By Michael Perino
Before the UK parliament voted for aerial bombardment campaign in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron called the head of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn a “terrorist sympathiser” for his opposition to the war. Americans who opposed the war in Iraq (and the few who took a principled stance against US imperialism in Afghanistan) are familiar with such accusations: the corporate-imperialist party line is “war is the answer.” Questioning the party line means you’re the enemy. “You’re either with us or against us.”
Returning to the United States, it would be wrong to say the elites are polarized on the issue of Syria. Both parties continue to support the illegal war with the goal of regime change in Syria. Democrats and Republicans differ merely on tactical considerations. This follows the long line of military and covert interventions in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia — some of which I go over in “The Arc of Instability.”
But where things have gotten particularly troubling is in the rhetoric coming from the right wing. Republican presidential candidate and billionaire capitalist Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” according to a campaign press release. Trump and his party are no stranger to outright hostility towards Muslims. Earlier in the year, Trump endorsed the tracking of all Muslims in the United States. Someone should have told him that the FBI already uses “stasi-style tactics against Muslims.”
It is not just since the Paris attacks that Islamophobia has been a problem. Hate crimes against Muslims have been a persistent, real threat since September 11. Those mistaken for Muslims have also fell victim to hate crimes — putting to rest the notion spouted by pedantic bigots that Islamophobia and racism are not connected.
The scale of Islamophobia has certainly increased since the Paris attacks. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reports an unprecedented backlash against American Muslims. The problem has become so bad that Tahira Ayub, writing for Muslim Girl, suggests a “Crisis Safety Manual for Muslim Women.” The author somberly reflects
With the influx of Islamophobia-related crimes in the United States these past few months, it can be an extremely scary and nerve-wracking experience to leave home and brave the world as Muslims today.
Because of the crimes of extremists across the globe and right here in the U.S., Muslims are being unfairly given the assumption and stigma of being suspicious, dangerous and a higher risk to those around them. With the addition of online hate, anonymous phone calls and protests outside of religious institutions — we shouldn’t feel as unsafe and on edge as we have to be now.
The persecution and targeting of Muslims for violence begin not with the perpetrator or with the open bigots like Donald Trump. Rather, it starts with a mainstream media subservient to the needs of large monopoly corporations and the State. Media discussion about Muslims or with Muslims takes place within the narrow confines of neoliberalism and imperialism.
Take for example two prominent, self-proclaimed liberals: Bill Maher and Sam Harris. In a recent blog post titled “David Cameron Gets It,” Bill Maher applauds the Prime Minister for being “the one world leader who understands what we’re up against.” He quotes approvingly of Cameron’s speech which rejected 9/11, terrorism and imperialism as causes of ISIS preferring instead to lay the blame on Islam:
But let’s not delude ourselves. We could deal with all these issues – and some people in our country and elsewhere would still be drawn to Islamist extremism. No – we must be clear. The root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself.
Sam Harris infamously supports torture, using nuclear bombs on the Middle East and racial profiling of Muslims or “anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim.” This self-proclaimed “ethicist,” of course, is continually “misunderstood” or “quoted out of context” and constantly him and his legion of Harrisites have to “correct” mistakes about Harris’s positions. The latest stupidity that left Harris’s mouth (which itself will likely be followed by an endless serial of “corrections” and “putting words in context”) is his most recent statement that he’d rather vote for the “dangerously deluded religious imbecile” Ben Carson as opposed to Noam Chomsky. Because, according to Harris, “in terms of the totality of their understanding of what’s happening now in the world” Ben Carson is the better option. Do I even need to comment?
Some might be surprised that self-proclaimed liberals can openly support and even provide moral rationalizations for war-mongering and bigoted policies. Don’t be. There is a direct link between Islamophobia at home and US imperialism in predominantly Muslim countries. And liberals have historically and contemporaneously been a great friend of war.
Racism is an integral part of the ideology of imperialism. By dehumanizing the victims of imperialism, racism provides an ideological cover and justification for heinous war crimes. The prominent centers of power – the large monopoly corporations and the State — restrict discussion about foreign policy to narrow limits that serve its own purpose. Islamophobia fits in here perfectly. The corporate media beat the drums for war against countries with overwhelming Muslim majorities all while taking, in general, a liberal stance against Islamophobia. It creates a two-tiered structure of Muslims. The “good” Muslims who support the principles of US foreign policy and the ideology of monopoly-finance capital and the “bad” Muslims — roughly 99.99% of the total members of one of the world’s largest religions.
The “good” Muslims are never the large majority who live lives no different from other American citizens. They aren’t the Muslims who stand against war. No. They are Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali (a favorite of Maher and Harris) who was a fellow for the American Enterprise Institute and provides the justification for the United States’ imperialist wars.
The “bad” Muslims are the large majority of the 1.6 billion adherents to the religion across the globe. They are the average Syrian refugee. They are the majority of Palestinians who experience the constant harassment, occupation and threat of death from the increasingly brutal US-backed apartheid state of Israel. The over 1 million Iraqis dead from sanctions in 1990, invasion and occupation since 2003. They are the thousands who fear becoming the next innocent victim in drone strikes throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. It is perhaps inaccurate to say that the elites refer to these Muslims as “bad.” Rather, they simply are given no voice in any mainstream outlet. On the rare occasions that the “bad” Muslims are given an outlet to speak, they are pushed to accept responsibility for actions they did not commit.
So do Muslim lives matter? Victims of Islamophobia and hate crimes in the West; victims of centuries of Western imperialism that continues to this day; it must be unfortunately stated that from the standpoint of the world’s dominant superpower, Muslim lives simply do not matter. They are used as pawns in the global scramble for control of oil.
It is likely that liberal apologists will look back at this era just as they do for the wars in Indochina, Latin America and Africa. They will regard them as tactical mistakes that cost too much American lives and dollars for the “little” the wars have accomplished. This is the bloody calculus of imperialism. We must replace that with our own calculus based on solidarity of all people regardless of sex, race, ethnicity or religion, on satisfying human needs, providing for conditions that allow for substantive freedom and real democracy.
To do this we must struggle to build a new political and economic system free from control by a small elite and free from the forces of exploitation, domination and bigotry.
Michael Perino is an activist and manages a blog on current events and political economy.