Anti-Islam rhetoric and contradictory aims

Sunday 27/11/2016

Modern US history is a time machine. Welcome back to the months after 9/11 when terror hung in the air, fear was raw and palpable, and Islamophobia rampant.

Welcome Mike Pompeo, US President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency, who says the fight “extends beyond those (Muslims) who are just engaged in violent extremism”.

Welcome newly picked national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who once tweeted: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL”. He urged his followers to widely distribute a Muslim-bashing video by one I.Q. al-Rassooli, a UK-based Iraqi polemicist who argues that Islam is less a religion than a cult in perpetual war with the West, that the Prophet Mohammad “commit­ted crimes against humanity on a massive scale” and that the Quran is “a rambling, incoherent, jumbled scripture of hatred and enmity that no true God would have ever revealed to anyone”.

Trump’s political strategist Steve Bannon believes “we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism and… at the beginning of a global war against Islamic fascism”. In his view when, presumably after World War II, capitalism was at “its highest flower and spreading its benefits to most of mankind, almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West. They were either active participants in the Jewish faith (or) they were active participants in the Christians’ faith”.

The president-elect himself appears to believe that Muslims are guilty of radical sympathies until proven innocent and seems determined to give his foreign policy a far more aggressive cast than US President Barack Obama’s, as he stacks some critical jobs purely with warriors.

It never seems to occur to such people that it was in Christian Europe that the Russian secret police fabricated the Protocols of Zion before 1914, encouraging pogroms on a grand scale and Adolf Hitler and the German Gestapo, not to mention their sundry allies in Poland, Hungary and France, la fille ainée de l’église, who murdered millions of Jews. Christian Europe killed far more Jews, more brutally and sadisti­cally in a short few decades in the 20th century than Muslims had done over more than a thousand years. Relations between Muslims, Christians and Jews have admit­tedly been chequered but the former’s behaviour speaks of greater tolerance than the blind killing fields of 20th century Europe. It is impossible to imagine Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco or the leader of Vichy France, Philippe Petain, using the expression Judeo-Christian Europe, which was invented after 1945.

If one gets down to brass tacks, the US president-elect shows no awareness, to date, that if he favours greater cooperation with Russia, this will bolster Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, and his key ally, Iran, which many Trump appointees claim they want to weaken. However much the Gulf states dislike the international agreement reached on Iran, they have no wish to tear it up as some of Trump’s advisers claim they want to do. Too great pressure could encourage that country to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and make a bigger push to acquire the atomic bomb. Whether that would make the Gulf and the Middle East any safer is anybody’s guess. Greater cooperation with Russia would not go down well in Saudi Arabia, which backs Syria’s Islamist rebels. Trump has flip-flopped on so many issues that it is impossible to say haw his Middle East policy will play out.

Many security and military experts in Washington are aghast at the loose language that lumps 1.6 billion Muslims together. Inflamed rhetoric from Trump and his team could do immense damage and the president-elect will quickly discover that inflamed language can encour­age those very extremist groups he has avowed to fight. The disintegration of the Arab world into civil war, tribal and sectarian warfare and the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS) might well suggest that extremism will prevail over moderation in the broader Islamic-Arab culture. But former CIA officer Ruel Marc Gerecht, who is politically conservative, believes that “to paint Islam, in all its 1400-plus years of glorious complexity, as a deranged civilisation and faith… whose practitioners are uniquely capable of violence because they are hardwired to do so, [via the Quran] (is) often obscene.” Some radical Muslims appear a little stunned by the gift they have been handed.

This rhetoric also feeds into a narrative of whites against everyone else, which resembles nothing more than the red-scare tactics of Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, which helped consolidate the far right in Washington. The historian Bernard Lewis coined the expression “clash of civilisa­tions” more than a generation ago though he later warned against buying into the Islamist vision by overreacting to it. If the Trump presidency falls into that trap, it will not have heeded Lewis’s advice that “we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but also equally irrational reaction against this rival”. By encourag­ing George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003, Lewis fell into the trap he had so well described. A more aggressive US policy in the Middle East will end in more blood and tears. Where he lies at the bottom of the sea, Osama bin Laden must be smiling.