Sep 30, 2010 - Issue 395
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BlackCommentator.com: Racism and Islamophobia in an Era of a Capitalist Depression - Emancipation from Mental Slavery By Dr. Horace Campbell, PhD

   
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Context

When the news of the plans to burn more than 200 copies of the Koran reached international headlines, a sane person wondered if the US society had gone crazy. The incendiary plan came weeks after international debates about the plans by a group to build an Islamic community center in New York City. Conservatives in the United States distorted the true story and there were wild claims that there were plans for the building of a Mosque at Ground Zero in New York. Ground Zero is the name of the site of the fall of the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. It is my view that the decision to burn the holy book during the period of the commemoration of the events of September 11 was a calculated effort to maximize the propaganda effort to heighten the scourges of racism and islamophopbia in the United States and in those societies in Western Europe allied to the conservative forces in the USA. As a propaganda tool, this announced plan to burn the Koran achieved its most important goal; that is, to promote the ideas of war and hatred. It was for this reason that the timing of the Koran burning was to coincide with the end of the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan. 

Racism and anti-Islamic propaganda had been refined to serve the purposes of the US military industrial complex. The divisions in the military over whether they were in a war against Islam or in a war against terrorists had been accentuated by the belief of some sections of the military that the Commander in Chief was in fact a Muslim ,and therefore not an authentic citizen of the USA. For two decades US rulers had used the threat of Islamic fundamentalism as a justification for keeping a high military, economic and political profile in the Middle East while supporting the extremists in Israel. The troops and private contractors from the US military machine who had been pumped up by the association of Islam and fascism (so called Islamofascism) had to hear a credible voice from the neo-conservative establishment. Pastor Terry Jones was given wide publicity and the conservative sources of news were now caught in the contradiction of promoting racism and hatred of Islam in a way that made US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan vulnerable to popular outrages. The most challenging aspect of this new period of hate was the spinelessness of liberals. In a period of the most serious capitalist depression since 1930, the scenario planners for the capitalist class had decided that a division between white and black workers was to be supplemented by divisions between Christians and the followers of Islam.

Racism and Islamophobia

The extreme forms of racism that have been on the rise in the United States since the election of Barack Obama have shaken those who have been pontificating about a post- racial United States. Evidence of racial profiling, discrimination and the aggressive acts of exploitation of black and brown peoples in the United States have only been surpassed by the passionate statements of the racists who are turning up at the Tea Party rallies crying out that “we want our country back.” This chant by the conservative is an overt statement by the more racist section of the society that Barack Obama is an illegal president. Carl Paladino who was running to become the gubernatorial candidate in the USA for the Republican party in the state of New York  sent out e mails with offensive racist and sexist images. My hometown newspaper reported that this candidate sent an e-mail depicting a horse having sex with a woman and another that included a pornographic video and the headline "Miss France 2008 F[***]ing." He also reportedly sent out an e-mail depicting President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as a pimp and prostitute. Paladino won the nomination with this message. Down in the South, the Obama presidency is dubbed as the’nigger show.’

Paladino come out of obscurity with this kind of message to become a frontline candidate in the race between Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate and Howie Hawkins, the Green candidate. After the primary elections on Tuesday September 14, 2010 the Tea Party emerged as a real force in US politics. In nine major races for Senate the candidates backed by the Tea party won the right to contest in the November elections to be held on Tuesday November 2. These victories gave the extreme racist and conservative forces front line spaces to propagate falsehoods, lies, division and hatred of followers of the Islamic faith.

From the Tea Party followers we have been provided images of Obama as the Islamofascist when Obama was being compared to Hitler. These statements from the whipped up crowds at political rallies have been supported by politicians who have called for the repeal of the 14th Amendment of the US constitution. This amendment was that instrument of the constitution that gave Africans the rights to be citizens of the United States after the Civil war of 1861-1865. . Prior to this Constitutional change, Africans could not be Citizens and the Dred Scott decision of 1857 had stated clearly that descendants of enslaved persons could not be citizens of the USA. The question had been posed before the Civil war in the US courts.

Can a Negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to the citizen?

