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Battling Hysterical Mythology

chicago dyke's picture

TPM has a new piece up that I’d like to riff on, as it’s a subject near and dear to my heart and frankly, it’s been driving me crazy for several years now. I am sick and tired of the mythology of “Islamofascism” and the attendant narrative that the world approaching a global conflict and crises akin to 1936. A sober mind reflects:

In the present it is not liberals who see this moment as a moment of supreme pressure, but reactionaries. In the minds of the reactionary leadership this is the 1930's - justifying extraordinary, even quasi-dictatorial, powers.
There are of course those in the fringes of the right who are more than happy to give them these powers, but what is unsettling is how much the leadership buys into the hysteria. For it is indeed hysterical to compare 2006 to 1936 - the two years almost could not be more different.


However, may we state the obvious? There is no Hitler, there is no Tojo, there is no Stalin and the best that could be said is that Vladamir Putin occasionally does a poor Mussolini impersonation. Totalitarian sympathies are not sweeping the developed world, even if the willingness to toss liberties out the wind for some temporary security is distressingly common. Only the deluded believe that Saddam was anything like the threat posed by the most technologically advanced state in the heart of Europe.
And yet, on camera and in coffee shops - reactionaries bellow and assert with overweening arrogant certainty, that this is Saddam was Hitler, or near enough to Hitler not to matter.

First off, part of me really believes that those who go for this line of historical fantasizing are making up for deeply seated feelings of inadequacy. No, not that kind, but instead the kind that come from a comparison of the accomplishments of the generations. In a nutshell, we’re ruled by a group of (mostly) men who haven’t served, haven’t accomplished any great leaps forward or changed the face of our society in a positive way, and who have found themselves increasingly challenged by female and minority voices that sap the essence of the belief in the Right of the White Man. I am not alone in noting that Bush Pere, for all his flaws, was an actual war hero while his “pilot” son can’t be trusted not to crash planes. I seriously wonder how much of the neocon push for the War on Brown people is a reflection of facts like those, as they compare themselves in rare moments of honesty to their fathers and grandfathers of the “Greatest Generation.”

But beyond sykiatry, I also want to make a strong plea for progressives to slap this “Islamofascism” shit down hard whenever we encounter it. It’s not just that the historical comparison is ridiculous. It’s hysterical. You know, that thing that keeps women from being good CEOs and military combat veterans? Hysteria isn’t just foolish, it’s mind-numbing. And that’s exactly what’s happened to far too many brains in this country: American brains are far too softened by irrational fear to be able to critically absorb important facts about the Middle East, and how our actions there have an impact on domestic reality.

I’m not going to bother listing all the ways Islam and fascism don’t go together, intelligent people understand this in the same way they understand the sun rises in the East. Instead, let me make a quick catalogue of facts that need to be injected into our conversations about the Middle East with more regularity.

Iraq used to be a secular state. After the invasion, one could find pieces about Iraqi communists, feminists, Christians, secular other words, Iraq is a diverse nation in which people do not have monolithic belief. Islam is a majority religion in the same way Christianity is here- which is to say, a large group of people who don’t really agree on a lot of religious details. Just as we have liberal Christians and reactionary Jews in America, there are moderate Muslims and progressive Shias and everything in between in Iraq. One huge failure of our media, and also of the progressive blogosphere, is to buy into the mythology that treats all brown people in the Middle East as a monolithic group of crazed, terrorist fanatics. Frankly, it’s insulting.

The progressive version of this is that some write as if Iraqis are all being driven to bloodshed and violence by the occupation. While it’s true that many are, it is my belief that like people in war torn nations everywhere, the majority wants peace.
Let’s also not forget that there are about a hundred competing, shadowy, often power hungry and hypocritical, militias and armed groups jostling for power in Iraq, some of them aren’t even Iraqis. I won’t go into to my suspicions about how unregulated Western mercenary groups are contributing to the violence. Like hysteria, a steady diet of news about the violence in Iraq clouds our thinking, causing us to sustain an oversimplified picture of that nation in our minds.

Islam is a very widespread religious idea, and there are more Muslims in certain places outside the Middle East than in it. Accordingly, Islam is differently flavored around the world, and various groups of Muslims are working towards goals that are independent of one another. I think it very dangerous that the neocons have caused the narrative of the “bad guys” from Al-Qaeda to anyone Islamic or even vaguely “Middle Eastern looking.”

Before Bush, one could have made an impressive list of moderate Islamic groups around the world, working towards greater freedom and democracy in nations struggling with the impulse towards theocracy. Now, many of those groups find themselves out of fashion, as the world’s Muslims are given more and more reasons to believe that there is indeed a US led crusade to bomb them and steal all their resources. The narrative of “Islamofascism” doesn’t go unnoticed, and power-hungry theocrats everywhere are sure to incorporate it as they indict the West and all the secular ideas that come from it. It’s important to remember that not all these groups are working together, or even for the same goals. There is a difference between Islamic nationalism in Central Asia and populist Islamic movements in North Africa and second generation Islamic student groups in Europe, etc.

I guess I’m arguing for another reframing moment. I think the next time you encounter someone talking about “Islamofascism,” you should forcefully and directly respond: “What are you, nuts? Or just stupid? That’s the most hysterical and ridiculous concept I’ve ever heard.” Ask people who use it if they’d accept the term “Christototalitarianism,” or “Jewinazism” when speaking about the US or Israel.
My radical sentiments aside, if I’m not allowed to call Bush a fascist according to “serious” people, I’m certainly not going to stand for neocons making ridiculous claims about the nature of the Muslim world.

It’s long past time, and the stakes are far too high if we don’t, for people to stop treating the war like a cartoon show and the Middle East like a playground. Indeed, with a price tage of over $350 billion and counting, I think we should remind people that leaders who think in the same terms as squabbling children should be relieved of their positions, so that the grown ups can go about cleaning up the mess.

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