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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Islamophobia’ Category

The Muslims Are Coming!

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the-muslims-are-comingAn edited version of this review was published at the Guardian. I like the Guardian’s books section and its G2 section, not least because they sometimes pay me to write. I also like some of their brave correspondents, such as Martin Chulov. What I don’t like at all is the idiotic, orientalist, conspiratorial, fact-free, and sometimes racist narrative against the revolutions in Syria and Libya which is so common in the Guardian’s comment sections. Blanket-thinking statist leftists like Seamus Milne and Jonathan Steele dominate, alongside talentless and ignorant polemicists like Tariq Ali. The last lines of my review target people like them, who are unfortunately influential in ‘liberal’ Britain. I am not at all surprised that the Guardian cut these lines from the review, although I name no names. These lines:  “….the new Islamophobia of sections of the left, the notion that US imperialism and ‘al-Qa’ida’ are in league to destabilise imagined ‘secular’, ‘resistance’ regimes. Those who defended Iraqi Islamists in the Blair years now point to the Allahu Akbar chant as evidence of an agenda far more benighted than that of the genocidal neo-liberal dictatorships.” (I just spoke to the good man who commissioned the piece. He says the issue was space in the print edition. Fair enough. But why cut the lines which apply to Guardianistas?)

Arun Kundnani’s “The Muslims Are Coming”, vastly more intelligent than the usual ‘war on terror’ verbiage, focusses on the war’s domestic edge in Britain and America.

Kundnani’s starting point is this: “Terrorism is not the product of radical politics but a symptom of political impotence.” The antidote therefore seems self-evident: “A strong, active, and confident Muslim community enjoying its civic rights to the full.” Yet policy on both sides of the Atlantic has ended by criminalising Muslim opinion, silencing speech, and increasing social division. These results may make political violence more, not less, likely.

The assumptions and silences of the counter-radicalisation industry end up telling us far more about particular ideological subsections of Anglo-American culture than they do about the Muslims targetted. The two dominant security approaches to Muslim citizens described by Kundnani – ‘culturalist’ and ‘reformist’ –focus on ideology rather than socio-political grievances.

Culturalism’s best-known proponent is Bernard Lewis, Dick Cheney’s favourite historian, who locates the problem as Islam itself, a totalitarian ideology-culture incompatible with democratic modernity. So Mitt Romney explains the vast divergence between Israeli and Palestinian economies thus: “Culture makes all the difference” – and decades of occupation, ethnic cleansing and war make none. Writer Christopher Caldwell believes residents of the Paris Banlieu rioted in 2005 because they were Muslims (although many weren’t), and not because of unemployment, poor housing, and police violence. Perhaps the silliest culturalist intervention was Martin Amis’s “The Second Plane”, where Amis breezily admitted he knew nothing of geopolitics but claimed authority nevertheless from his expertise in ‘masculinity’ – 9/11 was explained by Islamic sexual frustration. Such discourses are part of an influential tradition of silliness. In 1950s colonial Kenya, psychiatrist JC Carothers understood the Mau Mau uprising as “not political but psycho-pathological”.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Islamophobia

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The End of the World?

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I make some brief contributions to this Channel 4 News film on the apocalyptic resonances for both Muslims and Christians (some at least) of watching Damascus burn. I wish there’d been time to make the more important point: religion and myth add resonance to fighting and dying, but as in Northern Ireland or Palestine-Israel, the religious vocabulary is only a glittering sideshow to the real power dynamic. Al-Qa’ida franchises would be in Syria whether or not the Messiah were due to descend on a minaret of the Umawi mosque: because they turn up wherever there’s an opportunity, and Syria’s geographical and political centrality to the Arab-Muslim world is enough. In any case, such militias compose less than twenty percent of anti-Assad forces. Their influence has been vastly overblown, both by the right and by a left which embraces the very War on Terror discourse (terrorists, al-Qa’ida conspiracies) it resisted so loudly when used by Blair and Bush. The West doesn’t see a genocide, still less a living, breathing revolution, but only an even-matched war between Alawi-secularists and radical Salafists. It seems too late to change this fantastic illusion. The story seems set in the western mind. Just as Assad wants it.

