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Islamophobia, Left and Right

(h/t: Jason perkins)

Islamophobia, Left and Right

‘Koran discovered with coffee cup stain on the front cover, US marines deployed to all Starbucks franchises.’

The quip, retweeted by celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins, exemplifies the belligerent incomprehension with which so many, including self-proclaimed liberals, have responded to protests against the film The Innocence of Muslims.

Rioting over a YouTube clip that offends the Muslim sky fairy? How tremendously foolish! How childish; how superstitious; how very, very silly!

Well, we’ve certainly seen ignorance paraded over the last few days but it’s as much by smug progressives as anyone else.

Consider a historical analogy.

In 1857, Bengali soldiers (known as ‘sepoys’) shot their British officers and marched upon Delhi. The Great Indian Rebellion became very violent, very quickly. The rebels massacred prisoners, including women and children; the British put down the revolt with a slaughter of unprecedented proportions.

Now, that rebellion began when the troops learned that their cartridges, designed to be torn open with their teeth, would be greased with beef and pork fat, an offence to the religious sensibilities of Hindus and Muslims alike. Had Twitter been an invention of the Victorian era, London sophisticates would, no doubt, have LOLed to each other (#sepoyrage!) about the credulity of dusky savages so worked up about a little beef tallow. Certainly, that was how the mouthpieces of the East India Company spun events: in impeccably Dawkinesque terms, they blamed ‘Hindoo prejudice’ for the descent of otherwise perfectly contented natives into rapine and slaughter.

But no serious historian today takes such apologetics seriously. Only the most determined ignoramus would discuss 1857 in isolation from the broader context of British occupation. In form, the struggle might have been religious; in content, it embodied a long-simmering opposition to colonial rule.

That’s why those who pretend the protests against The Innocence of Muslims came from nowhere merely reveal their own foolishness.

‘Today, many Americans are asking — indeed, I asked myself — how could this happen?’ said Hillary Clinton after the riots in Libya. ‘How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.’

The echoes of George Bush’s infamous query ‘Why do they hate us when we’re so good?’ suggests nothing whatsoever has been learnt from the last decade and the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

For this is, of course, the same Hillary Clinton who, as recently as 2009, proclaimed Mubarak, Egypt’s torturer-in-chief, and his wife, ‘friends of my family’, acknowledging a relationship that exemplified the pally connections between the US elite and every dictator and despot in the region. Mubarak might have been crossed off the Clinton Christmas list but President Obama forges ever closer relations with the tyrants of Saudi Arabia, delivering the biggest ever arms deal in US history to fortify a reactionary and criminal government against its populace.

No, Hillary Clinton might not recall such matters. But the people of the Muslim world are considerably better informed – and that’s the context for their anger.

But what about the movie itself? Why should such a shoddy piece of amateur filmmaking become such a flashpoint?

Again, shift to a more familiar referent and the outrage becomes at once markedly less strange. The Protocols of Zion were, of course, also a bodged-up job, a childish forgery thrown together by racist cranks from the Tsarist secret service. But no-one’s surprised when Jews (and their anti-racist allies) mobilise against some fresh incarnation of that notorious document, since we all, quite correctly, recognise any new publication of the Protocols as a conscious and deliberate attempt to promote hatred.

The Innocence of Muslims should be understood in the same fashion. This is a film produced at a time in which, across Europe and the United States, the far right has developed an Islamophobic doctrine that replicates, almost exactly, the key tropes of traditional anti-Semitism.

Jews will not integrate. Jews are more fertile than Christians and are outbreeding them. Europe is becoming a province, a colony, of a Judaic entity. Europe will either be Judaicised or there will be a civil war. Most likely, Jews will resort to terrorism as part of their takeover. They are already spoiling for violence.

All of that sounds like the rantings of an old-school fascist. But replace ‘Jew’ with ‘Muslim’, and you’re left with a workaday opinion piece from any mainstream conservative paper.

