Today’s worst Islamophobes are not hailing from the ranks of the far-right movement, instead they claim to be liberals.
THE DISEASE OF Islamophobia, the irrational and categorical hatred of Muslims and their religion – just as its corresponding malaise of anti-Semitism against Jews, racism against African-Americans, misogyny against women, or homophobia against the LGBQT – will need a sustained course of critical thinking and persistent examination before we understand its pathological origins and globally expose and discredit its chief ideologues.
Today in the United States the rising attacks by white supremacists against Jewish, Muslim, and African-American people, institutions and icons have all come together under one propaganda outlet code named “alt-right”, whose chief ideologue Stephen Bannon (the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the “alt-right”) is now sitting right next to the president of the US in the Oval Office as his top consigliere.
What is the nature of this disease, and where does it come from? We already have a number of excellent studies on the matter, among them I might mention Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg’s Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy; Deepa Kumar’s Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire; Nathan Lean’s The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims; and Carl Ernst (Ed), Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance; and to which we must add Terry Eagleton’s exquisite dismantling of the New Atheists, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.
These studies have all been necessary and groundbreaking but nowhere near sufficient. The disease of Islamophobia – like any other kind of phobia – has varied symptoms and requires continued critical diagnosis.
Today the world attention is rightly drawn to top Islamophobes like Stephen Bannon and Sebastian Gorka or the conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney and their ilk, all and more congregating around Donald Trump in the Oval Office.
Hidden from sight under their disguise is a far more pernicious version of the illness in the far more popular liberal circles best represented by the mass-media manufactured court jesters like Bill Maher and his sidekick Sam Harris.
If you were to ask me who is the single most pestiferous American Islamophobe alive today I will not say Bannon, Michael Flynn, Stephan Miller, or even Gorka, all of them now chief among the career opportunist zealot Crusaders cheering Trump on.
I would say, without a moment of hesitation, Maher and Harris, and before he passed away that careerist Christopher Hitchens, are far more dangerous Stormtrooper lieutenants of Islamophobia.
These liberal Islamophobes are finagling their hatred of Muslims with smiling faces, silly jokes, phony arguments, forced laughter and manufactured consent – with the full cooperation of otherwise perfectly respectable outlets.
Masses of millions of Americans are out demonstrating against those notorious racists gathered around Trump. Maher and Harris are snake oil charmers selling their hate on prime time television.
These liberal Islamophobes, proverbially the enemy of that which they do not understand, pontificate their pathological fear of Islam and Muslims with fake authority and false familiarity.
Sitting next to Maher, Harris issues an Executive Order that Islam “must be reformed”. But by what authority, what education, what knowledge, what scholarship and who gave him that authority?
Between the two of them Maher and Harris cannot tell a word of Arabic from Persian, Turkish, or Urdu if it hit them in the face, and yet, they sit there and like two Taliban bandits sharp shooting through camera lenses to the periodic laughter of approval by their popped up audiences.
Think of it: Among the entire gang of liberal and conservative Islamophobes, they cannot tell an Arabic from a Persian word. They are the functional equivalent of ignorant sheikhs and their Shia counterparts across the Middle East who come and issue fatwas about the “West” without a word of English or any other European language to their names.
And right there is the predicament of our time caught in between two gangs of ignoramus xenophobes, pitting one battalion of armed ignorance against another.
They dare to talk about the “battle of ideas” without a single citation of any living or dead Muslim theologian, philosopher, mystic, poet, artist, or public intellectual evident in their vertiginously vacuous prose.
The monumentality of their ignorance is only sanctioned by their self-entitled white privileges. They are white they can say whatever they want.
At the height of the Enlightenment modernity, Europe ended up in German concentration camps. At the height of American democracy, they are ruled by Trump. And they dare to talk about “battle of ideas!” What ideas?
The history of their own country began with the genocidal destruction of Native Americans, continued with the despicable history of African slavery, and at the heights of their technological achievements with dropping an atom bomb on Japan. Battle of what ideas against what ideas?
Such highfalutin nonsense about “battle of ideas”, however, is a subterfuge for a much simpler banality of ignorance. It is no longer a matter of accusing Maher of being the bigot that he is, for his open espousing of wanton racism is now a matter of public knowledge after his recent bromance with the notorious neo-Fascist poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos.