This film was great fun to make, and it provides an interesting look at an interesting subject. But I worry about its context in the news bulletin. It necessarily highlighted the mad jihadist aspect, and it was followed by an interview with a neo-conservative on the dangers of radical Islamism. The problem as framed by the broadcast was clear: apocalyptic-minded Muslims were the problem. But the clear and present danger in Syria is the regime, the regime which is generating the trauma and  extremism, the regime which is committing genocide. Once again that was lost. And we in general are lost, paddling about in superstructure, paying no attention to the base.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 11, 2013 at 12:32 am

Blasphemy

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“Is the Prophet who is being insulted in Syria not the same Prophet who is being insulted in America?”

This video is not suitable for children nor for those of a nervous disposition. I include myself in the latter category. At first I couldn’t watch it, then I made myself do so in order to hear the words. Before the usual “Freedom? You want freedom?” the torturee is forced to declare that Bashaar al-Asad is his ‘lord’ (the Arabic word ‘rabb’, which means God). The violent (but very small) protests which have swept the Muslim world in response to a ridiculous low-budget smear of the Prophet Muhammad are in part the expression of a deeply humiliated people who remember Western support of Zionism and Muslim dictatorships, Western invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and so on. They are in part the result of the failure of Arab and Muslim dictatorships to build functioning education systems, and a symptom of a profound and generalised despair that requires wounded symbols through which to manifest itself. Most importantly, they are signals of an opportunistic power play by the extreme right-wing Salafist minority. It’s a case of extreme right-wing Islamophobes, Zionists, Coptic extremists and American Republicans on the one hand and extreme right-wing Islamists on the other, feeding off each other. The furore has made the ridiculous anti-Islam film a Youtube hit. Nobody would have heard of it had Egyptian Islamists not publicised it, and had the American ambassador to Libya, apparently a friend of the Arabs who was critical of US policy on Palestine, not been murdered. As with all the episodes in the ‘culture wars’, it’s an enormous diversion from the really serious issues. The torture video here was first pointed out by the Syrian activist Wissam Tarif. He asked a simple question. Where are the furious demonstrations against this blasphemy? Why have no Syrian embassies been burnt following the repeated bombing of mosques and churches, the murder, rape, torture and humiliation of tens of thousands of Syrian Muslims?

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Islamophobia, Syria

The Freedom Flotilla and Guardian Propaganda

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by Steve Bell

Dear Sir/ Madam
 
I appreciate the Guardian allowing a range of voices to be heard on the issue of Israel-Palestine, but I find straightforward propaganda in the news (as opposed to opinion) pages very worrying indeed. I refer to the ‘story’ by Harriet Sherwood – “Flotilla raid: Turkish jihadis bent on violence attacked troops, Israel claims”.
 
In Muslim cultures, it is common to refer to those who have died for a cause or who have been killed by state terrorism as ‘martyrs’. In the hospitals of Palestine, one might hear people crying – “My baby has been martyred! They’ve martyred my mother! My grandfather was prepared for martyrdom, and now it’s happened!” This does not mean that the baby, mother or grandfather in question were trained-up, armed Wahhabi-nihilists.
 
Sherwood’s ‘story’, which the Guardian positioned so prominently, is based on the assumption that when grieving Turks use the word ‘martyr’ they mean ‘Islamist suicide bomber’, that they mean what we decide they mean. This is not journalism but propaganda. Its purpose is not to inform readers concerning facts or to give more background on Turkish culture and Turkish responses to the attack on their ships, but to whitewash the piracy and murder committed by Israel in international waters. Sherwood’s sources are “the Israeli government” and Colonel Richard Kemp, who Sherwood doesn’t tell us is a well-known pro-Israel propagandist.
 
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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Defamation and Binary Idiocy

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by Ali Farzat

To summarise: I have been smeared by a Scottish newspaper. Most of the words they attribute to me I did indeed say, but they have decontextualised and selected to such an extent that they make me say things I do not believe – for instance that September 11th was a good thing, or that the Taliban should take over Afghanistan. What follows is a rather long description of meeting the man from the gutter press, which I hope will set the record a little straighter. Yesterday, meanwhile, 33 civilians were killed

by NATO bombs in Afghanistan.

