Sunday, July 24, 2011

Externalizing Evil

Richard Seymour has an excellent post at Lenin's Tomb dealing with the media reception of the recent atrocities committed in Norway by a hard-Right, Christian fanatic (who boasted of ties to the British far-Right). Seymour's running commentary (see here and here) on the "West" vs. "Jihadi" narrative has been spot on. The following is exemplary:
However, if you want to understand the attitude of the punditocracy to fascist terrorism, consider the query put by BBC News to the former Norwegian Prime Minister yesterday: "Do you think not enough attention was paid to those unhappy re immigration?" Or, consider this New York Times article blaming the failure of multiculturalism. Or, look at this Atlantic article, which describes such racist terrorism as a "mutation of jihad" - that is "the spread of the 'jihad' mentality to anti-immigrant and racist groups". You begin to get the picture. The idea is to find some way in which all of this is still the fault of Muslim immigrants. The logic will be: the fascists express legitimate grievances, but go too far. Or worse, in their natural outrage, they have allowed themselves to become like them.
Let me say what I think is going on here. The move is to externalize evil, that is, to say that this atrocity could not have come from "within" but had to have been inspired from "without". Hence the suggestion that the gunman has either lapsed into "being like them" or has been "infected by the spread of jihad" and so forth. The language of "spread" and "infection" is interesting- it evokes a sense of "Western" purity that is contaminated by the evils of the "Orient". Then there's obstinate insistence, despite what's happened, that the racist thesis that "multiculturalism has failed" is still valid (see here and here). It's as if to say: "yes, this is ugly, but it doesn't refute the basics premises of xenophobic racism". What's most interesting of all, however, is that the media continues to propagate such racist ideologies at the same time that they continue to be baffled as to where the sort of reactionary fascist hate on display in Norway came from. Something similar was true of the coverage terrifying shooting that took place in Arizona months ago.

I've also been struck recently by the air of disbelief expressed in the press: "why would a far-Right, gun-toting fanatic want to kill socialists?", "how could a European have done something like this?". The AP found it to be a "complete mystery". But this naiveté is not just innocent ignorance. It is political distortion that derives from a distorted view of the world. Countless examples (Oklahoma City, Tuscon shooting, Greensboro Massacre, Chattanooga shooting, etc.) of "homegrown" right-wing terrorism cast doubt on the validity of this manufactured disbelief.

Marcuse's idea of "repressive tolerance" is also worth invoking here. When the media isn't busy stirring up islamophobia, survivalism and orientalist hysteria, it's putting forward the claim that the far-Right deserves to be "tolerated" and heard just like everyone else. This is non-sense. Fascists aren't just "polarizing" figures who have a "different" flavor of opinions in the "food-court/marketplace of ideas"... they are a violent, racist force that corrodes the very possibility of having a just society, of living with each other terms of equality and respect. To tolerate such hate is to be complicit in its capacity to oppress marginalized groups.


-sf said...

"They are a violent, racist force that corrodes the very possibility of having a just society, of living with each other terms of equality and respect. To tolerate such hate is to be complicit in its capacity to oppress marginalized groups."

Exactly what I would say about Islamists.

t said...

This certainly holds true of anti-Semites. But "islamist" is a pretty unhelpful term in my view. I'm not sure who we're talking about. Surely you wouldn't wish to say that by "islamist" you mean to include every Muslim who takes their religious views to entail political commitments.

-sf said...

Surely I do. You make it sound so benign with the term "commitments," when the commitment is for domination of Islam, subjugation of minority religions, and a gender apartheid system. Interesting word association between "Islamist" and "antisemite" though.

"Islam ostracizes the nation of the unbelievers and creates a state of permanent enemyship between the moslems and the unbelievers." -Karl Marx

t said...

"Islamists" is vague and you've yet to clarify it. It just seems to pick out this bogey constructed by sensationalist media, but has little concrete content (e.g. which groups? in which countries? etc.). Of course there are anti-Semites who are also Muslims (just as there are racist Jews). But you make the unfair and islamophobic insinuation that *all* Muslims are anti-Semitic, or, that *all* Muslims whose religion informs their politics are anti-Semites. This insinuation is little more than a rhetorical device for staving off any critical thinking about Israel.

-sf said...

This is my favorite "political commitment" derived from Islamic faith in the news these days:

Although this one comes in a close second:

If these two examples don't fit the above description, I don't know what does.

-sf said...

Sorry t, didn't see your response. I'm not insinuating any such things. In fact for all my ruthless critique of Islam, I make sure to make a distinction between the intolerant ideologies I find deplorable, and the broader Umma -especially American Muslims who I wholeheartedly and likely naively believe are here in this country precisely to escape that sort of intolerant ideology.

I think its not useful to identify groups and people and say they are bad and then try to rationalize why they are bad. I prefer to circumscribe the ideology I find to be deplorable and see who falls into the circle. Islamism (or Islamofascism) is a blending of fundamentalist Islamic theology with a political imperative (which flows from the theology) and commitment to "struggle" for the supremacy of Islam. So who fits this mold? Right off the bat we can lump in Al Qaida and its offshoots, the Ikhwan, HAMAS/Hizbullah, and Wahaabism. We can also extend links to the leadership of the MSA, ICNA, MAS based on documents discovered in the Holy Land case that show these groups intend to "destroy Western civilization from within." This of course doesn't mean that all the rank and file members of these groups are bigots, but their leadership certainly is.

Frankly I don't know how you made a leap to Israel, except maybe its clarifying as to why peace is so elusive when there are groups like HAMAS/Hizbullah who are religiously committed to the idea of all of "Palestine" being an Islamic waqf and Jews (those descendents of apes and pigs) are unworthy of sovereignty in Dar al Islam (and of course peace is further elusive because of religious Zionists who have similar sentiments towards PalArabs)

-sf said...

A final note (and I certainly wish we can do some Socratic type shit here in real time so excuse any inaccurate assumptions I might make):

I'm presuming you are trouble by "Islamophobia" in this country because it has deadly consequences: hateful violence towards American Muslims (and perhaps even a tolerance of state violence towards Muslim-majority nations).

I'm also presuming that you find criticism of political ideologies that flow from Islam equally dangerous because of the likelihood that such criticisms can be misconstrued as all muslims sharing this political perspective.

Does this extend to other religious groups? Does it also follow that criticism of political ideologies that flow from Judaism, i.e. Zionism, is also dangerous because it can be misconstrued and perverted into genuine antisemitism? Does this mean that when our society has crossed a threshold where there is a violent backlash against Jews that we should curtail (y)our criticism of Zionism? Are you aware that according to stats compiled by the FBI, over the past decade since 9/11 being Jewish meant being 8-10 times as likely to be a victim of a hate crime than being Muslim? Its almost as bad for Jews in this country as it is for gay men most years! Furthermore, hate crimes incidents against Muslims have dropped (from a spike after 9/11), even as the rhetoric has gone up. (In case you're wondering, Jews and Muslims in the US are approx the same proportion of the population if you believe Obama's #s during his Cairo speech). Based on quantifiable figures turns out statements by Helen Thomas et. al. to the effect that Jews "own" Congress or the White House are far more dangerous than statements by Robert Spencer et. al. that there are Muslims who wish to destroy our civilization from within (especially since the latter is a documented goal spelled out explicitly in internal Brotherhood memos:

I'm not saying you should curtail criticism of Zionism, but be aware that when you conflate criticism of Islamism with "Islamophobia" it is far easier to conflate critism of Zionsims with antisemtism.