The Left and Islamophobia: Remarks About Michael Walzer’s Essay in Dissent Magazine

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There is so much to say about the crime against Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper, AND the ensuing affair. Much has been said already, and protests were held, and pens were brandished all over the world. One of the more curious reactions can be found in an article in Dissent magazine by Michael Walzer, in which he reproaches the left for failing to take on Islamic fundamentalism or radicalism or whatever people call it (the official danger in France is now labeled “radical Islam,” provided that radical Islam does not have oil and gas wealth to buy arms from the French government).

Ironically, Walzer writes for Dissent magazine, a publication that has long embodied the contradictions of the American Zionist left. Here is a magazine that endorsed wholesale the policies and wars of the right-wing Israeli government (and of the left, to be sure) and never wavered in its support for Zionism. It also served for years as a tool of the global, right-wing US-dominated anti-communist movement.

Walzer’s main claim is that the left in the US (and elsewhere) has been intimidated from criticizing radical Islam due to the stinging accusation of Islamophobia. Ironically, Dissent magazine and other Zionist publications have themselves perfected the power of intimidation by casually throwing the label of anti-Semitism. Walzer’s book “Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustration” is a catalog of rationalizations of Israeli wars of aggression. Here is the author who considers the “radical devaluing” of the Jews of Israel the essence of terrorism in the Middle East , nevermind that the people who were expelled from their lands and whose homes were stolen, and who have been subjected to an unrelenting war of terror from the Zionist forces and later from the state of Israel are the Palestinian people themselves.

Most importantly, for Walzer to succeed in maintaining that the accusation of Islamophobia intimidates the left in the US, he has to prove that Islamophobia has power, or that it is a real stigma. One can simply measure the power of that stigma by comparing it to the stigma of anti-Semitism in the US, or in any other European country. It is, certainly, exceptional for someone to lose a job, be forced to resign from a job, or be denied tenure or get asked to offer a public apology for making an Islamophobic statement. There is no power whatsoever to the stigma of Islamophobia in the US. Far from it: in many electoral districts in the US, and in many churches and synagogues across the country, whipping up Islamophobia is a sure tool for the attainment of power.

The term itself is very new, and most of the public is not even familiar with it, and it has only been recently introduced to American culture and media (at the elite level only). Walzer’s suggestion that people are afraid to take on Islam due to fear of being labeled Islamophobic is a myth. In fact, the right and the left in the US have long been guilty of insensitivity toward Islam and Muslims, and this predates the rise of Jihadi terrorism in the last few decades. After September 11, anti-Islam rhetoric became a common feature in US politics and popular rhetoric, and senior members of the American political class and of the American clergy have been outspoken in their denunciation of Islam and Muslims or Muslim radicals.

To make his point, Walzer argues that people like him on the Zionist “left” — that Walzer considers himself a man of the left is not an argument to be contended with here — have not been reluctant to criticize Israeli settlers (by “Israeli settlers,” people on the American left mean occupation settlers in the West Bank, and ignore the occupation settlers who live inside 1948 Palestine). But the criticisms of Israeli settlers have been close to mute in those Zionist journals, and the analogy is quite stunning. The moral obligation to take on a segment of Israeli settlers (only those Walzer terms as “messianic”) is equated with the moral obligation to take on the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. But such are Walzer’s standards and his understanding of his leftist obligation.

As a leftist, presumably, Walzer admits a generalized fear—it seems he is overcome with a variety of fears—“of Hindutva zealots of India, of messianic Zionists in Israel, and of rampaging Buddhists monks in Myanmar,” but yet admits that he is “most afraid of Islamic zealots because the Islamic world … is especially feverish and fervent.” Notice that, when talking about Muslims, Walzer talks about “the Islamic world” although he does not explain or quantify how that world (a monolithic bloc, in his mind) is “especially feverish and fervent.” It could easily be explained that the areas of the “Islamic world” where there is the most turmoil and upheavals and violence are areas where the US and its Western allies are heavily involved in military intervention (Mali, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria). What Walzer and his allies on the Zionist left are really saying is that Muslims should simply submit to US dictates without any objection, otherwise they would be exhibiting signs of zealotry.

And he refuses to consider his fear of Islam and Muslim a prejudice, because he admits that Christian crusaders were centuries ago quite scary themselves. This admission wins him — in his own mind — license to express his quite irrational fear of the Islamic world. But Walzer does not take the fears of Muslims into consideration who have not gotten a break from the continued wars and assaults by Western armies in their continued attempts at domination. Nor would Walzer admit that Palestinians are afraid of Israel and its Western sponsors, although those fears are not religious in nature, and that the fears that the Palestinians have are in no way — as in the case of Walzer — directed against a whole religious community. Despite a century of conflict, Palestinians continue to welcome Jewish supporters of their cause into their homes .