The answer as handed down by the US Supreme Court was: No.

This decision was overturned by the 14th amendment of the US Constitution after the Civil war.  Since the US Civil War and the granting of Citizenship to blacks there has been a debate among conservative jurists on whether it was a mistake to grant citizenship to blacks, who were considered inferior in any case.

After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the conservatives were alarmed and started a campaign that Obama was not a real US citizen because he was not born in the United States. These citizens who carried this line were called birthers. As the conservative and right wing forces gained confidence from millions of dollars being spent by billionaires to finance them and from the silence of the middle, the more extreme politicians went further to target not only blacks but citizens of Hispanic backgrounds. This double assault on black and Latinos was manifest in the posture of the Arizona state that adopted neo- fascist laws against immigrants and oppressed peoples. It was in this climate of heightened racial polarization that Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) became the highest-ranking Republican to suggest support for the repeal of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Appearing on a popular Sunday television show,  Kyl said that he opposes allowing children of undocumented immigrants to be granted U.S. citizenship and wants Congress to hold hearings on the matter. The subtext of this statement was to send a signal to the neo-conservatives that it was time to intensify the racist ideas that can leave blacks and Hispanics insecure in the USA. This insecurity would serve to divide the poor at a moment when all poor persons, black, white and brown should be focusing on unemployment, loss of homes and the fighting of two wars at the same time.

Racism and capitalist exploitation has always gone hand in glove with strengthening the powers of the capitalist classes in the United States. This racism carries with it the ideas of white supremacy. Through the power of the Anglo-American media and propaganda, this racism became a worldwide phenomenon. Racism, sexism and homophobia became weapons in the toolbox of exploitation. Although the United nations has retreated from linking racism to capitalism, the  United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, had been clear on the meaning of the terms of Racial Discrimination.

the term "racial discrimination" shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

In my most recent book, Barack Obama and Twenty-first Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA, I linked racism and sexism and defined both in the following terms:

Racism emanates from a set of ideas, practices, attitudes, actions and institutional structures which systematically subordinate a person or group because of their color. Sexism refers similarly to attitudes, actions or institutional structures which systematically subordinate a person or group because of their sex.  Sexism is usually buttressed by the belief in heterosexism that is the belief that normal sexual relations should be between humans of different sexes. Genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics raise new challenges for the 21st century as the repression and conservatism of the neo-liberal era placed US society in a league of its own on the questions of racism and sexism.

In this book, I have raised the dangers of the kind of thinking that guides researchers in the fields of computer science who are working for the era of technological singularity. It was my argument that the   techno-utopians who subscribe to a future era of a new and reinforced hierarchy of human beings are reproducing the old ideas of white supremacy. As one of our students recently remarked, “singularitarians” represent the most evangelical and fundamentalist group of techno-utopianists”

The point that is to be communicated is that the right wing racism of politicians of the Tea Party and of the posturing of conservative senators is surmounted by an even greater danger, that of the racists in white lab coats who operate under the radar of public scrutiny. The fight against racism is not only a fight against the prison industrial complex, racial profiling and all of the other sores of institutionalized racism, but against the new forms of bioengineering that proposes a new definition of what is a ‘human’ being.

Islamophobia

The evangelical and fundamentalist groups of techno-utopia draw some of their inspiration from a new form of religious stridency that has served the interests of the US rulers since the end of the Cold War. This is the idea of Islamophobia, which is prejudice against, or an irrational fear of Islam or Muslims

As the dominant military power on the Planet earth, the US leaders needed a new idea to motivate the citizens to support the massive military industrial complex.  The forward planners from among the neo-conservatives came up with the idea that the USA was a Christian country and that this heritage was threatened by Islam. Invoking the ideas and language of the period of the Crusades these ideas of hostility to Islam gained ground among the most conservative sections of the US society after the events of September 11, 2001. But the whipping up of the hysteria against Islam had preceded September 11, 2001. There are now books that have detailed how an army of evangelical Christian millenialists led by Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye found themselves in the service of the neocon crusade to remake the Middle East and, in the process, became the club shaped by Karl Rove and wielded by those two unabashed power-freaks and unreconstructed Nixonians, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. John Anderson in his review of the book, the Fall of the House of Bush, detailed the planning and propaganda by these conservative forces in what was described as a triangular relationship. Anderson quoted from one writer who described the "the GOP Triangular Trade, in which Southern evangelicals provide the votes for a party financed by and run on behalf of Wall Street and with policies devised by a gang of New York intellectuals and scribblers." In its essence, what this means is that, "Richard Scaife provides the money to help keep his taxes low. Bill Kristol comes up with the ideas. And Mike Huckabee provides the votes."

