Notes on ideology and Islamophobia

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Several salient points are made in Alexandra Pinot-Noir and Flora Grim’s jointly-written article, which I reposted, “On the Ideology of ‘Anti-Islamophobia’.” For example, the authors are onto something with their brief genealogical sketch of the derivation of “decolonial” theory from Third Worldism. Many efforts have been made to form ideological blocs with religious groups over the last fifteen years or so, ever since the start of the global war on terror. Provided that the groups in question belong to the religion of the oppressed, of course. All this would fall squarely under the rubric of what Loren Goldner has dubbed “reactionary anti-imperialism,” conceptualized in his brilliant essay on its origins in Turkey nearly a century ago. Considering Houria Bouteldja cites Gamal Abdel Nasser as a heroic decolonial thinker, or that “revolutionaries of color” at UC Davis in 2013 would approvingly invoke Sayyid Qutb just proves their point further. (Nevermind that Nasser had Qutb killed; this matters just as little as the fact the International Pan-Islamic Communist Party lists Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev alongside Stalin as an influence, despite the latter having purged the former in 1924. Regardless, it seems consistency is not decolonial theorists’ strong suit).

One of Grim and Pinot-Noir’s most startling insights has to do with the virtual symmetry between “culturalist” conceptions of race put forward by groups claiming to be on the Left and the ethnocultural arguments advanced by groups belonging to the Right. “New Right leaders like Alain de Benoist go so far as to defend anti-imperialist struggles in the Third World,” Grim and Pinot-Noir point out, “and thus deny the racist character of their own ‘defense of European identity’.” Indeed, New Right intellectuals are enthusiastic in their support for Third World nationalists such as Muammar Gaddafi and Hugo Chávez, as well as earlier strongmen like Nasser and Perón. Gregory Hood gave “Two Cheers for Chávez” following his death in 2013, while Greg Johnson eulogized Gaddafi after his ignominious “decline and fall” in 2011. Eugène Montsalvat likewise asserts “The Necessity of Anti-Colonialism,” writing that “anti-colonialism must be a component of any ideology which attempts to defend rooted identities, necessary against the uprooting of peoples in pursuit of power and wealth… Colonialism has warped both the colonist and colonizer — mixing, diluting, and even annihilating entire cultures and peoples.” He praises Nasser and Gaddafi for their anti-Zionism and resistance to “America’s Zionist New World Order.” (Bouteldja might even agree with Montsalvat on the topic of miscegenation, since she opposes interracial marriage in the name of race war).

Junge Linke has already thoroughly dissected Islamism as “heir to and rival of frustrated Arab nationalism,” so this is one more step. Grim and Pinot-Noir perspicaciously observe that “[t]he position of far-left anti-Islamophobes.regarding.political.Islam.is ambivalent at best. They want to prohibit any criticism of the Muslim religion, a practice which they say is racist.” Back in 2009, the British journal Aufheben made an analogous point vis-à-vis the Socialist Workers Party and the antiwar coalition Respect. “So as not to put Muslims off, the SWP insisted Respect eschew such left-wing ‘shibboleths’ as women’s and gay rights. Echoing the arguments of more radical Islamists, they went into the mosques and proclaimed that Bush’s ‘global war on terror’ was in fact a war on Muslims — both abroad, with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but also at home with the passage of anti-terrorist legislation — that should be opposed by Muslims as Muslims. Like the radical Islamists, they denounced New Labour as Islamophobic and racist.” Arya Zahedi also discerns the ideological source of leftist ambivalence toward, if not outright support for, jihadist forces in the disastrous legacy of “Third World populism,” together with the imperative of anti-imperialism at any cost. Zahedi contends that, beginning in the 1980s, “the Left was theoretically disarmed by the fact that it was now confronted with a new state formation [i.e., the Islamic Republic] that was at once anti-imperialist and deeply reactionary.”

