False fears and furies of fanatical misleaders
UPDATE: Enjoy this sardonic take on the West’s fear of ‘Muslim rage’, compiled by the avaaz team:http://en.avaaz.org/783/muslim-rage-protests-newsweek-salafists?utm_source=avaaz_newsletter&utm_medium=blast&utm_campaign=stop-the-clash
Protest in East Jerusalem about the film, The Innocence of Muslims. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem, JPost
Cairo, Benghazi and beyond: Beware the false fury
An incendiary ‘movie’ should not allow fringe elements to co-opt and realign the trajectory of the Arab revolutions.
By Hamid Dabashi, Al Jazeera
September 14, 2012
Back in the late 1970s when I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania one day my late mentor Phillip Rieff (1922-2006) walked into my small cubical of an office and saw me reading the New York Times. He quietly turned around, went to his own office and came back with a pair of scissors, handed it to me and said: “Never read the papers without a pair of scissors—to cut out clips that will become handy later for your theories——for facts always arise obediently to meet the theory,” and then he stared straight into my eyes with his habitually piercing gaze and said: “Remember we are sociologist we collect garbage.”
It was in that spirit that I actually sat down and watched the atrocity—the whole 13:51 minutes of it put on YouTube—this “Muhammad Movie Trailer” for the evidently even longer calamity called “The Innocence of Muslims”—a film that may in fact not exist, by a fictitious character initially billed as a real state developer named Sam Bacile. A fiction by a fictitious author is just too delicious even for the age of the “death of the author”—if the whole production was not so clinically banal.
Forget about insulting Prophet Muhammad. This imbecility of “Sam Bacile” is an insult to the very idea of cinema.
It is simply impossible to imagine a more inane film—a handful of talentless mannequins hurdled in front of curiously incompetent cameras against projected desert scenes and tent interiors to muffle inane lines all grotesquely written and delivered simply to anger and insult Muslims.
The Innocence of the Islamophobes
According to an initial report by the Guardian: “By his own account, Bacile raised a budget of $5m (£3m) from 100 unnamed Jewish donors for The Innocence of Muslims, which he wrote and directed himself, with the aim of demonstrating his belief, as he described it to the Wall Street Journal, that “Islam is a cancer.””
Before this report of the Guardian and Wall Street Journal was proved to be hasty, the first thought that would obviously come to mind was the desperate gullibility of those who had came together and presumably gave 5 million dollars to this man to make this movie. Why would anyone do anything like that—in this economy, $5m to a moron to make a calamity like this? Are these people so desperate to insult and enrage Muslims that are point blank blinded to what is being sold to them? How did they make those millions that they are wasting them so callously? Bizarre proposition is this logic of capitalism.
But the temptation towards that reading was a trap—and the clues were already evident in the two leading tropes of “100 unnamed Jewish donors” and “Islam is a cancer” thing that put together revealed the deeply anti-Semitic disposition of those behind this film—revealing once again, as I have argued since the Danish Cartoon affair, that the current Islamophobia in Europe and North America is a simple transformation of the classical European anti-Semitism with a not so clever twisting from “the Jew” to “the Muslim.”
Subsequent reports questioned these initial accounts, exposed their innate anti-Semitic disposition, and pointed finger at some other characters—“a California Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes who acknowledged his role in managing and providing logistics for the production” of this film. According to this AP report, the man, a certain Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, may in fact have fabricated this Sam Bacile identity.
Even more reports have now surfaced pointing finger at a certain Steve Klein character—yet another mercurial Islamophobe creature—as the culprit. Soon another figure appeared, Jimmy Israel, this time—fueling the suspicion that “Israel, Bacile, and Nakoula,” as the Atlantic has reported, “could be working together, or they could all be the same person”—and revealing the fact that that 5 million budget is equally bogus, and not more than 100,000 was the budget—namely the fictitious budget was pumped up in order to justify those fictitious “100 unnamed Jewish donors.”
But the identity of the person or persons behind this film is a rather moot and irrelevant question. The usual Islamophobes usually pop on these occasions—a band of losers preying on “Innocent Islamophobes” (no pun on the title of the film intended here) like Bernie Madoff did on his, cheating them out of their money and delivering garbage as in their propaganda Ponzi scheme.
Always remember the two tropes of this story—“100 unnamed Jewish donors” and “Islam is a cancer” thing—and you have caught the deeply anti-Semitic origin of the current Islamophobia red-handed. According to the New York Times, this film was “promoted by a network of right-wing Christians with a history of animosity directed toward Muslims.” Well, take a wild guess towards who else have “right wing Christians have a history of hostility?” “The Jew” and “the Muslim” are interchangeable there.
