News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: The Islamophobic Myth?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Islamophobic Myth?

Much is written in the neocon and religious Right blogosphere about a supposed threat from a monolithic Islamism. These statements by the neoconservatives and religious right sometimes differentiate between the extremists and more moderate Moslems. But more often than not they lump all Moslems into the extremist camp.

These statements usually take the form of saying that Islam itself is a religion of war and violent conversion. Numerous western scholars from Karen Armstrong to Houston Smith, as well as Islamic scholars like Fazlur Rahman and Tariq Ramadan, dispute this view. On the blogosphere, Juan Cole has conveniently posted several entries at his blog on statements in the Quran that belie the religion of war image of Islam portrayed by Islamophobes. ...

Most Islamophobic statements gloss over the major doctrinal differences between the main Islamic denominations, Shiite and Sunni. Without going into the extensive scholarship on this subject at this time, I would assert that the Islamophobes are either displaying their ignorance of Islam or intentionally prevaricating on these differences in order to promote their antipathy to Islam and its followers.

No doubt, many of these Islamophobes will point to recent statements in support of Shiite Hizbullah by the Sunni zealot al-Zawahiri. This is indeed an interesting statement, since it was only several weeks ago that bin-Laden called on Iraqi Sunnis to fight heretical Iraqi Shiites.

Early in July, bin-Laden issued an internet broadcast, which ABC News interpreted in the following way:

In the message, bin Laden warned Iraq's Shiite majority of retaliation over attacks on Sunni Arabs and that his group would fight the United States anywhere in the world.

It was his second Internet broadcast in two days and one of his strongest comments on sectarian divisions in Iraq.

"Unarmed people among Mesopotamia's Islam folk are being subjected to an annihilation campaign at the hands of the gangs of hatred and treason ... in the government of (Nuri) al-Maliki," he said.

Bin Laden, a Sunni Muslim from a school that sees Shiite Muslims as heretics, said the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq was being annihilated. [my emphasis]
On Zawahiri's statement Juan Cole, as usual, has some illuminating remarks:
Ayman al Zawahiri today made a change in both policies. He wants al Qaeda to pile on in Gaza and to defend Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The Sunni Arab regimes have been reluctant to press too hard for cease-fire because they see Hizbullah as an agent of Iran. This foot dragging has been unpopular among the public. Al Qaeda is now playing to that gallery.

As usual, Israel is radicalizing the Muslim world. The US, too, will suffer.
For his part, Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr wants to join in common cause with the Sunnis to fight the US and Israel.
Juan Cole reports, however, that Iraqi Shiite cleric al-Sadr:
In Iraq, young Shiite clerical nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr in an incendiary sermon in which he
' predicted Israel would collapse like New York's twin towers on Sept 11, 2001, if Sunnis and Shiites join in their fight. "I will continue defending my Shiite and Sunni brothers, and I tell them that if we unite, we will defeat Israel without the use of weapons," Sadr said during a speech in the southern city Iraqi city of Kufa.'
Statements like these will add grist to the Islamophobes's mill.

Yet, all Islamic extremist organizations are not even alike. As numerous note, Hizbullah and al-Qaeda have different objectives and tactics. Several days ago, I worte at Glenn Greenwald's blog, "As anyone who watched Anderson Cooper's piece on Hezbollah last night knows, Hezbollah--a Shiite Moslem faction--does not agree with al-Qaeda--a Sunni Moslem faction. Indeed, Hezbollah condemned the 911 attacks. In numerous public statements, its leader, Nasrallah, says that the US is not Hezbollah's enemy, Israel is."

Of course, the fact that these two traditional enemies appear to be rushing into each other's arms would have nothing to do with US aggression in Iraq or Israel's invasion of Lebanon, would it? But perhaps this only proves the Islamophobe's point; push Islam hard enough and it will show its true core, the core of a religion that is bent on world domination and conversion by the sword.

Cole notes that, "As usual, Israel is radicalizing the Muslim world." It's certainly true that there's much resentment and envy in the way that many Middle East Moslems see the western powers and Israel. Born from a century of colonialism and heavy-handed real politik by western nations in the region, the Muslim sensibilities are not hard to rub the wrong way.