While it might seem so at first, the authors are not simply reciting the familiar objection that “Islam is not a race, so how can anxiety over its spread be racist?” Certainly, the term is slightly confusing, almost a misnomer. Gruppe Soziale Kämpfe has recommended the phrase “anti-Muslim racism” as an alternative, since it is doubtless more important to defend members of a religious minority against state persecution than defend articles of faith against blasphemy. Pegida stands for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” so maybe “Islamophobia” is a fairly fitting description. “The problem with the word ‘Islamophobia’ lies not so much in the concept itself as in the way it is used for manipulative purposes,” Grim and Pinot-Noir argue. “Similarly, the concept of antisemitism is manipulative whenever the term is presented as equivalent to anti-Zionism and ultimately ‘Judeophobia,’ based on the claim that criticism of Zionism necessarily indicates a racist attitude towards ‘Jews’ rather than a critique of the colonial character of Israel as a confessional state.” Matthew Lyons of Three-Way Fight, a platform known for its nuanced perspective on Israel, has offered a detailed point-by-point refutation of the charge that left-wing anti-Zionism is always anti-Jewish.

One criticism I’d make is that even though many radical Islamists often use the accusation of “Islamophobia” to silence criticisms of Islam, it is nevertheless the case that some criticisms of Islam are nothing but thinly-veiled Islamophobic hate-mongering. It’s similar to the way that many militant Zionists often use the accusation of “antisemitism” to silence criticisms of Israel. Nevertheless, it is still the case.that some criticisms of Israel are nothing but thinly-veiled antisemitic hate-mongering. Like any other religion, Islam may be criticized both for its ideological effects and the deeds carried out in its name. Like any other nation, Israel may be criticized both for its ideological effects and the deeds carried out in its name. Yes, it is true that to focus exclusively on such mystifications is to remain at the level of Ideologiekritik, which leaves the underlying material relations untouched. God and country are powerful condensations of thought, however, so it must not be thought impossible that the superstructure might react upon the.base..Kolektivně.proti kapitálu has usefully disaggregated the two while still stressing the need to oppose both in its pamphlet “Against Religious Fanaticism, Against the State.”

Here the alleged conceptual isomorphy between Islamophobia and antisemitism actually works in a certain negative sense. This is not to.say.Islamophobia.is.the.new.antisemitism, of course, which is an oft-repeated but usually idiotic claim (most compellingly made by Shlomo Sand, formerly of Matzpen, in his article on the shift “From Judeophobia to Islamophobia”). One does not replace the other, or vice versa. Rather, they simultaneously coexist as accusations that provide rhetorical cover for reactionary ideologies — Islamism and Zionism, respectively. Beyond mere diversionary rhetoric, though, there is also a real and positive correlation between Islamophobia and antisemitism. Emmanuel Todd has suggested that rising levels of popular discontent with “Muslamic immigration” might portend broader antipathy toward “Judeo-globalism,” for some evinced by yesterday’s Brexit vote. Sand is skeptical, as he told interviewers in April, but statistics seem to indicate that the demographer Todd is right on this score. Yves Coleman of the French left communist website Mondialisme concurs with this analysis. In a long essay on “Antisemitism and Anti-Muslim Racism in Europe” (2015) Coleman wrote:

Antisemites and anti-Muslim racists hide their political agenda behind all sorts of radical, leftish, or pseudo-humanist reasoning: some pretend to be moved by the suffering of the Palestinians, while others say they only want to defend women’s rights and democracy. Some will say that European Muslims should not be blamed for what happens in the Middle East and North Africa, but then blame European or American Jews for what happens in Israel. Others believe Europeans Muslims should spend all of their time condemning Daesh (ISIS), Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda, but will defend any military aggression of Tzahal, so-called “targeted strikes” with their inevitable “collateral damage,” or make lousy excuses for racist Israeli settlers and far-right Zionist politicians.

