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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Nefarious Beasts Stalk The Land

A standing ovation for Harry of Harry's Place for a magisterial dismembering of the arguments of a new site called Islamophobia Watch. This latter site is a pretty good example of what I generally think of as reflexive Islamophilia, the tendency of some Western Leftists to offer an intellectual free pass to Islam and Muslims because it is non-Western. By forcing the billion or so Muslims in the world into the magic box of 'anti-imperialist/oppressed People of Color' that fits their Manichaean views of the world this species of Leftist is as bad as the brigati Eurabiani on the right, who see all Muslims as sleeper cells for Caliphal revivalist fantasies.

Islamophobia Watch's mission statement claims that "Islamophobia, as a racist tool of Western Imperialism, is strongly advocated by the political right but has also found an echo in the left, particularly sections of the left in France and the countries that make up the United Kingdom." The most obvious flaw with this statement is that 'Islamophobia' is a form of racism. It is not - Islam is a religion, an ideological choice. It is not comparable to race in any way, as Muslims come from all racial backgrounds. Anti-Muslim discourses may simply be cloaking devices for racism (who doubts that when the BNP discuss Islam they are referring to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and not white Muslims from, say, Bosnia?) but more usually, I'd say, they are about Islam as a religious and ideological system and are disconnected from race. There are any number of ultra-right blogs where you can find comment sections that froth over at the mention of Islam yet these same people are generally happy to express support of Christian minority groups (the Copts, the Maronites, the Armenians, etc.) in the Muslim world. If we are looking at the world through our usual Western confusion on the issue of race, does a Copt look much different from an Egyptian Muslim? Something besides racism is at work here.

Despite claiming to be opposed to 'seeing Islam as a monolithic bloc' this is precisely what Left Islamophilia does. It sees Islam as, monolithically, the 'enemy of my enemy' (their enemy being the Western Right, or even, in some cases, Western society itself) and thus worthy of more or less uncritical support. Otherwise, why would the SWP be in alliance with the British branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, who, in domestic ideology at least, represent most of the things that the Western Left claims to reject? The problem with those who wave 'Islamophobia' as a bludgeon is that they refuse to countenance the idea that people may have intellectual problems with Islam that arise from reasoned consideration, and not from unthinking bigotry. As if someone with a liberal perspective on the world is really going to think that Sharia law is worth supporting if they've thought about it for more than, say, five minutes!

Seeing Muslims purely as victims of 'the West' takes away their agency in their own affairs, and denies the fact that the world is a complex place. As Harry correctly points out, whatever your position on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is impossible to dispute that 'Western Imperialism' saved many thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo from Serbian death squads. Elsewhere, is it not a bit questionable to see Salafism as purely a reaction to the West? I would say that, in the context of Iran, Algeria, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere Islamism has generally shown itself to be more predatory towards the local population than any Western interferences.

This is not all that is at work here, though. One of the major ideological changes in the Westen Left over the last fifty or so years has been the fetishisization of Otherness, the lauding of the perceived purity of non-Western cultures as opposed to the corruption of our own. This tendency can be seen quite clearly in the way that this mindset reacts to cultural exchange. When it moves from West to East (or North to South) it is 'cultural imperialism'. Horrified Leftists cry that the young Arab or Indian or Thai or Ugandan who is pulling on a pair of blue jeans or listening to a rap cd is really surrendering part of their (beautiful and wonderful, dontchaknow) traditional culture to nefariously Western forces. Considering that, closer to home, these sorts are enthusiastic about the burial of our own traditional culture(s), is this not completely hypocritical? In any culture there are things that are worth preserving, but also much that is worth jettisoning (or at least changing) and sometimes this change comes about through the adoption of ideas from elsewhere. Cultural exchange is an historical constant.

|| RPH || 7:02 PM || |