Arun Kundanani: Islamophobia is Just the Latest in a History of US Imperialism (RELS 348)

In a post 9/11 world, various fundamentalist groups like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and more recently, ISIS, have exacerbated the Green Scare amongst the populations of many western states. As a result, Islamophobia has been on a marked increase within these same populations and has manifested itself in various ways (Andres Brevik, PEIGDA, etc..) . The recent killing of 3 Muslims by their neighbour in Chapel Hill North Carolina has brought attention to such anti-Muslim attitudes within the context of America, the world’s largest power.

In the article “Islamopohbia is Just the Latest in the History of US Imperialism,” Arun Kundanani describes these antagonistic attitudes towards Muslims as “the most recent layer in this [America] history, a reworking and recycling of older logics of oppression.” Kundanani recounts his experiences investigating anti-Muslim sentiments in the US circa 2011, where in one Huston restaurant, he found a photo depicting a 20th century lynching with the face of a stereotypical Arab superimposed over that of the black victim. The caption on the photo read: “ Lets play cowboys and Iranians”. The photo itself is exactly that – an “older reworking and recycling of older logics of oppression” that justified the genocide of America’s indigenous populations and the enslavement of blacks. This time around, however, these ideas are being applied to Muslims, as well as people of Middle Eastern decent (two identities that are not necessarily interchangeable, although this fact seems to be missed on much of the public and policy makers).

Kundanani states that all “empires rely on violence to sustain themselves”; this is unarguably true. He follows: “in modern times, this violence always takes racial character. American elites are by no means the first to use racist narratives to demonize those who resist their imperial authority. An interesting point, untouched on by Kundanai, is that the American discourse surrounding the most recent ‘enemy’, fails to acknowledge the merits of said group in any way. This is a recent trend that is supported by a strong sense of American exceptionalism. In For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enenmies, Robert Irwin points out that historically; the Greeks and Romans (both of which are foundational civilizations on which western societies are now based) were not so binary in their approach to the ‘other’. The Greeks admired the Phonecian alphabet, Lydian coinage and Egyptian sculptures (Irwin, p.10). In fact, Herodotus the ‘father of history’ acknowledged that Greek culture borrowed aspects from the cultures of Egypt and Phonecia (Irwin, p. 13). This is to be contrasted with the views of writers like Sam Harris, who deny Islam any redeeming features whatsoever, calling it the “mother-load of bad ideas” and posit the West against the so-called “Muslim World” in a “war of ideas”. Islamic contributions to mathematics, optics, astronomy , and so on are wholesale ignored.

The binary distinction between ‘the west’ (specifically America) and the ‘Muslim world’ is, as Kundanani states, used as a justification for “wars of aggression against a population defined by its religion”. This antagonistic attitude towards Islam that has been utilized as a tool of American imperialism creates and ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality that is domestically manifested in violent acts like the Chapel Hill shootings. These divisive approaches, fly in the face of Greek and Roman civilizations that at the very least acknowledged the accomplishments and contributions of the orient to their very own civilizations. As American imperialism increasingly relies on the separation of one group from the other, one can expect the phenomena of Islamophobia to proliferate and the recurrence of more Chapel Hills.

Identifier: #rels348 #islamophobia #ChapelHill

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