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Arun Kundnani: Islamophobia Is Just The Latest In A History of US Imperialism


Arun Kundnani is one of the most brilliant investigators and writers on the subject of the Counter Terrorism industry and Islamophobia.

A must read.

By Arun Kundnani, The National

The shooting of three American Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, this month has focused attention on anti-Muslim hatred in the US.

There are strong reasons for thinking the suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, was motivated by anti-Muslim animosity to murder Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Abu-Salha, 19. The FBI is now investigating the case as a possible hate crime, although initial reports stated the murder may have been about a dispute over parking.

In 2011, I spent a year travelling around the US investigating anti-Muslim prejudice. In a suburban restaurant in Houston, I saw a poster that perfectly captured the nature of the problem. The restaurant owner had used a photograph of a lynching in the early 20th century, featuring a tree, a dead body hanging from a branch and a crowd of white people in the foreground looking jubilant. In place of the black victim of the original image, the face of a stereotypical Arab was superimposed with the caption: “Let’s play cowboys and Iranians.”

It was a disturbing sight. In the same neighbourhood, I had heard stories of teenagers beaten up at school simply for being Arab, of harassment of mosque congregations and of death threats against Muslims aired on local radio stations. It was also disturbing because racist imagery appeared to be a perfectly normal way to decorate a restaurant. But the image was also revealing because it shows anti-Muslim sentiment in the US is part of a longer racial history.

The poster’s caption played on the phrase “cowboys and Indians” and was an implicit celebration of the genocide of America’s indigenous peoples by European settlers, the first act in the racial history of the US and one that continues to haunt an American culture obsessed with enemies at its frontiers.

Likewise, the use of a photo of a lynching ties its meaning to the history of racial segregation after the abolition of slavery, and the ways that violence was used to maintain white supremacy.

Anti-Muslim prejudice is the most recent layer in this history, a reworking and recycling of older logics of oppression. From this perspective, Islamophobia, like other forms of prejudice, should not be seen only as a problem of hate crimes committed by lone extremists. The acts of individual perpetrators can only be made sense of if they are seen as the product of a wider culture, in which glorifying racial violence is acceptable.

All empires require violence to sustain themselves, and the violence perpetrated overseas by imperial powers always flows back, in one form or another, to the “homeland.” In modern times, that violence also always takes on a racial character.

The British Empire relied upon racist ideology to maintain its authority, both domestically and in colonial settings, and particularly in the face of resistance to its rule. Blacks and Asians from the colonies who settled in Britain after the Second World War encountered the racism imperialism had fostered there, persisting long after the British Empire itself no longer existed.

Since the end of the Cold War, US foreign policy planners have regarded the Middle East as their most troublesome territory, where resistance seems to be especially strong against the US’s key regional ally, Israel. Large sections of the US political and cultural elite have turned to racial ways of explaining resistance to its authority. Rather than see the Palestinian movement, for example, as rooted in a struggle against military occupation and for human rights, it has been more convenient to think that Arabs are inherently fanatical. In other words, the problem is their culture, not our politics.

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  • Just_Stopping_By

    Well, thanks for my laugh of the day.

    Your claim that your views are not unthinking falls quite short when you seem to accuse me of “tolerating the hate speech of scum like ficklefatcat.” Well, let’s see what I’ve said about him, here for example: “FFC allows his political views to lead him to bigotry and to a point where he essentially mocks the god he says he believes in. As a Jew, I denounce his statements, just as I know there are many here who would denounce similar statements by those of their or of any religion.”

    Now, I could be smug and argue that your unthinking generalization is a hallmark of anti-Zionist argument. In fact, it’s a hallmark of argument among the extremist segments among Zionists, anti-Zionists, and pretty much every group in political conflict. And the bald assertion that views you oppose are “criminal” just bores me nowadays. It’s often a pathway to justifying whatever “one’s own side” does because criminals bring it upon themselves if, for example, they get shot and killed while committing a crime.

    I’m much more in favor of those who are able to say that their side is right in X but wrong in Y and that the “other” side has a strong point on A but a weaker one on B. In my discussions here and elsewhere, I’ve seen plenty of people on both sides make empty, unthinking, and virulent arguments, but others on both sides make thoughtful points that have caused me to re-evaluate my positions, sometimes finding more merit in some anti-Zionist claims and sometimes finding less. I’m not sure if your use of the word criminal puts you in the following category, but if you come across such a complicated political debate and leave feeling that one side is completely right (they are “the law”) and the other completely wrong (“criminal”), that suggests to me that you are either unthinking or not a particularly deep thinker. And failing to check my public views on FFC, which I found in less than two minutes using Google, certainly does not help your credibility.