What became clear after the war against the people of Iraq was that the idea of hatred of followers of Islam was needed to motivate the troops and the private contractors fighting against the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq. It was not by accident that the Air Force Academy in Colorado was dominated by neo-conservatives who were from a branch of Christian Fundamentalists who were also rabid racists.

These observations on 2008 came before the maturation of the seeds of Islamic hatred in the USA. Now that the seeds of this islamophobia are maturing it is necessary to state the linkages between the military planners and the hatred for Islam.

As far back as 1997, the Runnymede Trust of the United Kingdom defined Islamophobia as the "dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, to the fear and dislike of all Muslims," stating that it also refers to the practice of discriminating against Muslims by excluding them from the economic, social, and public life of the nation. It includes the perception that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion.

One other definition represented Islamophobia as the condemnation of the entirety of Islam and its history as extremist; denying the existence of a moderate Muslim majority; regarding Islam as a problem for the world; treating conflicts involving Muslims as necessarily their own fault; insisting that Muslims make changes to their religion; and inciting war against Islam as a whole. “

One scholar properly identified these ideas of Islamophobia as anti Asian and anti Arab racism. Mahmood Mamdani was more perceptive. In his book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold war and the roots of Terror,  detailed how the intelligence operatives sought to use differences within the Islamic community to isolate Iran after the revolution in Iran in 1979. It is this mix of racism, militarism and religious hatred that was to later surface in the US press when sections of the liberal media coined the phrase, Islamofascism. This is the term that equates some modern Islamic movements with the European fascist movements of the early twentieth century.

William Safire, one of the departed scions of the neo- conservatives, had lent his considerable reputation to the usage of this term when he used his platform at the New York Times to promote this formulation. Using his column on language to promote this concept he wrote that the term Islamofascism fulfills a need for a term to distinguish traditional Islam from terrorists: "Islamofascism may have legs: the compound defines those terrorists who profess a religious mission while embracing totalitarian methods and helps separate them from devout Muslims who want no part of terrorist means." Christopher Hitchens who before the events of September 11 functioned as a member of the liberal intelligentsia became one of the foremost supporters of the wars against the peoples of the Middle East and publicly defended the term Islamofascism in the so called liberal magazine Slate.

The inheritance of Koran Burning

After the tenure of the forces of the Carlyle Group in the Executive branch of the US government during the Presidency of George W. Bush, the language of ‘good and evil’ became standard in the rhetoric of the militarists. President Bush was mobilizing the citizens in a war to combat the Axis of Evil. It was for this reason that it is correct to see the pastor in Florida within the tradition of the militarists. The Pastor who threatened to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 by burning more than 200 copies of Koran, the sacred text of Islam, at his small church had been mobilized by the language of Islamophobia and had made his own contribution by writing on "Islam Is of the Devil."

Pastors such as those in this small church had a material basis for wanting the return of the Republicans to the Executive branch of the government. Under the Faith Initiative of the Bush –Cheney-Rumsfeld period, billions were doled out to the conservatives to whip up racism and hatred. There were many blacks who had internalized this hatred by espousing the most homophobic and sexist aspects of the campaigns of the neo-conservatives.

Thus it is necessary to grasp the toxic environment that the US finds itself in at the period of the worst depression since 1930. What could be considered a fringe group before the depression is now taking center stage of US politics as the signs of the economic depression sets in. The Tea Party then becomes the vehicle to move to the next stage to get the popular votes of poor whites to support rabid racism and Islamophobia. The recent victories of the Tea party nation in the Primaries show that the planned strategy of a right wing assault on humans is gaining traction. The furor over the burning of the Koran served the purpose of heightening passions all over the world to the point where there is no longer question if there will be an incident that will trigger major confrontations, but when such an incident will take place.