My question is why, when the colonialist sore is still fresh in many Moslems' souls, does the US and Israel wish to rub it open over and over again? What good can come as the wound drains its venom over and over again into the hearts of young Moslems?

To change the metaphor, what end game is Israel and the US playing? While it's easy to smirk away recent statements by John McCain and Newt Gingrich--a statement that is being picked up and promoted in the MSM as something approaching a reality--that the US is now engaged in WWIII, the wound serves many purposes; not the least of which, for neoconservatives and their politician lackeys, is getting elected and holding on to the reins of power.

PS An interesting article on a group of scholars who studied bin-Laden's writings to understand his ideology produces the following tentative conclusions:
The rhetoric is reasoned and well informed, not irrational. In addition to Scripture, he draws from current events and even respected scholars and war theory to justify his belligerence. But the rhetoric is weak theologically, McGregor said.

“It does not have deep roots in the Quran or deep roots in Islamic law,” he said. “Yes, he quotes the Quran once in a while. But within the Islamic religion itself, this is very extreme. This is really on the edge.”
The part I have emphasized is indeed important. It shows that bin-Laden is not representative of traditional Islamic beliefs and doctrines. On the other hand, it does show that bin-Laden's message is unique and perhaps represents an evolution of Islamic thought that would make bin-Laden a kind of Martin Luther of Islam (as I argue elsewhere).

A more likely understanding of bin-Laden's significance, though, is that he's more likely an opportunist who has seen a way to exploit anti-colonialist animosities and resentments in order to promote his warped and Manichean vision of the world.

Update 1 Anderson Cooper's 360 was very good tonight in analyzing the differences between al-Qaeda and Hizbullah. As noted here, Zawahiri's statement might be one more example of al-Qaeda either trying to chisel in on Hizbullah's action or sending out feelers to see whether they'll team up with al-Qaeda. Depending on how desperate Hisbullah gets, I imagine, in its fight with Israel, the probability fo such a merger will rise or fall as its fortunes fall out from that fight. The solution here seems obvious: garner a cease fire and rein Hizbullah in by getting Israel to come to peace with its neighbors.

Update 2 Jim Lobe at quotes Marc Lynch on the Shiite-Sunni split and the attempts to mend the rift by extremists:
"The Sunni-Shi'ite divide is real, and it's not just being invented by the neo-cons, but if you look at mainstream public opinion, a lot of the Sunni-Shi'ite stuff that the neo-cons and the press are picking up on is the invention of the [Sunni-led] regimes, especially in the Gulf, where Sunni leaders really are afraid of Iran and their Shi'ite populations inconveniently happen to live on the oilfields," Lynch told Inter Press Service.

"For the Arab regimes, playing on Sunni-Shi'ite differences is really a divide-and-conquer [strategy] to prevent the rise of a unified movement against them. But the fact is you're now seeing even very Sunni movements like the Muslim Brotherhood rallying to Hezbollah as the fighter against Israel, while these corrupt, impotent, pro-American governments aren't doing a thing."

Update 3 In an important lecture on the differences between Shia and Sunni Islam, Islamic scholar Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape The Future, says:
that this situation is also likely to fuel for a number of years the Salafi Jihadi problem. It was very, very interesting that bin Laden, whom everybody kept saying was not sectarian – his mother is supposedly Alawite from Syria, to whom he is very close – and has always shunned sectarianism and tried to focus on the U.S. as the main enemy, after Zarqawi's passing away, decided to pick up where Zarqawi left off by giving that statement that the Shiites are at fault in Iraq, and they are the collaborators and therefore ought to be resisted. It suggests that the militant Salafis see anti-Shiism as the other face of anti-Americanism and as a way to continue to recruit and radicalize the Islamic political discourse in the region.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have read the whole article
BUT still do not understand the differences between these 2 FANATICAL RELIGIONS.
One has to LAUGH when the POPE went into TURKEY to PRAY
The Populace where UP IN ARMS,that he was in there much to long
as HE could be trying to convert their Prophet MOHAMMED into CHRISTIANITY.
Would love to hear other opinions