Norway: Muslims and metaphors

After the Norway attacks, as after many others, Muslims were the first to be blamed.

Oslo mourners
US congressman Peter King has been holding hearings on the ‘radicalisation’ of the American Muslim community, and has refused to widen the hearings’ scope to include other, non-Muslim terrorism threats [GALLO/GETTY]

The frightful mass murder in Norway on July 22, 2011 and the instant, knee-jerk reaction of a number of leading European and American news organisations – including the BBC, The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and a wide range of television and radio stations, website, blogs, etc. – to assume and in fact globally to publicise their assumption that the heinous crime was perpetrated by Muslim terrorists (before a single fact was officially known or announced about the suspect or suspects) has once again invoked the largely repressed memories of the Oklahoma Bombing of 1995, in which yet another white, blonde, terrorist had gone on a rampage murdering hundreds of people and injuring even more and terrorising an entire nation – and when again the same racist disposition went on a rampage accusing Muslims before the terrorist turned out to be a blue-blooded, blonde, Christian fundamentalist, American named Timothy James McVeigh. I still remember my Columbia University “colleague” (a white, Anglo-Saxon male) who accosted me on our campus on my way from my class to my office on that dreadful Wednesday, April 19, 1995, telling me that a massive terrorist attack had been perpetrated in Oklahoma and that “three Iranian suspects” had been arrested in the airport in connection with it – and he then just stared at me waiting for my baffled look to jell into embarrassment and shame. It did not. 

The two identical reactions in span of some sixteen years that bracket the events of 9/11, one before and the other after it, has once again widely exposed the politically motivated racism operative, not just in the mass media, but in fact at the heart of the societies this media represents. Now that the dust of the early frenzy of the Norway massacre has settled, the suspect has been arrested, identified as a blonde, blue eye, Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik, and he has officially confessed to his crime, and now that we know he is a man with a sustained record of hating the Left and Muslims (the Left for allowing, in his estimation, Muslims to come to Europe and the United States and thus pollute his race, and Muslims just for being Muslim), we need to attend to this enduring disease at the root of that knee-jerk reaction and finally ask why is it that every time there is a ghastly crime of this magnitude perpetrated in Western Europe or North America the gut and knee-jerk reaction of these societies, as evident in and perpetuated by their mass media, is to suspect a Muslim. 

The question is not easy, but the answer is. This time around, we are fortunately no longer at the mercy of these ghastly news organisations to do their bigotry apace, frighten our communities out of their wits, and then once they are caught red-handed with their horrid racism just write a cursory “correction” and think it done with. This time around the miracle of the New Media – from Al Jazeera and Jadaliyya to countless blogs, Facebook pages, YouTube clips, tweeters, etc – has made it possible to grab these white supremacist racists by the throat of their conceited mendacity and force them to look at their ugly faces. The age of European colonial hubris and American imperial arrogance is over. This is the season of the Arab Spring. We talk back.  This gang of badly educated, monolingual, provincial goons who masquerade as responsible journalists and is quick to assume the posture of a respectable institution, and who even congratulate themselves to be the paper of record and keep giving themselves the Pulitzer Prize, and who have for generations intimidated our parents and children will never, should never, be left off the hook this time around. They have frightened our parental generation into silence. We will not allow them to send our children to school yet again frightened by their names and their parental faith and by who and what they are. They have terrorised us enough. It is time to get even and theorise them. 

Muslims and the Left

Consider the following titles: Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam And The American Left (2004) by David Horowitz, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 (2007) by Dinesh D’Souza, The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America (2010) by Andrew C. McCarthy. The list is long, almost interminable, ad nauseum, if you were to hold your nose and look it up in the Internet, on Amazon, on websites that pop up like unseemly mushrooms, or else just visit your local bookstore anywhere in North America or Western Europe. They are usually on the bestseller’s desk. Phrases fulminate: “the modern left and Islamic fascism”, “unholy alliance of Islam and leftists”, “exposing liberal lies: the odd marriage between Islam and the Left”. It is quite an industry: Books, articles, websites, blogs, tweeters, think tanks, white supremacists, native informers, comprador intellectuals, terrorist experts, entrenched Zionists, neoconservatives for hire. The message is simple: The Left and the Islamists have come together to destroy the Western civilisation, beginning with its first and final defense line, the good state of Israel. One of the grandest charlatans among them published a book he called The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (2006) – I am one of them – in which he lists the leading American academics who are either characterised as Left or else profiled as Muslim. 

This “Left” is a generic term, a sponge-word. It includes feminists, gay activists and scholars, as well as activists and scholars in the fields of African-American studies, Race and Ethnic Studies, whatever it is that the white masculinist imagination wishes to mean by “multiculturalism” – all the undesirable elements, to be short, populating the nightmare of those authors who write those books, the publishers who publish them, the people who actualy pay money and buy and read these books. If you were to see Zach Snyder’s movie “300” (2007) all those creatures you see populating Xerxes’ army, well, they are the visual summation of “Muslims and the Left”. 

Look at just one of these bestselling authors – this person called Dinesh D’Souza. Look at the title of some of his books: What’s So Great About Christianity; What’s So Great About America; Ronald Reagan: How An Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader; Life After Death: The Evidence. The man has one simple idea: America and Christianity are the greatest things that ever happened to humanity – and everything else – the Left and Islam in particular – are the darkest evils that ever were, categorically condemned to hell unless like him they see the light, join his church, and be saved. This man used to be in the company of like-minded people at the Hoover Institute in California that evidently has a whole collection of these sorts of antics. He is now the president of a whole college for himself, responsible for the education of an entire generation of students. 


