Sunday 12 September 2010

Condemning US Anti-Muslim Racism Is Not 'Anti-Americanism'

Writing yesterday in the Telegraph, the columnist Janet Daley flung a familiar accusation against the 'British liberal establishment': that of anti-Americanism.

Commenting on the Qu'ran-burning stunt planned by the previously obscure Pastor Terry Jones, Daley argues that the actions of "one publicity-crazed loony" has been used as an excuse "for casting America as a cartoon country whose heartland is dominated by bigoted know-nothings" and suggests that "the failure to make any serious attempt to understand the United States and its political culture is now more than smug, stupid and cynical (although it is certainly all those things)". She goes on:

The perverse ignorance which allows the British liberal establishment to caricature America’s obsessive concern with its constitutional integrity as simply a front for bigotry (note the BBC’s derisive treatment of the Tea Party movement) is beyond silly: it now presents a real threat to the common cause which the nations of the Enlightenment must make if they are to see their way through the present danger.

Apparently this "dominant anti-American mythology" is the result of all the optimists heading for America and all the pessimists staying in Europe, a debating point that surely carries a far greater claim to being 'beyond silly'.

There's always something strange about right-wingers, usually so ready to lambast victimhood as a hiding place for whingers and malcontents demanding special treatment, who nevertheless claim that the most powerful nation on the planet is itself a 'victim' - in this case of bigotry and ignorance. The problem with Daley's argument, of course, is that hostility to Islam and contempt for Muslims is not the preserve of "one publicity-crazed loony" and not even necessarily of the American right. Daley clearly hasn't read the extraordinary piece written by Martin Peretz of the New Republic magazine, a mainstay of America's centre-left liberal establishment.

In a vile attack, Peretz, who is the magazine's editor-in-chief and a supporter of the Democrats, claimed victimhood for the majority of his fellow (non-Muslim) citizens by insisting that "Americans are so fearful of being accused of bias" that they are too terrified to demonstrate against "Muslim or Arab interests or their commitments to foreign governments and, more likely, to foreign insurgencies and, yes, quite alien philosophies." Praising the racist anti-Islam parties of Europe, he says:

This is certainly not the situation in Britain and France, Germany and Denmark, Holland and Spain where a demo against the Arabs or the Pakis or the Algerians or the Moroccans or the Turks and Muslims more generally is a regular feature of the political landscape and where parties win parliamentary seats precisely because they campaign with Islamists and Islam as the targets.

I have no idea whether using the word 'Paki' has the same jarring cultural connotation in the United States as it does here, but the disgraceful racist tone is still clearly evident. Peretz continues with another, very familiar argument about Muslim hypocrisy, one commonplace amongst the 'Decent' left in Britain:

Why do not Muslims raise their voices against these at once planned and random killings all over the Islamic world? This world went into hysteria some months ago when the Mossad took out the Hamas head of its own Murder Inc.

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Yes, you read that correctly: the 'liberal' New Republic's editor is arguing that seven million Muslim-Americans are unworthy of protection from infringements on freedom of religion, speech and assembly, or the right to lobby for redress or over grievances, because they apparently can't be trusted. Imagine the uproar if the same had been said about African-Americans or Jewish-Americans. How, one wonders, can such arguments in a mainstream political journal be reconciled with Janet Daley's assertion that "reverence for and constant appeals to the Constitution are not an excuse for prejudice, but the precise opposite"?

America risks slipping into a dark period, one that it has experienced before against Jews and Japanese-Americans, when racism against a tiny minority of its citizens (Muslims make up just 1% of the population) becomes increasingly acceptable. Saying so is most certainly not some form of European anti-Americanism. That doesn't mean Europeans shouldn't show some humility and self-awareness about their own shortcomings, for the same attitudes are gaining popularity across Europe - I have serious doubts whether the still enouraging Pew Forum figures showing 62% of Americans favouring the right of Muslims to build places of worship in local communities would be matched by public opinion in the UK.

But the United States is still the world's principal military superpower with an assertive insistence on its global entitlement and privilege. There's no point pretending that US right-wingers, busy defending back home the entitlement and privilege of white, conservative, middle-class America by encouraging people to believe their President is a secret Muslim (nearly one-in-five Americans now believe this) are not having a negative impact - even on liberal 'opponents' like Peretz.

And precisely because they provide powerful ammunition to Muslim religious fundamentalists worldwide, they need to be vigirously condemned by the left, whatever the likes of Daley might say. Not just the antics of Pastor Terry Jones, but all anti-Muslim racism.

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