Walzer does not make much of an effort to disguise his own prejudices; he concedes that there are some Muslim moderates (he does not give percentages, but the scale of his fear implies that they are a rather not a small minority), but he characterize those moderates as people who simply want to “leave infidels and heretics to their otherworldly fate.” In other words, to Walzer’s mind, Muslim moderates are quite fanatic themselves. If the moderates are that extreme, one can easily understand the irrational fear that Walzer harbors toward all Muslims.

He refuses to consider Muslims in the West members of a persecuted minority, because they don’t suffer as much as the Jews suffered in Nazi Germany. By that extreme criteria, one can now declare that there is no discrimination anywhere in the world today. He also cites FBI statistics to show that American Muslims don’t suffer too many hate crimes (regardless of the numbers of Muslims, Jews, and African-Americans, and regardless of whether hate crimes against Muslim are reported to the police with the same frequently and urgency, and whether the police and US government collect data on these hate crimes as much as crimes against other groups in the US).

He says that there are Islamists with “global ambitions” — and he cites the example of Muhammad Atta — but does not consider US wars and military interventions worldwide examples of global ambition. Throughout his entire essay, Walzer does not once consider how the rest of the world views, or suffers from, US global intervention.

Walzer then proceeds to make the point that there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Islam as a religion. But if a Muslim were to make criticisms of Judaism or even Christianity, he would be immediately labeled as an anti-Semite and a fanatic. Of course, one can make criticisms of any religion, but from which perspective? The atheist perspective? Or from the perspective of one religion battling another religion? The US culture and media, and sessions of US Congress, have been filled with criticisms of the Islamic faith — although, in passing, some of these instances include the qualifier that “there are moderate Muslims” somewhere out there.

Lest you confuse Walzer with an Islamophobe, he urges that “we” should engage “cooperatively with Muslim opponents of Zealotry.” His example of the moderates is one Ayaan Hirsi Ali. His support for Ali, in his mind, absolves him of any manifestation of Islamophobia.

I can’t speak of the American left, nor can I speak of the moderate left, but I think that the radical left is obligated to take on religious movements and even religions worldwide. But Walzer refuses to see the underlying causes of the rise of the religious movements in Islam. He has to be reminded that the Middle East, and the Islamic world in general — from Indonesia to Morocco — was for decades dominated by leftist and secular forces and that those forces were fought head on and brutally by the US government and its allies during the long decades of the Cold War. Furthermore, Walzer does not mention how the US regional order in the Middle East (though the alliance with Gulf regimes and Pakistan in particular) have been directly responsible, including recently in Syria, for the production of militant Jihadi terrorist groups. In other words, the US has more explaining and apologizing to do — at least — than average Muslims for the phenomenon of Islamist violence worldwide.

Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil

Comments

What Walzer, and Kazin in his comment, exemplify is the rapid disintegration of their intellectual foundations. To put it crudely they have accustomed themselves to lying so routinely that they no longer recognise reality.
As Paine said of Burke "“It is painful to behold a man employing his talents to corrupt himself."
Supporters of, and apologists for the Israeli regime are fascists and not all the name dropping or dialectical gymnastics in the world can change what Gaza proves.

I think that the bottom line here - for Israel & their buddies - the West - is that they have messed up big time.
The 2008 GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS is only getting worse.
And 2015 is the year when the next recession is due.
How a recession is going to come about - while the worlds nations are still in crisis from the 2008 GFC - I can't imagine.
The Oil of the Middle East is all but gone
Go tell your constituants that there may be fuel shortages soon - that may cause food shortages - if you dare.
If the Charlie Hobo affair can bring everyone into the streets to vocalize - imagine what hunger pains will do.
Iraq is still a festering sore amongst the global population.
The A-Z of Israel is despized globally to the point where Jews are hated like never before in the world & not all of them are at fault.
Of course the internet & social media have helped the spread of real information - globally & the people of the world are talking like never before.
It may not seem more powerful than the mag DISSENT but it is.
Never before in the history of our existence has such a mass of peoples come together in such an informal & uncontrolled way.
The crowds who gathered to listen to a charismatic & mesmerising Adolf Hitler were spotted with Nazi 'hecklers' so as to guide the crowds to a desired end.
Crowd Psychology - you only need 7% of a crowd to sway the whole to the desired end.
This is different - this is us thinking & it is very powerful.
& noone has noticed yet

" the offficial danger in France is labled 'radical Islam' "
Not for long
The cashed up Islam Element holiday makers / tourists, that has frequented France & spent solid monies in abundance, will holiday elsewhere from now on.
France is too dangerous
Travel Agencies are reporting an increase in booking from the Middle East to ... even China, as an alternative destination to France.
Tourism is the bread & butter of the French - they will miss the radical Islam $$$$$'s

Why do they label you * Professor As'ad AbuKhalil * to the left/a lefty (?)
semi-conservative is more you (?)
not quite a stuffed shirt is not bad - hey.

Perhaps Dissent magazine should change its name to Dissentery.

This article is so riddled with inaccuracies and polemical exaggerations that it would take a piece more than twice as long to correct all of them. But as co-editor of Dissent, let me correct a few egregious ones:

-the magazine is not "Zionist"; some editors and writers would describe themselves that way, while others (including me) would not.

