Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Modern Day McCarthyism

There has been a common theme perpetuated across college campuses and on mainstream television lately. "Academics", journalists, and politicians have propagated a new ideology. Similarly to how there are sects within religion (for example: Orthodox Judaism and Reformed, Catholic and Protestant, so on and so forth) there now seems to be "Muslim" and "Islamist." This distinction has also manifested itself into Good Arab v. Bad Arab. What do these pseudo-identities mean and what purpose do they serve?

According to Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz, Bridgette Gabrielle, the '3 ex-terrorists', and others of the sort these distinctions are made to better serve the Arab and Muslim communities. They say things along the lines of: most Muslims are moderate, but some are mean, angry, bad "Islamists." Most Arabs are alright, but watch out for the violent ones.

What's wrong with this people ask. I understand that some people are bewildered by the fact that Arabs and Muslims are offended by these speakers and their messages. Why do organizations on campus turn down offers to cosponsor these events? Don't these communities want to condemn terrorism and separate themselves from it? After talking to some of my friends about the issue and rethinking the WearYellow.WalkOut protest we put together last year, I'll share some thoughts. Keep in mind that this issue deserves extensive detail, but I just want to touch on a few ideas.

1) Imagine this ideology existed elsewhere. For example, when Bill O'Reilly stated that there are "Black people and then there thugs" the progressive community threw a fit, and I stood alongside of them in condemning his remarks. How ridiculous would it be if we congregated on campus to discuss the differences between Timothy McVeigh type of White people and the Jones' next door. Obviously, there are good and bad in every community. Do we need to have 'educational' events about this? No, not unless we have an agenda. What agenda might that be? Glad you asked.

1b) The intent for these events is simple: to instill fear in Americans. These remarks, books, speakers, etc perpetuate stereotypes and promote racial profiling. These events are justified because of the times, similarly to how McCarthyism was back in the day. Governments can easily control the masses with one tool: fear. When people are scared they will do things that they wouldn't normally (i.e. support an unjustified war, accept internment camps, etc).

1c) Now that the average American has been told that there are "two different types", what comes next? Are people supposed to retain that information and just sit on it? No, people act on their fears. A simple Google search will provide evidence in regards to the number of hate crimes committed against Arab Americans each year. These crimes are perpetuated by these lessons of good Arab v. Bad Arab, good Muslim v. Bad Muslim, and the such. How is one supposed to differentiate between these 'good and bad' Arabs and Muslims? How do you go about finding them? You don't. It's a scary tale of guess and check.

2) So, making this distinction between the 'good' and the 'bad' Arabs and Muslims is destructive as I stated above. However, let's take a step back. The distinction that Pipes makes between "Good Arabs and Bad Arabs" begs the question: what defines "bad?" 9/11 shocked Americans and proved to be the worst hit on our own soil. Palestinians feel their own 9/11 every time an Israeli fighter jet fires on a government building. Israel feels 9/11 every time a suicide bomber makes his way to Tel-Aviv. The sad fact is that terrorism does exist in the Middle East, only in a different way than the media would have you believe. Western sponsored state terrorism exists in almost every single Muslim and Arab country. This is where Pipes' simplistic message becomes offensive. Instead of discussing the impact Western colonization has had on the geopolitical and social makeup of the Middle East, Pipes conveniently decides to explain terrorism as a Muslim phenomena, making it a problem for the Muslims to deal with. The fact of the matter is, Daniel Pipes couldn't be farther from the truth. By making terrorism a problem for the Muslims to deal with, Pipes ignores the West's explicit support for undemocratic Middle East regimes and how that has instilled in the Arab world a deep-seeded frustration with the leaders of the West. In addition, no matter how you feel about the creation and existence of the State of Israel, it was, and continues to be, a colonial project, the likes of which haven't been seen since Europe's collective subjugation and devastation of the entire continent of Africa. But I've digressed. When it comes to the definition of "bad," I would assert that what's good to the West is in fact bad to the Middle East. Marines in Beirut: BAD. Sharon in South Lebanon: BAD. Black Hawk in Somalia: BAD. Support of the Shah in Iran: BAD. Support of the Saudi Monarchy: BAD. Gulf Wars 1 & 2: BAD. BAD. BAD BAD BAD. Books upon books have been written about the West's skewed, violent, and internationally illegal interventions throughout the Middle East. To say that the collective Western deconstruction of Middle Eastern society and Western Orientalist (Yes, you should read the book) views of Islam have had no effect on the creation of "radical Muslims" and "bad Arabs" is to demonstrate a lack of common sense. The fact is, the West helped create extremism in the Middle East when it put guns into the region, not books. The West helped create radicalism when it supported regimes that refused to allow religious political parties to participate in government in the 50's and 60's.