  • cmyfe .

    I don’t care if you’ve understood me or not. Your mind and personality seems to be unstable troll. Probably intentional.

  • cmyfe .

    Oh yeah….sorry for the confusion caused.
    I’m glad the misunderstanding is over without bloodshed….

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Ahh. You had earlier said only that Pakistan “allows” Christmas celebration, not that the schools are closed.

    Now that I understand that you mean that the schools are closed, it is indeed a relevant comparison.

  • AJ

    All of the US public schools are not closed for Eid. All of the Pakistani schools are closed for Christmas.

  • cmyfe .

    Schools are closed during Christmas in Pakistan too and not just one city. Pakistan is supposed to be an “Islamic state” remember?
    Why isn’t this a relevant comparison? Roughtly 1.6% Muslims in U.S and same for Christians in Pak.
    I personally don’t see a big deal in any of these 2 cases. When the population grows and gains further political influence Pakistan might recognise Easter and other holidays too.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    All of the U.S. allows Eid celebrations. This is referring to public schools specifically having the day off for the Eid holidays. I’m happy for the Christians in Pakistan on this count, but that is just not a relevant comparison.

  • cmyfe .

    Yay! you will be happy to know Pakistan (all of it, not just one city) allows Christmas celebration!!! How is that for a fitting reply to the NYC kindness?

  • cmyfe .

    I am not the one pushing for or defending their persecution.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Since I do want to hear your thoughts on the two big topics, let me try to close the loop on the rest.

    I think we’re pretty much in agreement on your first seven (of ten) paragraphs, though with regard to the seventh, I will point out that many commenters here do not leave any bigoted comments (at least that I have seen) while others (take 1DrM) do so frequently.

    On your eight paragraph, I do think that those who run the site do honestly believe that they are fighting a particular injustice and that that is their primary mission here. However, I also find that unlike some other sites, LW is often myopic in that it frequently makes assumptions about who the good and who the bad guys are without providing context or, occasionally, even thinking through the logic of the positions they present. For example, I have pointed out that LW presented an article that complained that Israel released too many Palestinians (because releasing so many was “proof” that each was valued very little) in a prisoner swap. In fact, one commenter even argued that the ratio of Palestinians released was “too high,” perhaps not recognizing that lowering the ratio would mean releasing fewer Palestinians. The author also said that Israel would never do the same for an Arab citizen, until I pointed out that it famously did have an unequal exchange to get back an accused Arab-Israeli spy.

    On your ninth paragraph, I think you are reading way too much into the motivations of the LW management. I’m not sure it’s fair to characterize them as “right wing religious people.” I think they have various views that sometimes look right wing and sometimes left wing. I also don’t doubt their sincerity in fighting anti-Muslim bigotry, though I question if they try sufficiently hard to understand how various political disputes create bigotry and bad acts on all sides.

    I hope that covered the bulk of your comment and we can move on to the two big topics.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    We may not be that far apart in principle, putting aside your gratuitous final paragraph. For me, the question is what counts as “inflammatory.”

    Should reporting on anti-Muslim actions or statements be considered inflammatory unless one puts in an equal amount of positive articles? In some ways, that would be inflammatory, but under those rules, so would almost any documenting of any repeated injustice. Would a web site that kept reporting on police killings of unarmed minorities be considered inflammatory?

    I think the answer lies in context and description in the articles. I don’t know if this will surprise you, but I do think that LW could do better. I think that too often complex political disputes are flattened into a “we good / they bad” type of narrative. LW could also certainly do better at things like actually providing links to resources where one could direct their energies such as charities or volunteer organizations that could actually help victims like those discussed in many of the posts. But, these are my views of what a better site would be, and I am not a part of the LW management or ownership, so all I can do is mention my opinion and say that I think that Islamophobia is a serious enough problem that I do want to follow the issues and contribute my thoughts, even if this is not what I would view as an ideal site.

    To be clear, LW is certainly much better than something like the Geller or Spencer sites, which are essentially solely inflammatory. On the other hand, I think LW does lack the nuance and self-reflection of ATL posts on other sites.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    “Notice how this site didn’t bother reporting on it? They only ever try to stir the pot,…”

    Excellent point! Well, maybe excellent if you ignore the following from the current home page:

    Also, a little less excellent if you remember other articles on the site.