I was doorstepped the other morning. A young man wearing a suit and an apologetic manner wanted to ask some questions on behalf of the Scottish Mail on Sunday.

What? Stumbling down the stairs in my thermal underwear, wild-haired and bestubbled, I dream for a passing moment that I’ve become as important to the world as Tiger Woods or Amy Winehouse. Perhaps even now press vermin are going through my rubbish bin. Perhaps paparazzi are crowding the front garden.

Alas, our aspiring hack, young Oliver Tree (for so he called himself), hasn’t yet graduated to the tabloid heights, and neither have I. It soon becomes clear that his mission is much more mundane, is indeed the everyday grind of papers like the Mail: to create outrage where there was none before, to smear, misrepresent and decontextualise, in order to strangle the possibility of real debate.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 22, 2010 at 11:08 am

Surfing on Islamophobia

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daily starOn Sunday, PULSE’s good friend Phil Weiss posted a sympathetic piece by Scott McConnell, editor of The American Conservative, on Christopher Caldwell’s new book about Islam in Europe. Here is the response by PULSE editors Muhammad Idrees Ahmad and Robin Yassin-Kassab which was published on MondoWeiss today:

There are two sets of population statistics about Europe, writes Eliot Weinberger in a post on the London Review Blog: ‘those of the Islamophobes and those of everyone else.’ Weinberger is commenting on the recent of flurry of books trading in the ‘Islamic threat’, among them one by neoconservative writer Christopher Caldwell. In his encomium to Caldwell, Scott McConnell couldn’t possibly have been referring to the statistics of ‘everyone else’. It would be hard otherwise to elevate a minority of 3.6 percent into a civilizational threat. So presumably he accepts the numbers of the Islamophobes. But he does more; he also echoes their assumptions. Small wonder then that he should consider ‘nuanced’ a book that describes Muslims as ‘conquering Europe’s cities, street by street’.

But before we get to Caldwell lets address McConnell’s own assumptions.

McConnell splits ‘the West’ and ‘the Muslims’ into opposing camps, and understands their relationship only in terms of harm. ‘Had I to weigh the extent to which the Islamic world is more victim or victimizer of America and the West’, he opines, ‘the scales would tilt decisively towards America as the more guilty party’. American crimes include the Iraq war and support for Israeli conquest of ‘the Arab sections’ of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Support for dictators, the proponderance of military bases, the exploitation of resources, Somalia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and support for the Israeli conquest of the ‘Arab sections’ of Tel Abib and Yaffa, clearly do not factor in McConnell’s narrow vision. But it’s fair enough in itself. Where logic fails McConnell entirely, or rather where he fails logic and turns to racism instead, is where he places Muslim immigration into Europe ‘on the other side of the ledger’.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 2, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Enemies of Free Speech

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Gaza policemen check their organs

Gaza policemen check their organs

Remember the Islamophobic cartoons published by the neo-con Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten? The controversy rumbled on from 2005 into 2006, and involved angry demonstrations, embassy-burnings (in countries where you can’t look at an embassy without a government permit), deaths, boycotts, and campaigns of support to counteract the boycotts. Although I found the cartoons deeply offensive, and not in the least related to free speech or constructive debate, I was more upset by the responses of some Muslims.

The cartoons were a media provocation, and should have been combatted through intelligent use of the media. The outpouring of Muslim anger at a West which insulted Muslims after slaughtering them was certainly understandable, but was aimed at the wrong target. I lived in Oman at the time, where the state-appointed Mufti as well as editorials in the state-controlled press encouraged people to boycott Danish goods. The supermarkets put up signs announcing that they no longer stocked Danish goods (although an English friend assured me that Danish bacon was still on sale in the foreigners-only pork room of one supermarket). Meanwhile the shelves groaned under American products, and Oman continued to stock  British and American military bases. American planes were incinerating Iraqi Muslims in their mosques at the time. The cartoon fuss seemed very much to be an organised distraction from more serious issues.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 26, 2009 at 12:51 pm