Last year, when the notorious Daniel Pipes came to speak at the University of Michigan, there seemed to be a flurry of anti-Islamic activity occurring all over the place. The incidents below are just a random sampling of far right activities that have the perceived “Islamic threat” in common; its status as a political goldmine was recently demonstrated by the Clarion Fund’s distribution of 28 million copies of “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against The West.”
In August 2007, Republican Jewish Coalition founder and billionaire Sheldon Adelson distributed copies of “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against The West ” at a fundraiser — accompanied by 20 Republican Congressman — in Israel for the Taglit Birthright program.
In August 2007, Republican Jewish Coalition founder and billionaire Sheldon Adelson distributed copies of “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against The West ” at a fundraiser — accompanied by 20 Republican Congressman — in Israel for the Taglit Birthright program. And, around that time, a video surfaced in Russia that showed the ritual murder of two Muslims by Russian Nazis — one was beheaded with a knife — which was barely reported in the West.
In October 2007, there occurred David Horowitz’s “Islamofascism Awareness Week;” Nick Griffin, leader of the neo-Nazi British National Party, spoke at Michigan State University’s campus that same week; and of course, the Pipes talk.
These incidents are part of a broad offensive by a movement united against a common enemy. This brings me back to Daniel Pipes and his lecture on “Radical Islam,” in which a key component was identifying the enemy. With the above-mentioned examples and the general social-political climate we live under, it behooves us to do the same.
Is it Islamophobia?
Perhaps, but the problem is that this term implies a psychological malady that can only be treated with therapy. “Islamophobia” is the irrational fear of Muslims and Islam, which leads to acts of violence or reporting a “suspicious” looking person at an airport. It’s useful in describing a collective mentality that racists can take advantage of to promote their agenda, but it falls short in identifying the nature of that movement.
Is it Orientalism?
Maybe, but Orientalism is an intellectual tradition, one guided by centuries of Western imperialism. While many of its practitioners are well known – Bernard Lewis, Elie Kedourie, Raphael Patai and, Pipes, of course – and inspire the movement, they are not the movement and much of the movement isn’t intellectual but political.
So what is this movement? The answer’s simple: anti-Semitism.
Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism.
This is bound to cause some discomfort in certain circles. It shouldn’t; those who use anti-Semitism as a smear to defame anyone who dares question the U.S.-Israel special relationship, Israel’s occupation and the Nakba, etc., are the ones who abuse the term and degrade its true meaning. There’s no “new anti-Semitism” from the left that groups like the Anti-Defamation League speak of, only the Klan/Nazi fringe that has no real power.
More important, however, is the inherent contradiction of accusing Semites of anti-Semitism, since the latter is exclusively associated with Jews and Judaism. And since criticism of Zionism and Israel is falsely conflated with anti-Jewish bigotry, anti-Semitic accusations themselves are almost as irrational as the European prejudice the term was meant to describe, with terms like “Arab anti-Semitism” and “Islamic anti-Semitism.”
Islam and the Arabic language and culture are Semitic. Despite Islam’s universalism and that the majority of its adherents aren’t Semitic, the liturgical language is Arabic and it came from the Arabian Peninsula, not to mention inheriting the traditions of the other two Semitic religions, Judaism and Christianity.
There is, in fact, a whole family of Semitic languages as established by German linguist Ludwig Schlözer in 1781, which includes Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and Amharic, as well as obscure languages like Ge’ez, Phoenician and Tigrinya.
Despite this reality, no one who hates Arabs or Muslims is called an anti-Semite, but if you are an Arab and/or Muslim and tagged as even remotely anti-Jewish, that person is automatically anti-Semitic without the slightest hint of irony.
It doesn’t mean the opposite isn’t true – if a Jew can be anti-Semitic, then so can a Muslim. The “new anti-Semitism” is therefore a necessary re-definition of a term to make its meaning more comprehensive. In this sense, we rescue the term, update it and prevent its use as a propaganda weapon, all the while using it to describe a real and current phenomenon.
This phenomenon is a direct result of an era that saw the worst atrocities in Europe since WWII conducted against Bosnian Muslims. It’s an era where anti-Muslim sentiment is open and largely tolerated; a convenient scapegoat and diversionary tactic – as demonstrated by the Obsession DVD mail out — and the specter of Islam exists to justify Western aggression and an anti-democratic agenda.
It’s an era once summed up by a friend of mine — an Israeli ex-soldier — who told me during the course of a conversation four years ago that “the Muslims are the new Jews.”
Identifying our enemy is the first step towards defeating it; defeating the new anti-Semitism is the first step toward defeating a broader reactionary agenda and neocolonialism. By defeating it we regain our humanity and our place as agents of change, instead of our current status as political prey.
The new anti-Semitism is what Nick Griffin, David Horowitz, Sheldon Adelson, Kamil Ministries, Russian neo-Nazis and Daniel Pipes have in common.
That’s our enemy.