Déjà vu: Beware the False Fury
The principle problem with this absurdity, however, is not its origin—but its destination: the riots and demonstrations in front of the US embassies that began in Cairo and Benghazi and have now spread all over the Muslim world.
Attacks on embassies and rage against insult to Prophet Muhammad in the Muslim world have a frightening echo in the ears of an Iranian—remembering the US Hostage Crisis of 1979-1980 and the Salman Rushdie affair of 1988-1989—two smoke screens under which militant Islamists in Iran (some of them now among the so-called “Opposition”) hijacked a revolution and categorically recoded it as “Islamic.”
The current catastrophe called “the Islamic Republic” and the entrapment of 75 million human beings in its theocratic snare is framed between those two smoke screens—two diversionary tactics made out of events that fell on Ayatollah Khomeini’s lap.
As for 444 days the world attention was distracted by the American Hostages Crisis the belligerent lslamists went on a rampage destroying their political rivals and categorically claiming a multifaceted revolution all for themselves—and a decade later as the world attention was once again drawn to the Salman Rushdie affair the selfsame Islamists redrafted the constitution of the Islamic republic to perpetuate the reign of militant Islamists and anoint Ayatollah Khamenei as their Supreme Leader and Vali Faqih.
This was all after the late Ayatollah Montazeri (1922-2009) had repented from his role in making the Islamic republic a viable proposition, objected to the mass execution of political prisoners, and one of his family members, Seyyed Mehdi Hashemi, exposed the arms-for-hostage deal that would later be known as “the Iran Contra Affair.” Ayatollah Montazeri went to his grave having repented that gross miscalculation called “the Islamic republic,” and called the concoction “neither Islamic nor a republic”—about thirty years too late for a population of 75 million human beings now trapped inside a horrid theocracy presided by the Shi’i clerical class.
The differences between 2012 and 1979
The same danger is now looming from Cairo to Benghazi to the rest of the Arab and Muslim world—for militant Salafis or Wahhabis to abuse this ignoramus film to derail a world historic succession of revolutions. But this time around Arab revolutionaries are far quicker in responding both to ghastly Islamophobia and the violent disrespect for the sacrosanct principle of diplomatic immunity. Demonstrations in both Benghazi and Cairo have categorically denounced the violence that has resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
It is imperative that these denunciations be amply noted—as indeed President Morsi put it succinctly: “We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our prophet. I condemn and oppose all who… insult our prophet. [But] it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad… I call on everyone to take that into consideration, to not violate Egyptian law… to not assault embassies.”
This is the difference between Khomeini n 1979 and Morsi in 2012. Beware the false fury. The US has done enough atrocities around the globe to be blamed for just about everything—but this is a different season—this is the season of the Green Movement and the Arab Spring—do not be fooled by these zealotries of the fanatics who are trying to steal the revolution. Diplomatic immunity of even a global hubris like the United States must remain sacrosanct for civilised life to be possible. Many of those who took over the US embassy in Tehran have now repented and joined the opposition—never admitting to the full scale of the calamity they caused in their homeland by having been the instruments of a vicious theocracy.
As the fate would have it this is also an election year—as it was back in 1979 when President Carter was caught in the quagmire that now President Obama faces. The trigger-happy Republicans are pushing President Obama to do something rash. Presidential candidate Mit Romany has accused President Obama of “sympathizing” with the attackers, as Aljazeera reports that “US warships steam towards Libya coast.” This is after Sarah Palin has criticised president Obama’s shortcoming and urged him “to grow a Big Stick.” The depth of this woman’s banality seems to have no limit.
The last thing that President Obama wants to do now is what President Carter did in 1979 and try something foolish like “Operation Eagle Claw.” If I were President Obama I would invite former President Carter to White House and hang out with him for a weekend. President Obama must do absolutely nothing. The true measure of his statesmanship is do exactly the opposite of what Palin urges him to do, and let Muslims raise their own voice in condemning both bigotry and violence at one and the time—as indeed we see it happening in both Libya and Egypt—best summarised in President Morsi’s statement. This is the season of the Arab Spring—binary banalities of fanatics on both sides of the divide cannot derail the course of history anymore.
Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. His most recent book is The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism (Zed 2012).
If the anger against the anti-Islam video tells us anything, it’s that extremism fuels extremism.
By Tarak Barkawi, Al Jazeera
September 20, 2012
In the recent wave of anti-Western demonstrations, political Islam has operated globally. The West’s response has been mired in the local politics of its separate nation-states.
It is a curious reversal of the historic imperial relation, in which it was the West who did the dividing and ruling.