Lastly, I want to add a bit of commentary. Who goes to these events? People offended by the remarks or those who love hearing things that they want to believe. From pictures of the Pipes event, I saw a young lady wearing a pink "Happy Naqba" shirt. I must say that I have never been more offended by a student at Michigan and that is not a comment that comes easily. I have been offended plenty. The Naqba translates to 'the catastrophe' and refers to the 1948 exodus or displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (although there are over 5.5 million to date). Some progressive scholars have compared the Naqba to the Trail of Tears and others have compared it to other horrific events in history. To call the Naqba a sensitive issue is an understatement. It is now observed as a day of remembrance and sorrow. Imagine a community suffering from a cataclysm that haunts them to this day, and another individual essentially celebrating that event. I cannot begin to express my disappointment and disgust. My point is that these events aren't educational. They are used to promote fear, reiterate ignorance, and simplify complex issues.


Joe K said...

Hey Sirene-

I just saw your update on Facebook and followed the link here.

I couldn't agree with you more- on all counts.

The McCarthyism thing seems to be becoming more of a problem... (In fact, upon finding out about "Islamofacist Awareness Week," I was going to send you a message). I heard it called 'a generalized, unprincipled attack on the Muslim community,' which is the only thing it could have been. Another method of instilling fear.

Look at the parallels in language though, David Horowitz's "The Left's war on Academia" or his "list of the US's most dangerous professors," or Niel Cavuto on Fox News (when talking to someone who disageed with the war in Iraq) asking "Why are you anti-democracy in the Middle East?"... Are you kidding?!? I'm sure that seemingly stupid subtle things like that have profound impacts in the long run.

This is part of a larger trend in purposely conflating words, or straight up lying. Cavuto conflating dissent or disagreement over war with being "anti-democracy." Go to Horowitz's site, and watch his presentations on Middle East "History."

The sad thing is that this scare tactic has worked on me. I have distanced myself from umich groups like SAFE, or even Pro-Palestinian facebook groups. The consequences of being linked to something like that (which isn't at all bad) with David Horowitz's, Sean Hannity's, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencers, are just too great.

Perhaps one of the most alarming things is the fact that Daniel Pipes is now a Guiliani advisor...

A little worried about what is going to happen down the road...

Regarding Foreign policy- U.S. Foreign policy has done more than its fair share in the radicalizing of the Islamic world. I think that most grievances that Arabs or Muslims have in the Middle East towards the US are completely reasonable... and I'm actually quite astounded that there isn't ANYONE who seems to understand that. Except perhaps Ron Paul.

I think Ron Paul is on the right track... but you have probably seen how people respond to his claims about US foreign policy.

Joe K said...

Forgive my butchering of the English language in my post.

Sirene said...

Joe, thanks for your comments. It's a bit reassuring to hear you vocalize them. In regards to your concerns about being blackballed for associating yourself with pro-Palestinian causes, I think its a valid concern. I can't help but think of Edward Said and his response to that, though: "I have not hesitated to declare my affiliation with an extremely unpopular cause."

Thanks for declaring your affiliation here :)

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