that while elites may persecute their crusade out of avarice, they exploit—even as some condemn—a bigotry against Muslims prevalent in the U.S. population.

Unfortunately, none of this points to a rational or peaceful resolution. Progressive antiwar activists are too easily put on the defensive by the reputed misogyny of Islam even as they swim against the tide of the misogyny of our own culture. In addition, climate change—for which the West and, principally, the United States are largely to blame—appears to threaten freshwater supplies and food [in]security in south Asia; this can only aggravate and widen the conflict while undermining an already unpopular alliance with Pakistan, which was arguably entered into only under duress.

If burning copies of the Quran is a bad idea, this crusade against Islam is very much a more terrible one. But Barack Obama chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan, to escalate the rhetoric for potential war on Iran, and to expand secret wars on other Muslim countries.

In the end, this is just one more element exposing the rift from reality which besets what passes for policymaking in this country and another factor in the inevitable breakup of the nation.

It will be a tremendous irony that given the cost of these wars to the U.S. economy, that Osama bin Laden will, with only some exaggeration, be able to claim to have defeated the empire. Of course, lots of other Islamists will be able to make the same claim. But as former ABC News Nightline anchor Ted Koppel wrote,

The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another. Bin Laden deserves to be the object of our hostility, national anguish and contempt, and he deserves to be taken seriously as a canny tactician. But much of what he has achieved we have done, and continue to do, to ourselves.