    Now, that is not to say that LW does not focus heavily on anti-Muslim activities; it does, and that is its stated mission. It’s also not to say that I don’t think that LW has unnecessarily stirred the pot and even crossed the line, for example allowing its often unthinking and virulent anti-Zionism to bleed into anti-Semitism/Judeophobia, something for which a key contributor apologized: .

    I still think that there is a lot of bias in a lot of the LW writing, but you don’t help your case when you say that “[t]hey only ever try to stir the pot” when it’s clear just from the home page that that’s not the case. As seen from the mea-culpa page I linked to, LW may at least some times be able to recognize its own prejudices, something that I haven’t seen so clearly from many other sites. If you want to have a real discussion on biases at LW or elsewhere, and I’d be happy to engage in that, it’s better to not start with a position that is clearly overstated.

  • cmyfe .

    Yeah? You just named two more “enemies” and confirmed that my comment applies to you.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Yes. The only problem is that the islamophobes say that the crimes (and war crimes) IS is committing are mandated by the Holy Qur’an and mainstream Islamic doctrine, and pigheadedly will always come up with that no matter what one tells them.
    On the other hand, so far I’ve been lucky, nobody has yet attacked me for what I am. I mean on the street, in a theater or a shop, or at my work place. On the internet that’s something else. OK, I need not let them get my morals down.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    You’re right on both counts, european islamophobia is much more insidious and much more deadly, it has cost about 100,000 innocent lives in Bosnia-Herzegovina alone and who knows how many more in Kosovo. All killed beceuse they were Muslims and because their presence there on their own homelands bothered (Still bothers) the Serb master race.

  • Trimmercastle42

    Continuing from my previous comment:

    That being said, Many Europeans still reject Islamophobia and are not caught up in the anti-muslim hysteria; while Far-Right parties gaining seats in the EU is worrying, I have faith that people will reject these extreme parties.

    In my opinion, the main driving force behind Islamophobia is Xenophobia, but what makes it effective and able to spread is the facade of “Experts” that back up their so called facts about Islam, people, sadly, are more willing to believe half-baked experts that have little to no knowledge of Islam or even the Arabic language. That being said, we must be-careful not to label anyone who disagrees with Islam as an Islamophobe, as long as the arguments they bring up is backed up by unbiased facts, then its worth listening to them.

  • Trimmercastle42

    Judging by news reports we get it seems that US Islamophobia is a fringe in larger society as very few politicians support or even acknowledge the insane writings of Pamella Geller and the likes, since the US has not and will never enact laws that will undermine the rights of muslims (such as banning the construction of Minerates or banning the Hijab in public sectors) because it goes against everything that the US stands for and holds dearly, don’t forget the the US is a nation of Immigrants and a melting pot of cultures.

    European Islamophobia has more political support as there are entire political parties that want to stem the tide of immigration and want to ban many muslim rights; this mostly stems from Europe’s history and contact with the muslim world since its inception and the fall of the Byzantine Empire.
    European Islamophobia is a nostalgic kind of islamophobia, many of its supporters wish for Europe to return to it “Glory Days of Empire”.

  • Diego Hernandez

    Would the Loonwatch bloggers (who have been covering this stuff for years) say that there’s any qualitative difference between US and European Islamophobia?

    Just based on personal impressions, I get the sense that US Islamophobia is vastly more crude and overtly racist than Islamophobia elsewhere. The same seems to be true for xenophobia in general. The immigrants that white Americans love to hate come from Latin America, which cannot seriously be described as anything other than “Western”.

    European Islamophobia seems a lot more insidious by comparison, though perhaps it’s more deadly.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Somewhat off topic to American imperialism, but at least in New York, we are going to become a bit more Muslim-friendly: (“Mayor Bill de Blasio will announce on Wednesday morning that New York public schools will observe two of the most sacred Muslim holy days — Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. …”)

  • Yausari

    And they say Muslims are taking over US. But the opposite seems to make more sense.

  • mindy1

    Sadly that kind of talk seen in Texas is common. I’m just glad that isn’t common all over. I don’t know what the solution is. I just know that this current round of hate is feeding each other like a snake eating its tail. Something happens in the mid east, some nutter here says Muslims are no good and kills them, and so on and so fourth >:(

  • cmyfe .

    Consumerist pigs need an enemy all the time. If they are left on their own they’ll just start killing and eating each other.

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