Sunday, 6 February 2011

Islamophobia in America: Just Another US Bogeyman?

When fear is the currency by which power is obtained, the world soon becomes a place with a new threat around every corner.  It is not difficult to see the parallels between the demonisation of cold war communist states by the West, and the exoticisation of Islam as a blanket mass of unyielding fundamentalists that are ready, at a moment, to destroy their main 'enemy'. That is; to destroy the freedom loving citizens of the West whose free and liberal behaviours are unGodly in the extreme and who are overdue for the fire and brimstone wrath-of-God treatment that they so richly deserve for their pernicious ways. Hmmm ...

In reality, the situation is far more complex, as the idea that the Islamic world is homogeneous is an idea that exists outside of Islam, in the minds of people who have had very little contact with, or experience of, ordinary muslim societies everywhere.  It is a convenient characterisation, captured in what Edward Said entitles, "orientalism". It is not unlike the blanket characterisation that communist societies enjoyed in the cold war period. The idea that Islamic people everywhere can, at the single religious command, abandon all their value systems to go to war to save their faith, is a misplaced idea that was created and fostered through the prejudicial lenses of the west. 

In the 1980's almost every American action movie featured American heroes pitting themselves against robot-like communists who fought till the death like brainwashed zombie-nazi's, unable to be and feel human in any way; pure converts to the worldwide cult of communism. In Rambo III, the Afghanistani Mujahedien where typecast as "Holy Warriors", fighting for their faith against the Godless communists of the Soviet Union. They became heroes in American eyes when they pushed the Communists out of Afghanistan with American support, giving the fading communist dream a taste of it's own medicine i.e. after the Soviet Union had funded and equipped Marxist-Lenninist revolutionary movements worldwide in third world developing countries, creating huge obstacles for Western capitalist dreams of global expansion.  

But the 'holy warrior' stigma stuck so well in the American and western imagination that it became hard to unstick.  When decades later after drumming up Islamist fervour in Afghanistan to out the communists this fervour turned against the Americans - primarily for the role they have played the politics of the Middle East - the holy warrior became the bogeyman. And just like the communists, when one started to count their numbers, their sheer numbers made them even more scary. What if they wanted to take over the world? 

And thus, a comedy turns to tragedy, and all Muslims are branded with the same mark, the mark of inherent extremism.  It defies imagination to understand how this simplistic notion can spread so rapidly without some level of prejudice already existing in a society, which in the case of the West is the fear of foreigners and foreign cultures. David Cameron announced yesterday that multiculturalism in Britain had failed, because they had not provided a vision for  multiculturalism that rose above the age-old 'separate but tolerant' idea of multiculturalism; that there had to be something more to offer society as a vision for living together.  Indeed, it is this failure that lies at the heart of the prejudice that informs Islamophobia. In short, living together without understanding each other is not working. Very quickly, anybody can become the bogeyman. All it takes is a good dose of fear.

And it is this fear that sells newspapers, gets television news viewership numbers up, internet media site hit increases, and 'goes viral' very quickly in society.  It also enables unscrupulous leaders to manipulate the public psychology against the 'threats' that are lurking everywhere, just waiting for any opportunity to 'destroy their way of life'. All this is nothing new, and it smacks of the cynicism and drama of Hitlerian proportions that is employed by authoritarians everywhere to manipulate people into fear in order to maintain their own power and authority. 

But, as David Cameron has recognised very clearly, the root causes of this level of prejudice lies in the 'separate but tolerant' model of multiculturalism as it exists in the West. It has failed to bring about true integration, where societies live together with a profoundly deep understanding of each other's communities and what it means for them to belong to a society that they have created with each other. The US is no exception to this failure, and the levels of cultural ignorance that exists in the US, ironically flies in the face of the diversity of cultures that occupy it. I contend it is for the same reason that David Cameron identifies. America is especially vulnerable because all one has to do is replace one bogeyman with another - the psychological and emotional spaces have been in play for so long in society that the preconditions for the bogeyman syndrome are strongly interwoven into the public psyche. Thus, the bogeyman, always latent in the mists of the western vision, can jump into existence without a moments notice, a changeling shadow that follows them everywhere, waiting to leap out of the sidewalk.  

It seems that it is difficult for Americans in particular to imagine that people everywhere can be more similar than different, because they have a lot of potential bogeymans to worry about; having entered into conflicts in almost every region of the world since the second world war. But, the key to unlocking this situation lies in the understanding that the roots of the bogeyman syndrome lie in the 'separate but tolerant' models of cultural co-existence that have by-and-large dominated spatial and social development in the cities and towns of America and Britain, and in European countries, and it is at this level that changes need to be made in order for a more balanced social psychology to exist and prosper in the west.  Anyone with half a mind knows that to live in fear is to live in hell, and it follows that any society that is driven by fear is bound to be dysfunctional. True multiculturalism and social stability will arrive when western society rids itself of the propensity to repeatedly replace one scarecrow for another i.e. when this cycle of behaviour is finally broken. If nothing is done about it, and I am correct, Asia will be next in line for the bogeyman treatment after the west is done with demonising muslims. When you see yellow fever dawning on the horizon, remember what I had to say about the bogeyman.

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