Friday, July 06, 2007

The Dar Al-Victimhood

Irshad Manji, writing in The Austrailian, makes an interesting distinction between "Moderate Muslims" and "Reform-minded Muslims":
Moderate Muslims denounce violence in the name of Islam but deny that Islam has anything to do with it. By their denial, moderates abandon the ground of theological interpretation to those with malignant intentions, effectively telling would-be terrorists that they can get away with abuses of power because mainstream Muslims won't challenge the fanatics with bold, competing interpretations. To do so would be admit that religion is a factor. Moderate Muslims can't go there.

Reform-minded Muslims say it's time to admit that Islam's scripture and history are being exploited. They argue for reinterpretation precisely to put the would-be terrorists on notice that their monopoly is over.
Denial that religion has anything to do with terror is one side of the coin. The other side is that many Moderate Muslims, using a vocabulary of concepts supplied by the Western Left, have embraced the politics of victimhood. And it is not just that Muslims thereby let religious extremism off the hook--political extremism also involves hatred of the West, and religious extremists can recruit among an already enraged population. A recent Al-Ahram editorial (entitled, of all things, "In a state of denial") presents a wide-spread view of the world divided into the Dar Al-Colonialism and the Dar Al-Victimhood:
Following unsuccessful car-bomb attacks in London and Glasgow on the first day in office of the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, debate in Britain revolves around two main issues: are Muslims justified in arguing that Islam and Islamic countries are victims of a Western plot of domination and aggression, and is the invasion and occupation of Iraq the cause of the radicalisation of Muslim youth and the growth of militant Jihadi networks planning attacks in Britain?
This is posed as a question, but the author conveys no sense that it is a real question. Of course there is a "Western plot" . . .
What is at stake is the very relationship between the Muslim communities, the white community and the British state.

The process of mutual understanding and dialogue will escape us so long as the British government, the mainstream media and the public are in denial over the fact that strained relations between the Muslim community and the British state must be seen primarily within the context of British government policy vis-à-vis Muslims and Islam across the world, especially in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. Further violence and conflict will continue both in Britain and the Middle East if this state of denial and lack of mutual respect continue.
We should note the implied justification of terrorism here, but then move on to the next step and realize that Muslims' insistence that extremism is caused by U.S. or British foreign policy tells us something else about what is going wrong in the Muslim community.
In the post-WWII period, it was the war in Vietnam which epitomised the relationship between not only East and West, but also North and South. Since the collapse of the Socialist Bloc this relationship has been symbolised by the wars and occupations of Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Indeed the 1990 US-led aggression against Iraq was the US's signal to the rest of the world that it was establishing its world hegemony, or New World Order in the words of Bush Senior. The Middle East continues to be the epicentre of this battle between the poor and rich nations, the North and South. The attacks in London and Glasgow took place against a stark backdrop of occupation and resistance in the Middle East . . .

Instead of a reasoned public debate about the root causes of Arab and Muslim anger against Western foreign policy, Blair set the boundaries of the public debate in blaming the victims. In what was probably the most vicious of a long line of attacks on Muslims and their identity and beliefs, Blair insists: "it's not just your methods that are wrong, your ideas are absurd. Nobody is oppressing you. Your sense of grievance isn't justified." This is typical of Blair, the ideological spokesperson of the West's "civilising mission" against Muslims and Arabs . . .

The underlying cause of the growth of political Islam is Western policy in the Middle East. Instead of recognising this simple fact, the terrorist activities of a handful of frustrated militants are used to trivialise any notion that Muslims may have a convincing case for their concerns . . .

The subtext is that Western tolerance towards Muslims and Islam requires that they confine themselves to praying quietly, dressing as they like, and respecting the law, but in no way should Muslims or anyone else support the rights of Arab and Middle Eastern people to end occupation. If they do, they are branded terrorist sympathisers. Rather, Muslims and the public in general are told time and time again that there is no project to dominate the Middle East, whilst every season sees a new campaign against a Middle Eastern country. Attacks in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, regime- change threats against Sudan, Syria and Iran, a secret international network of US prisons for Muslim men, women and children, the obscenity that is Camp X-Ray, and the sadistic humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib prison... What else is necessary to prove that Arabs and Muslims who stand up for the independence of their countries and their identity are being victimised?

The Middle East was the last region of the world to be conquered by the colonial powers. It continues to be the most difficult to subdue, but is a crucial region for the West to control due to its geographical proximity and oil. It is so important, and acquiescence to control it is so important, the very act of resisting US, British and Israeli aggression and occupation is therefore in effect a crime in the eyes of the West.

In this context and due to the related terrorism laws here, most of the Muslim community is afraid to get involved in legitimate democratic political activity. Those who are involved, even the most mainstream organisations, have to constantly defend themselves from attempts at criminalisation from the more hawkish sections of the British state. Rather than victimising dissenters, true believers in British democracy should be trying to show that democracy can work; they should involve them in consultation with the authorities and in light of this apply a wiser policy in the interests of all parties. [...]
So besides noting Manji's distinction between the Moderate and "Reform-minded" Muslim, we should also realize that religious moderation does not equal political moderation. Moreover, this is going to be very difficult to combat. Leftist extremism tends to be more intellectually respectable in the West than rightist extremism. (See, for instance, the current incitement in Counterpunch.) Why should the Muslim community give up the belief in Muslim victimhood when half the Infidels also believe in it?

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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