Writer Dinesh D’Souza

Look at those titles and ask yourself: Is this Dinesh D’Souza person for real, is he a used-car salesman – or does he really believe in what he writes. Should we call him delusional, wanting in his mental make-up, or should we consider the possibility of career opportunism – that the man realises that the nonsense he says actually sells. He is a Christian fundamentalist warmonger who hates gays, hates Muslims, hates feminists, hates the Left, he in fact hates anything and everything that is non-Christians, as he understands Christianity, but he loves an abstraction he calls “America”, which to him is a white America – but, and there is the rub, he is not white. What sort of a mental case is that? The man is a dark-skin Indian. But he sees himself as a white warrior of Greek mythology in Zach Snyder’s movie. Muslims and the Left, gays and blacks, feminists and multiculturalists – these are the creatures he sees in front of him, his nightmares. But he is not alone. He is a New York Times “bestseller”, as they say. People buy what he sells in America – and thus prominent editors seek him out, offer him lucrative contracts, publish him with pomp and ceremony, and countless numbers of his books are sold, read, discussed, reviewed in print and electronic media, on the basis of which he then gets invitations to give public lectures, interviews, etc. The cycle is self-perpetuating, endless, implicating an entire industry, not just a person and his own perhaps outlandish, perhaps plausible to those who buy these sorts of, ideas. 

Vintage D’Souza: “The cultural left in this country [USA] is responsible for causing 9/11 … the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the non-profit sector and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.” Cultural left and Islam: put together, with their allies in government, media … responsible for an act of terrorism. Does that ring a Norwegian bell? Before an insanity plea on behalf of Anders Behring Breivik is entered and accepted, which seems to be his lawyer’s, Mr. Geir Lippestad’s, assertion, the office of the Norwegian Attorney General may want to take a look at these sorts of books, their authors, publishers, audiences, readerships. There is an entire industry catering to precisely the sort of “insanity” with which the Norwegian mass murderer is afflicted – an industry that banks on people fusing the Left and Muslim and see the result as the supreme metaphor of menace to civilised life. 

The larger picture

The history of American slang is filled with racial slurs that reflect the condescending contempt towards people at the receiving end of North American military invasions and/or conquests: Commie, Brownie, Buffie, Camel Jockey, Chinaman, Chinky, Coolie, Darkie, Gooky, etc. – and soon after the US-led invasion of Iraq, “Haji”, referring to any Iraqi or Arab in or out of sight of American GIs. These are derogatory terms of condescension and disdain used to distance and denigrate the person they were fighting, subjugating, conquering. These are dehumanising terms – terms that turn “the enemy” into a “thing” before he is dispensed with – with a clear conscience. 

Since the 1950’s and the McCarthyite witch-hunt, “the Left” has been made into the nightmare of America by “the Right”. “The Left” is a Fifth Column, the enemy within. If the Soviet Union was the enemy without, the Left was the enemy within, the entity that wanted to sabotage the system to further the cause of the enemy without – the same way that the early Catholics were accused of being more loyal to the Pope in Rome than to the American constitution – and the same way that now Muslims are considered the enemy within, the enemy that has come into the heart of the empire, threatening it from within, on behalf of the Muslims around the world. There is a siege mentality here. “The West,” people ranging from Bernard Lewis to Niall Ferguson have been saying to their lucrative market, is threatened by these Muslims invading the heart of their empire. Looking for that enemy within is straight out of the trope of a witch-hunt. Arthur Miller in “The Crucible” (1953) went all the way back to the Salem, Massachusetts witch-hunt of 1692 to diagnose the pathological fear that had engulfed Americans in the 1950s during the so-called “Red Scare”: the First (1919-1920) and the Second (1947-1957) Red Scare. Today the identification of the Left with the Muslim – the way we see it articulated from bestselling American authors to the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik – is straight out of the genre of witch-hunt, from Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 to Oklahoma Bombing of 1995, to the list of Neoconservative and Zionist bestsellers. 

What Dinesh D’Souza and a whole platoon of less talented but more pestiferous crowd of old and new conservatives he represents have been doing over the last few decades in the United States is to help transfuse the fear and loathing of the Left onto the fear and loathing of Muslims – and they have succeeded. This transmutation of the Left and the Muslims into each other is a very recent development that dates back to before the horrid events of 9/11, and began in earnest soon after the Hostage Crisis of 1979-1980, and is predicated on a simple mental translation of the McCarthy period suspicion and hatred of the Left onto Muslims. A key contributing factor here is of course the Israeli propaganda machinery that has succeeded in persuading Americans that (facts be damned) all Palestinians are Muslims, Muslims are terrorists, and thus Israel is really fighting for Americans in the frontline of defense against barbarity. That in his “Clash of Civilisations” thesis, Samuel Huntington, a chief theorist of American imperialism, perceived of Islam, as the civilisational enemy number one of “the West” is a key summit point in this transmutation. The practice is straight out of German Nazi political philosopher Karl Schmitt (1888-1985) – without an enemy there is no concept of the political. The very concept of the political is predicated on the existence (fabrication) of an enemy. 

A combined hatred of the Left and of Muslims (being a Black radical Muslim gay is really the full Sunday Best regalia here) informs a wide range of public commentary in the United States that goes far beyond Dinesh D’Souza and Samuel Huntington and has employed a whole regiment of less intellectually gifted but nevertheless quite verbose characters. These two neo-conservative icons are just symptomatic of a much more widely-spread syndrome.

Read part two of Norway: Muslims and metaphors by clicking here.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. He is the author, most recently, of Shi’ism: A Religion of Protest (Harvard University Press, 2011).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.