The structural homology here is not accidental. Mattias Gardell notes how:

The tradition of Islamophobia is, like anti-Semitism, rooted in the medieval Christian hostility to the ‘enemies of God’, with these perceptions disseminated, expanded upon, restructured, rearticulated and reactivated in various social and political contexts, from the Turk scare in early modernity, via the colonial expansion, to the War on Terror.

Many stories told about Jews in medieval and early modern Europe were also spun around what were then termed Moors, Saracens or Red Jews: Muslims were devil-worshipping, sexually deviant, man-eating monsters; Muslims ritually defamed the cross and consumed the blood of ceremonially slaughtered Christian children in blasphemous communions. Church art portrayed Mohammed as the Antichrist, and Muslims as horned devils, Christ-killers, dogs or a hybrid race of dog-men. Lars Vilks – the Swedish artist who depicted Mohammed as a dog – may claim originality, but the dog motif goes back hundreds of years and is as old as the Judensau (the medieval depiction of Jews in obscene contact with a sow).

Elsewhere, the journalist Colm Ó Broin has produced a neat demonstration of the relationship between the old hate and the new hate, with a close comparison of the writings of the notorious Islamophobe Robert Spencer on Muslims alongside the propaganda of Julius Streicher, the editor of, Der Stuermer. Streicher, you’ll recall, went to the gallows at Nuremberg – but Spencer holds forth regularly on FOX News.

The labour leader August Bebel famously dubbed anti-Semitism the ‘socialism of fools’, since some supposed radicals subscribed to crackpot theories about Jewish finance. In a similar fashion, Islamophobia today often gets served up as an add lepated secularism by vulgar atheists, indifferent to how often their conversations about Muslim theology slide neatly into anguish about Muslim birthrates (an obvious giveaway of the racialised imagination and its biological concerns).

Should Muslims be worried about rising Islamophobia? Of course they should! As the recent report by the Institute of Race Relations, Pedlars of Hate, makes clear, anti-Islam bigotry is becoming a key element of the revival of the far Right – a Right that doesn’t merely slander Muslims but also takes action against them.

The Innocence of Muslims was, quite obviously, intended as a provocation, and many Muslims have argued that the minority of shrilljihadis who raised their sectarian and violent slogans at protests around the wold fell entirely into the intended trap.

Then, again, this too is familiar. Twentieth century race-baiters knew all about goading their victims into a certain response, and then using that response to justify a fresh pogrom. Not unexpectedly, German far-right extremists (who have some historical experience with this strategy) are now planning fresh screenings of the film.

Those who call themselves progressive might note that a certain Karl Marx followed the Great Indian Rebellion closely. While he acknowledged and decried the excesses of the rebels, he declared these were ‘only the reflex, in a concentrated form, of England’s own conduct in India.’

In other words, Marx, one of history’s more famous atheists, stood firmly with the ‘ignorant’ sepoys against their ‘enlightened’ opponents.

‘John Bull,’ he wrote, ‘is to be steeped in cries for revenge up to his very ears, to make him forget that his Government is responsible for the mischief hatched and the colossal dimensions it has been allowed to assume.’

Add ‘Uncle Sam’ to that sentence, and you have a remarkably apt assessment of what’s taking place today.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland magazine and the author of “Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship.

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  • Garibaldi

    I see, so you’re talking about comment updates, sorry I thought you were referring to the RSS email feed.

  • Solid Snake

    Hey Garibaldi,

    I havent been receiving comment updates. It sends me the subscribe to thread email and that is about it. I wasnt notified of your comment either thats why I am so late to reply.

  • Garibaldi


    We have been having tech issues, there is some issue that is tough to crack for some reason, however the emails should be fine. I myself get emails, and the last one was 10/06, the last time anything was published on LW.

  • Solid Snake

    Of course, I know. 🙂
    Also sorry for the very late response. I havent been able to load Loonwatch until today,

    Also, the email problem hasn’t been solved yet. It might be from my end but I have tried everything and I still dont receive any updates. Anyone else?