Léon de Mattis, known to readers of English for several pieces that have been translated in Sic“Communist Measures,” “Reflections on Call,” and “What is Communization?” — denounced the notion of “Islamophobia” as a “political and conceptual racket” [« racket conceptuel au racket politique »] in a talk this last winter. Perhaps he is correct in this appraisal, insofar as politics organized around the prefix “anti-” usually latch onto one element of existing society and direct it against another considered more unbearable. Bernard Lyon of Theorie Communiste is, after all, a comrade of Mattis, and it is he who authored “We Are Not ‘Anti-’.” Gilles Dauvé, following Bordiga, lambasted anti-fascism as “the worst [political] product of fascism.” On similar grounds, he rejected anti-imperialist politics: “I’m against imperialism, be it French, British, US, or Chinese. But I’m not an ‘anti-imperialist,’ since that is a political position which supports national liberation movements in opposition to imperialist powers. I’m against fascism, be it Hitler or Le Pen. But I’m not an ‘anti-fascist,’ since this is a political position which regards fascism as an enemy to be destroyed at all costs and sides with bourgeois democrats as a ‘lesser evil,’ postponing revolution until fascism is disposed of.” Meanwhile, Adolph Reed has disparagingly described anti-racism as “vague politics about an nearly indescribable thing.” Anti-humanism might be the only thing I can think of that’s worse than humanism.

All the same, I’d like to remind everyone of the outstanding essay by Yasmine Kateb, Malika Amaouche, and Léa Nicolas-Teboul from June 2015, “Toward a Materialist Approach to the Racial Question: A Response to the Indigènes de la République.” In calling attention to this impressive rebuttal, which I consider somewhat subtler and more sophisticated than the “anti-Islamophobia” piece, it would be foolish to flatly counterpose the two. French comrades inform me that there has already been some tension between the authors of these texts, mostly over questions of methodology. On the surface this is surprising, because they otherwise seem to agree on many issues. Kateb, Amaouche, and Nicolas-Teboul warn against taking a view that prioritizes one form of oppression over the other. “We observe mounting Islamophobia and.antisemitism..These two are a pair: in a context where social segregation is increasing, and the logic of all-against-all spins out of control, we must work to think of these things in conjunction and reject any competition between different racial oppressions; but also to examine Islamophobia and antisemitism together in all their specificity.” Grim and Pinot-Noir, by contrast, seem to think that even mentioning race or nation as a factor in history (Bordiga) already concedes too much ground to the decolonial theorists they’re critiquing.

2 thoughts on “Notes on ideology and Islamophobia

  1. “Gilles Dauvé, following Bordiga, lambasted anti-fascism as “the worst [political] product of fascism.” On similar grounds, he rejected anti-imperialist politics: “I’m against imperialism, be it French, British, US, or Chinese. But I’m not an ‘anti-imperialist,’ since that is a political position which supports national liberation movements in opposition to imperialist powers. I’m against fascism, be it Hitler or Le Pen. But I’m not an ‘anti-fascist,’ since this is a political position which regards fascism as an enemy to be destroyed at all costs and sides with bourgeois democrats as a ‘lesser evil,’ postponing revolution until fascism is disposed of.”

    This is in deed in line with Bordiga’s theories, which was famously criticized by Lenin in “Left-Wing Communism” as well as by Gramsci.

    The problem I see with this attitude, also in regard with anti-islamophobia, is that focuses on pure principles but lacks to understand social and historical context. One can say anti-imperialism or anti-fascism as such is insufficient on its own, while seeing that it is still a progressive position (at least in the context of national liberation and in case of a true fascist menace). Furthermore, by rejecting those positions as such how could an avant-garde connect to the masses and lead them towards further understanding. This is basically the reason why Lenin participates at the bourgeois parliament and works within existing unions instead of creating new ones.
    The same should apply to so anti-islamophobia.

    Adolph reed makes in deed a much more convincing argument, as anti-imperialism and anti-fascism were precise political positions, anti-racism and anti-islamophobia are not.

    In my understanding, Houria Bouteldja and the PIR represent a form of neo-garveyrism which should be denounced as reactionary and fought against.
    But to do so, one should not deny islamophobia or denounce it as a racket, but more so try to acknowledge it and give at serious definition (meaning a definition within the context of a class divided society). Because, to be honest, the word doesn’t actually mean anything anymore.

  2. Pingback: Anatomy of a controversy | The Charnel-House

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