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Trump's Islamophobia

by Berry Friesen (January 23, 2016)

(The fifth in a series attempting to understand the Trump phenomenon)

It’s cheap and easy to criticize Donald Trump’s “shocking” call for a ban on Muslims entering the US.  Reportedly, every other Republican and Democrat running for President has joined the criticism. 

Yet none of those candidates has criticized the Obama Administration for dropping 23,144 bombs on majority-Muslim nations during 2015:  22,110 on Syria and Iraq, 947 on Afghanistan, 58 on Yemen, 18 on Somalia and 11 on Pakistan.

None has criticized the Obama Administration for transforming Libya into unrelenting chaos and violence, Syria into a place of starvation and death, Yemen into a wasteland.
So the major-party alternative to Trump is somebody who supports US wars on Muslim nations, but takes the moral high ground on Muslim immigrants and refugees.  In contrast, Trump’s supporters pride themselves on straight talk.  In their view, the war on terror is a war against Muslim peoples; if the US had a leader honest enough to say who the enemy is, maybe it would start winning its wars. 

Dr. Deepa Kumar, professor of media studies at Rutgers University, asks us not to settle for cheap and easy opposition to Trump’s Islamophobia.  Abby Martin’s interview of Dr. Kumar is mandatory listening for all those who want to go deeper.

Kumar sees in the West “a systematic process . . . to keep fear of Muslims and fear of terrorism alive in the American imagination.”  This process entails “othering,” the transformation of the disparate followers of Islam into a single group whose members have certain negative behaviors and attitudes. “Islam is not a race, Muslims are not a race,” she says.  Yet the analogy to racism is appropriate because “races do not exist naturally, they are produced, typically by an elite to serve certain agendas.”

Over the past 25 years, the Western elite have been guiding us through such a production process.  Bernard Lewis’ “Roots of Muslim Rage” set the template with its insistence that colonialism, war and the formation of Israel on Palestinian land had nothing to do with the anger in the Middle East. Instead, an irrational rage rooted in Islam made conflict between Islam and the West inevitable.

Samuel Huntington extended this analysis by predicting future world conflicts would be cultural, not political.  As described by Kumar, this view assumed the empire had arrived at the correct answers to the big political questions; what remained was irrational opposition rooted in ignorance, provincialism and religious dogma.  Thus, says Kumar, “We don’t need to talk about the military occupation, we don’t need to talk about war, we don’t need to talk about drone strikes, we’ll just call it a clash of cultures.”

This is phony baloney, but it has been systematically manufactured in the West by Hollywood, academia, the think-tanks and the media.  “To see Donald Trump as some sort of lone-wolf who is responsible for the escalation of Islamophobia or who is otherwise corrupting a great political system is deeply problematic,” says Kumar. 

What distinguishes Trump is his blunt discussion of an attitude and worldview that has been sewn with subtlety into the fabric of American life. 

Can we deal with this now that Trump has brought it out into the open?

“Simply doing education around Islamophobia or having interfaith dialogue is not enough,” says Kumar.  “We need to understand that it’s more than a set of prejudices and bad ideas in people’s heads; it’s in fact an ideology and set of practices that sustain and reproduce empire.”

So though we must combat prejudice against Muslims, we can't stop there. We also must “get to the root of what causes Islamophobia—the empire, the national security state, the neo-liberal order in which we live and the class power that sustains all of this.” 

When we do that, when we recognize how our fears and prejudices have been produced deliberately for the benefit of the ruling elite, then we will be able to come together across the lines that divide us now and discredit Islamophobia and the endless war it legitimizes.