-the magazine has consistently opposed the settlements and called for a two-state solution, based on the 1967 boundaries

-The point of Walzer's article is to criticize those leftists who excuse the violence of Islamists against civilians but condemn such violence, as they should, when committed by Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, etc.

But why don't you read the article for yourself (and the critical response we posted to it by Andrew March):

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/islamism-and-the-left

Kazin supports Zionist colonization of Palestine in 1947 (aka Israel) and then claim that he is not a Zionist. Sure, and pope is not a Catholic!

I can respect Jew haters more than self-hating Jews who grovel to them by saying that they are "the good Jews."

Barry
What a cheap swipe at Lydia. She's smart, knowledgeable & her ascerbic responses are great!

I was responding to the Dissent guy, dude.
Lidia's (check your spelling) commentaries are "smart?" Really? So if I call for the mass extermination of a group of people, that makes me witty?
Birds of a feather.....

Barry the Zionist ie colonizer of Palestine answers to Kazin who
1) accuses As'ad in being inaccurate
2) literally supports As'ad words about "left Zionists" aka "left" colonizers of Palestine who only want to colonize a part of Palestine (aka 2 states sham). I suppose Kazin is expecting Palestinians to be grateful for only being half-robbed by Zionists like him
3) claims that "Dissent" is not Zionist and Kazin himself is not. Yeah, sure, and support of colonization of only a half of Palestine is not a Zionism? Kazin must be kidding.

Barry the Zionist ie colonizer of Palestine calls anti-Zionists "Jew haters" - usual lie by colonizers of Palestine - after all, who would hate a colonizer? No one, at least Barry the Zionist ie colonizer of Palestine would not, because he is a colonizer of Palestine himself. Then Barry the Zionist ie colonizer of Palestine call the Kazin the Zionist ie colonizer of Palestine who pretends that he is not a Zionist - self-hating Jew. Yeah, another stupid hasbara. As a matter of fact Kazin sould be called "a Zionist denying his Zionism" - I am sure it is a great sin to Barry the Zionist ie colonizer of Palestine.

You lost me at "Barry the Zionist ie colonizer of Palestine" (the first four times).

To date, Israel has avoided the fate of Iraq's Yazidis, and Anatolia's Christians,
So while the Left's intra-mural schism over Zionism does produce some amusing catfights, it doesn't make much difference out where the Bullet meets the Bone

the fan of the most stupid prez in USA history - no mean feat - compares the Zionist colonizers of Palestinian lands to the native people of Iraq who had NOT colonized anyone, and are victims of the same IS that Zionist colonizers of Palestinian see as preferable to anti-Zionist resistance (IS is made by the best buddy of NATO and Zionists too - by Saudi royals).
And while some left Zionist colonizers of Palestinian lands say some not nice words against right Zionist colonizers of Palestinian lands and vice versa, they are all but Zionist colonizers of Palestinian lands, and USA is still waging imperialist wars and support Zionist colonizers of Palestinian lands and Saudi royals, while in USA more and more people have no safe drinking water and no safe heating and not enough firefighters to save people from the fires form the unsafe heating. But the fan of the most stupid prez in USA history - no mean feat is content.
By the way, today's USA prez still are NOT letting the USA public know at least a bit of truth about 9/11 (just like the most stupid prez in USA history) - it is, the truth about the role of Saudi royals. Never mind - what is the USA public to know it?

On the other hand, the same powers that helped create and supply Israel, mainly Britain, France and the US, are indirectly responsible for the Yazidis being under the threat of ISIS, which wouldn't exist without the US invasion of Iraq.

Nice name for the paper of colonialist supporters - Dissent. I suppose they see the Zionist colonization as "dissent" too.

"Dissent" Is so left leaning that a move any further to the left,will tip the magazine off the earth.
Seems that Abukhalil and Walzer had co operated In the past which leads me to think this Is a personal attack and not an Ideological one.At least this piece, Is well written,although non convincing.

Yeah, yigal the Zionist aka colonizer of Palestine calls the fellow Zionists aka colonizer of Palestine "left".
To all not aware - Zionists aka colonizer of Palestine could be of 2 kinds - right Zionists aka colonizers of Palestine and left Zionists aka colonizers of Palestine . I suppose Palestinians see a lot of difference between being murdered, kidnapped, tortured, robbed and ethnic cleansed by left Zionists aka colonizers of Palestine and by right Zionists aka colonizers of Palestine .
And of course, yigal the Zionist aka colonizer of Palestine could not fathom how As'ad, who lived under the Zionist occupation of his motherland Lebanon may not like a left Zionist aka colonizer of Palestine and Lebanon - it must be "a personal attack"! And of course for yigal the Zionist aka colonizer of Palestine the article against fellow Zionist aka colonizer of Palestine is "non convincing". After all, yigal the Zionist aka colonizer of Palestine is "convinced" that Palestine is for Zionists to colonize.

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