  • Just Stopping By

    @Solid Snake: I hope you recognize that that was more friendly humor than sarcasm.

    Just so my sarcasm is clear: Oh, no — the Tigers are bound to defeat Oakland and then crush the Yankees. I’m sooooo scared. 😉

  • The post refers to “a relationship that exemplified the pally connections between the US elite and every dictator and despot in the region.” Is that accurate? What about Assad, the “Supreme Leader” of Iran, and Gadaffi?

  • Solid Snake

    It sounded good in my head :). And I am but a humble student of undergraduate Biology 🙂 your sarcasm aside, I hope to earn that honorable title in the future….or if not, I might just go into the video game industry.

  • Hard Core Atheist

    Great article. I think the next question is figuring out what is fueling the islamphobia industry in the West? What fuels non-muslim phobia in the Middle East?

  • Pingback: Islamophobia, Left and Right | Spencer Watch()

  • Let’s all agree that nuance is good and no relgion has a monopoly on irrationality. Now what? What is going on in the societies that are violently rioting about the Innocence of Muslims and which rioted in the past about the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. Fine, it’s not worse than the Salem Witch Trials and recent history involves the decay of colonialism. Just saying that it is a reflection or reaction to Western actions seems overly glib. Why is the Iranian press milking these things for all they’re worth? Why are they actually employing a pseudo-progressive and anti-colonialist cant in their exploitation of this business along with conspiracy theories derived from the Protocols–and sometimes actual references to the Protocols?

  • Tom Amitai

    Take the space out of “add lepated” and move it into “shrilljihadis”. 🙂

  • Just Stopping By

    @Solid Snake says, “Again nothing occurs in a vacuum…only in the empty heads of Islamophobes and their supporters.”

    If those heads are empty enough, wouldn’t they actually be vacuums? 😉 Or was the analogy intended, doc?

  • Solid Snake

    Excellent article. Again nothing occurs in a vacuum…only in the empty heads of Islamophobes and their supporters.

    [Email issue sent to admin. Thanks for letting us know.]

  • Sarah Brown

    I think there is a difference between the film – which attacks Muhammed – and the Protocols which attack, not, say, Moses – but present day (I mean, for the time it was written) Jews. The Eurabian stuff is a closer parallel. I’m not saying this distinction I’m drawing makes the film anything other than nasty and provocative (though I am completely opposed to banning it). I suppose it’s just because I’m a neo-con, but I don’t think this can all be related to America – some Libyans distanced themselves from the rioting, and I think Loonwatch ran something pointing that out. Similarly in other countries doesn’t some of the whipping up relate to tensions or rivalries between different political groupings (all Muslim though)? See for example here – a really interesting post and comments.

  • Geoff Cavendish

    Indeed, and which communities actually did something and confronted the rioters? The morally superior militant online atheist community of course. No not really, it was the Kurds, Turks and Sikhs.

  • Garibaldi


    Good point.

    Even then some tried to assign blame for those riots on the “other,” the “non-English foreigners,” in the early days Islamophobes really hoped the Mooslims were behind the riots, boy were they in for a rude shock:

  • Geoff Cavendish

    Well, the English rioted for no discernable reason in summer 2011. I guess the only logical conclusion is that the English are a barbaric, backwards and uncivilized bunch of savages.

  • mjasghar

    Dawkins makes his money pandering to the new atheist imperialism

  • @ mindy1 the best solution is also one that’s very hard it’s getting people to recognize each others sacred values

  • mindy1

    Very well thought out article, wish I had a solution to this. 🙁

  • I Scott Atran gives the best explanation for this sort of phenomena when a groups scared values are threatened people will become more angered and violent and ready to defend them even though under normal circumstances they would not take notice but since the West is involved in conflicts all over the Mideast these types of situations are not surprising since people do not respond with reason when they feel their core identity is threatened this does not condone their behaviour but rather puts it context of how most groups behave when they feel their very identity is threatened.

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