None of this is to say Muslims en masse are God’s gift to humanity. Islamophilia is as deranged as Islamophobia. There are an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe. They have their share of criminal thugs, homicidal sociopaths, psychotic gangs, etc.
But to address such pathologies you will need a minimum of sympathy for the common humanity of millions of other Muslims who have nothing to do with these criminals.
Today there are two complementary threats to that necessary internal reform definitive to Muslim intellectual history since its fateful encounter with European colonialism: Baghdadi and his gang of cutthroat criminals on one side and Maher and his fraternity club of liberal and right-wing Islamophobes on the other.
This historic rise of Islamophobia will have a transformative impact on Muslims and the current turn in their critical thinking. The most serious among Muslim intellectuals are today undergoing the pains of moral and imaginative rebirth.
Their enemies like Maher and Bannon are the enemies of humanity, for Islamophobia is a thin subterfuge for a much more malignant xenophobia, fear of anyone and anything that does not look or sound like them.
We Muslims are privileged, perhaps we are even destined, to fight for our civil liberties in renewed universal terms – not just for ourselves but for all the other subaltern components of humanity fighting against white supremacy in the US and Europe.
We will emerge from this fight having morally universalised our political particulars. We will face Maher and Bannon face to face, eyeball to eyeball, with our learned humanity against their illiterate barbarity.
*Originally published in: www.aljazeera.com
– The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Aljumuah’s editorial policy.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.
Syed Muhammad AliMarch 4, 2017 - - 8:23 am
Many young people born in Muslim households are not far from being called Islamophobes either.
Laura El AlamMarch 4, 2017 - - 8:59 am
This article makes many excellent points. However, I disagree strongly with one paragraph: “None of this is to say Muslims en masse are God’s gift to humanity. Islamophilia is as deranged as Islamophobia. There are an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe. They have their share of criminal thugs, homicidal sociopaths, psychotic gangs, etc.”
If “Islamophilia” means a love of Islam, how is that “deranged,” as the author suggests? We Muslims do and should love our belief passionately and unapologetically. Why should “thugs,” “sociopaths,” and “gangs” have any effect on our devotion to Allah SWT and His perfect deen? Those aberrations are not part of Islam; they are the antithesis of it. They should only serve to bring us closer to Allah SWT and our dedication to the right path of peace and wholesomeness.
As for the author’s assertion that Muslims are not “God’s gift to humanity,” if we are not, then we should be! Our noble faith requires us to have the best manners, behavior, and stewardship of the Earth. We should be helping our neighbors, conserving our natural resources, feeding the hungry, educating the ignorant, and striving for excellence in all ways. If we dare to hold ourselves to true Islamic standards, we will indeed be God’s gift to humanity!
\Muhammad Shakir HussainMarch 5, 2017 - - 9:36 am
People of the whole unverse has to know that there is no word like Islamophobia. It is a new word generated after the
9/11 and the semi author of the blady word is none other than Geroge .W. Bush. Those personalities who are naming themselves as Islamophobes are ignorant of many things regarding Islam and its history. Before naming themselves as Islamophobes I advise them to go through the holy book of Islam namely ” The Quran ” First let them read the Quran and then go to our Prophets teachings indetail and let them go for the detail discssions and interact with the authors of various books on Prophetic teachings as mere reading Quran only, can not give you the complete understanding unless and untill you refer to Prophetic, authentic, teachings. With the due respect I would like to advise
The president Mr.Donald Trump to call eminent Islamic scholors of different Islamic states for a round table conference as early as possible before he takes up concrete decisions. The people who are meeting Mr.Trump have no knowledge what ever about Islam and Muslims except a distorted version of Islam that too very little. Through these persons Mr. Trump won’t be able to understand and also can not be able assimilate what is Islam and Muslims in the real sense. Even some muslims even though they are well educated and holding prestigeous jobs and do businesses can not answer various doubts which are natural for the president as it is a totally new subject to deal with.
First off all we ahve to work out as muslims the perverted word of Islaophobia from the annals of the literary world.
Thats the main object and subject of the present muslim intelectuals.
May Allah Subahanau Wa taala give us patience, strength, power and the real and correct knowledge of Islam to all muslim brothers and sisters to erase out completly the word ” Islamophobia ” from the minds and hearts of the people
who have got distorted version.
May Allah Subahanau wa taala help us greatly and have a successful results as soon as possible.
Muhammad Shakir hussain.