Standing  to shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot

The fact that it required the Secretary of Defense to cool out the passions that were mounting is one indication of the impact of this climate on the armed forces of the USA. Increasingly, the strength and power of the militarist is evident from the fact that in the midst of a depression when everything else is being slashed, the military budget of the USA is going up. The anti Islamic fervor in has gone beyond the USA, and is manifest in societies such as Denmark, France and other parts of Europe. The xenophobia in France is now manifesting in the expulsion of the Roma peoples and the legislation banning the wearing of the veil (the burka) by women in France.

The conservative forces have so far benefited from the timidity of liberals who have been silent. However, it is in the world of Islam where the heritages of racism and Islamophobia carry many contradictions. . In many parts of the Islamic world, non-whites have internalized the racism of the US conservatives and racists. This is manifest in the treatment of Africans in some states of  the Middle East and other states in Asia. . This contradiction is compounded by the fact that some of the leaders of Islamic states who are flush with oil funds spend their resources to prop up the same neo-conservatives of the Carlyle Group and the Bush family. It is this alliance of some of the Sheiks with the neo-conservatives that can explain the fact that Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater, the private contracting firm could decide to move to Abu Dhabi. Why would someone with a track record of linkages to the most conservative section of the religious fundamentalists in the USA find a home in the Middle East at a time when there were questions in the US media bout the killings of innocent Iraqis by this firm?

One of my brothers has complained of the hierarchy of his Mosque where citizens from Bosnia and North Africa treat citizens from Africa as second class Muslims. This brother has pointed out that at a moment when all people should be praying shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot for peace, some of their brothers from parts of the Middle East do not want to stand shoulder to shoulder with Africans. Some Africans have also internalized this hierarchy and the Somali Bantu are treated as second class humans by other Somali.

Decent people must stand firm for peace

The proposition by Pastor Terry Jones for the burning of the Koran was one more calculated act to promote war. The very fact that the idea was floated and was given wide publicity was an indication of how conservative the US media had become. This act was intended to strike a note of discord with 1 billion Muslims following news of Islam. The president of Nigeria understood the meaning of this provocation. He said firmly, burning the Koran would “assault the sensibilities of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

This was a clear statement from a president who had witnessed the fanning of the flames of religious wars in Jos. These same flames of religious war are being fanned in the Sudan. The US media is trapped by its support for militarism and the Wall Street barons who benefit from war. Those who support peace and tolerance must oppose the idea of burning religious text and oppose the furor over the so called mosque at ground zero. Those in the peace movement should see this for what it is: an attempt to divide working people in the midst of a depression. Islamophobia is more than an empty propaganda term. It is an incitement for war.

The continued debates on the so called Mosque at Ground Zero serves the purpose of diverting energies from the peace and justice forces in the world. The announced plans for the burning of the holy book on the day of the sad events of September 11 pointed to an aspect of US politics that had been hidden from the rest of the world. This is the way in which the neo-conservative forces had worked to manipulate the divisions within Islam to serve the most conservative sections of the US ruling forces. That it took the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to call this unknown pastor in Florida was revealing in one profound sense. Gates had to take care of massaging the new propaganda lines in the US military machine. This commentary is designed to alert all supporters of peace to stand up and be counted among those who are opposed to the virulent racism and Islamophobia which is being used as a weapon to bring back the neo-conservatives back into the control of the executive branch of the United States.  In this struggle to oppose a special type of militarism and conservatism, those sections of the Islamic world who are aligned to the conservatives in the United States must be condemned, exposed and if possible removed from political power. The struggles for peace and social justice, religious freedom and rights for all are interconnected in all parts of the world.

This commentary was originally published by Pambazuka News - The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board Member, Dr. Horace Campbell, PhD, is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University in Syracuse New York. He is the author of Barack Obama and Twenty-first Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA   Click here to contact Dr. Campbell.

 
 
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