Tirades by the media designed to whip up support for war
October 19, 2001 | Page 8
LEE SUSTAR exposes the media's fanatical and racist hysteria about Islam and Islamists.
WELL-PAID academic experts and media pundits are lining up to give Washington an intellectual justification for war. Basically, the justification is that "they hate us."
In a Newsweek magazine cover story, Fareed Zakaria wrote, "The problem is not that Osama bin Laden believes that this is a religious war against America. It's that millions of people across the Islamic world seem to agree."
Michael Doran, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, told the New York Times: "Many Americans seem to think that bin Laden is just a violent cult leader. But the truth is that he is tapping into a minority Islamic tradition with a wide following and a deep history."
Richard Connerney, a professor of religion at Iona College, went even further in article for Salon.com: "The unfortunate truth of the matter is that Muslim violence against the civilian populations of other regions goes right back to the origin of Islam in the 7th century A.D...Can the world truly continue to tolerate medieval minds with access to 21st century military hardware? Is there really room in the family of world faiths for a religious vision that is terrorist-prone, modernity-proof, plagued by fanaticism and the hellish call of jihad [holy war]?"
Such comments aren't meant to explain Islam or Islamist movements, but to whip up bigotry, racism, fear--and support for Washington's agenda.
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THE HYPOCRISY of these "intellectual" attacks on Islam is infuriating.
After all, it's George W. Bush who constantly justifies his war against what he calls "evildoers" in religious terms. It was Bush who called for a "crusade"--the word used by Christian Europe in the Middle Ages to wage wars of conquest in the Middle East.
"Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them," Bush said in his speech to Congress, September 20. If Osama bin Laden said this on videotape, the White House would try to block the broadcast as an incitement to terrorist violence!
Moreover, the claim that Islam is a uniquely violent religion is sheer nonsense. Christianity itself was split over long and bloody "wars of reformation" that pitted Catholics against Protestants for a century. The Catholic Church's Inquisition used torture to convert Muslims and "heretics" to Christianity. The Church also encouraged the conquest and forcible conversion of Native Americans by Spain and Portugal.
The truth is that Islam has common roots with Judaism and Christianity. It considers Jesus to be an important prophet, and it has many practices, such as dietary laws, that are similar to those in Judaism. The teachings of Islam's founder, Mohammed, written down by his followers in the Koran, stresses social justice as well as a respect for order.
Mohammed's rise in the sixth century unified tribes on the Arabian Peninsula and built a government organized around the new religion, with its focus on Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia. While doctrinal differences arose in the decades following Mohammed's death, Islam gained millions of new converts over the following centuries as Arab armies created an empire stretching from Spain in the West to South Asia in the East.
With Western Europe mired in backwardness, the Islamic world preserved the great scientific teachings of the Greek and Roman civilizations and made scientific breakthroughs, such as the invention of algebra.
Much of this region was taken over by the Turkish rulers of the Ottoman Empire, who embraced Islam as an official religion. The European powers periodically clashed with the Ottomans from the 16th to the 19th centuries, but the Ottomans were known for safeguarding the rights of Christians and Jews.
The first "fundamentalist" Islamic state was established by the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia--with the backing of Britain--amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. Wahhabi leader Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud unified warring tribal leaders in an impoverished region with a religious movement that claimed to "purify" Islam--much as Christian Protestant fundamentalists reject the trappings of Catholicism.
After Ibn Saud crowned himself king in the 1920s, he imposed the Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law, which includes stoning women who commit adultery, amputating the limbs of thieves and public beheadings for other crimes. Women were denied all political rights, forced to remain covered and even banned from driving.
Wahhabism became the inspiration for the target of Bush's war in Afghanistan: the Taliban. But Saudi Arabia is a close U.S. ally--because of its vast oil reserves and its willingness to do Washington's bidding.
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WITH THE support of the U.S., Saudi Arabia organized an "Islamic front" in the late 1960s and 1970s to build up a conservative alternative to pan-Arab nationalism, socialism and the left wing of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Islamism began to gain a popular following among middle class intellectuals and the urban poor in countries such as Egypt, Algeria and Iran. The Islamists' appeal was based on the corruption of the Arab monarchies and the failure of nationalist parties to achieve their aim of development and an end to imperialist domination of the region by the U.S. and Israel.
While the Islamists mobilized people based on their opposition to hated regimes, they often directed that activity in reactionary directions--against religious and linguistic minorities and women. However, the official Communist left, having given uncritical support to the nationalists, failed to provide an alternative.
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a workers' uprising that was rolled back by parties that maintained the capitalist system with an Islamic face. Elsewhere, Islamist parties have tried to oust governments by assassinating leaders, such as Egypt's Anwar Sadat.
But rather than challenge the system, Islamist parties try to modify people's behavior within it. For that reason, they vacillate between bitter opposition to governments and accommodation with them.
Nevertheless, Islamism can seem to the poor to be a model for change in a region dominated by corrupt dictatorships and steeped in poverty.
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THE U.S. attitude towards Islam has always depended on its foreign policy objectives. Washington was hostile to Islamists in Iran and therefore tilted toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. Since then, it has supported the undemocratic suppression of Islamist parties in Egypt, Algeria and Turkey.
"Today in most Islamic countries, free elections would produce fundamentalist victories and validate the imposition of theocracy," the New York Times wrote a decade ago to justify dictatorships in the Middle East.
But with the help of Saudi Arabia and Islamists allied with a military dictatorship in Pakistan, the U.S. bankrolled Islamist guerrilla warriors in Afghanistan in order to repel an invasion of Russian troops during the 1980s.
The subsequent collapse of the USSR was seen as the "end of socialism." This bolstered the appeal of Islamist parties--often bankrolled by Saudi Arabia--in the newly independent states of Central Asia. The U.S. supported these efforts as a means to pull the region out of Russia's orbit.
Washington even quietly backed the Taliban in the hope that it would create a government stable enough for an oil pipeline to be built linking the Caspian Sea to Pakistan's ports. But now that the U.S. finds the Taliban in its way, it is once again creating a hysteria about "Islamic fundamentalism."
The aim is to justify America's self-declared right to intervene militarily in any country that it deems to be harboring "Islamic terrorists."
Such actions will only boost the appeal of Islamism in poor countries resentful of U.S. domination of the world--which the U.S. will try to use to justify further aggression. That's why we have to expose not only the bloody results of Washington's war, but the lies used to justify it.