As Hamid Dabashi has argued on these pages [see above], salafist and other militant Islamists are using the demonstrations over a film insulting the Prophet to claim the Arab Spring for Islamic fundamentalism. After all, the Iranian Islamists took over the plural, anti-imperial and popular character of the revolution of 1979 in part by attacking embassies.
But just how do relatively small militant groups drive events around the world in their preferred direction? Part of the answer is that they can operate in several countries at once, creating an international crisis. Hezbollah has called for further demonstrations, and incidents have occurred as far afield as Afghanistan and the Philippines.
Whoever they were, that small band of fighters who killed a US ambassador and three of his staff in Benghazi are playing a role in the national elections of the most powerful country on earth. So too are every group of militants who turn peaceful demonstrations into violent ones.
Candidate Obama is made to look weak if he does not respond robustly to anti-Americanism. President Obama knows that a rational and sensitive approach is required to serve US interests.
Just like their counterparts ransacking schools in Tunisia, it is the extremists and fundamentalists in American politics who benefit from the violence.
Each anti-American demonstration in the Islamic world, duly reported on the news, is an advertisement for Romney and the Republican Party. If elected, Romney’s policies would further inflame Muslim opinion, giving further impetus to the Islamists’ cause. We are lucky Romney is such a weak candidate.
Netanyahu too joined the Islamists in trying to corner Obama. The Israeli Prime Minister appeared on a Sunday talk show in the US raising the alarm over Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. The idea is to try and make Obama declare at what point he will attack Iran over its nuclear weapons programme. If he does not, he is made to look soft on national security and lacking in support for Israel in the face of Islamic threats. Peace loses either way.
And so it is that the right-wing, religious fundamentalists, and those on all sides favouring intensified conflict between the West and the Muslim world who are benefitting from the current round of angry demonstrations and violence.
The historic vehicle of the rise of Western world power – the nation-state – suddenly seems to be a source of weakness and a path for international influence. The West is facing many threats to its continued wealth and power, in a context of relative world decline, but is unable to organise effective responses.
One of the reasons is that the problems and threats the West faces are irreducibly global in character. Political Islam is a perfect example. The threat posed to the West by militant Islam does not reside in any one country, but is ubiquitous. It is found in Afghanistan and Syria; in immigrant neighbourhoods in Birmingham, Marseilles and Detroit; in Indonesia and in Mali; and so on.
Of course, this “threat” is blown out of proportion in the fervid imaginations of the neocons, the Israeli right, and Western security officials and commentators. But the very fact of its globality is what so easily allows it to be constructed as a major danger.
Islam is global in another sense. The film insulting the Prophet is only the latest in the litany of hurt and disrespect the West has inflicted on Islam. Muslims everywhere feel this hurt and react out of shared emotion. They are essentially making a collective demand on the West to respect their religion. This is not dissimilar from other global ethical demands like those associated with human rights and the environment – global issues about which people around the world feel deeply.
The problem for the West is that it must organise its response to global problems and claims through the local politics of its nation-states. This is how Obama becomes hamstrung between his election campaign and the worldwide demands on US policy. Global Islam exposes this weakness, but it applies far more generally.
The European Union must organise a Europe-wide response to the financial crisis. But German, French and Dutch politicians have to convince their citizens they are not just bailing out “lazy” Greeks, Italians or Spaniards. As a consequence, European policy is too little, too late, again and again.
More generally, in a context of economic decline, Western politicians have little to offer their citizens but more austerity. So they pander to petty nationalisms and prejudices. In the United Kingdom, British conservative politicians have stoked racism against immigrants. Much like militant Islam, they offer little but hate to their constituents because they have no positive, attractive policy.
The result is perverse. In a globalised world, the UK desperately needs migrants who contribute everything from investment to hard work to its economy. It also needs foreign students to keep its university sector – one of its most successful export industries – financially viable for British students. But anti-immigrant populism – much of it directed at Africans and Muslims – has led to a clampdown on foreign students. Universities are being incorporated into the UK’s border control regime. Foreign students have options; they and their money are likely to start going elsewhere in greater numbers.
Everywhere, it seems, we are trapped in self-reinforcing global cycles of hate and extremism, unable to organise effective national responses. That more people in Benghazi demonstrated against the extremists at memorial demonstrations for the much-loved and locally respected Ambassador Chris Stevens was lost in the din.
We are desperately in need of new thinking and political innovation that will foster global dynamics of mutual respect and understanding. This is the only path to finding a basis for common and effective responses to global problems.
Tarak Barkawi is Associate Professor in the Department of Politics, New School for Social Research, New York city.