Monday, November 23, 2015


by Ronald T. Fox

Islamophobia IV

Hostility to immigrants and refugees has become a defining characteristic of American politics. While Republicans have almost unanimously embraced it, particularly against people from the Middle East, many Democrats have also jumped on the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee bandwagon. I thought Donald Trump established a new low when he characterizes immigrants from Mexico as criminals and rapists and called for a wall to be built along the Mexican border, but using the Paris attacks to scapegoat some of the world’s most desperate and vulnerable people to score political points is demagoguery at its worst. By adding Islamophobia to their repertoire of bigotry, Republicans are playing into the hands of Islamist extremists.

Islamophobia IIAfter a brief debate, the House recently passed HR 4038 which would severely tighten restrictions on Iraqi and Syrian refugees hoping to enter the U.S. Forty-seven Democrats joined in the affirmative vote, which President Obama has promised to veto if it reaches his desk. In their now familiar game of one-upmanship, Republican candidates for president have pushed the anti-Muslim ante even further. Reminiscent of Nazi Germany, Trump, claiming Muslim refugees are “trojan horses for terrorism,” has called for closing mosques, establishing a database for Muslims in the U.S., and even suggested requiring them to carry IDs noting their religion. Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs.” Jeb Bush thinks that only Syrian Christians should be admitted. The presidential hopefuls seem to be in a competition to see who can be the most Islamophobic. Who will be the first to call for Muslim internment camps (Like a Democrat Virginia mayor did)?

As is usually the case with right-wing reactions to anything that raises their ire, GOP Islamophobia is disconnected from facts. It apparently doesn’t matter that the identified suspects in Paris were of French and Belgian nationality, not Syrian, or that, according to the Migration Policy Institute, there has been about one arrest for terrorist activities for every 250,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. since 9/11. Nor does it matter that our current refugee policy prioritizes children, female heads of households, victims of torture, the elderly and those requiring medical care. Republican politicians also appear oblivious to the fact that refugee admission is the most stringently vetted pathway into the U.S. It averages two years; HR 4038 would add at least two more. Given the multitude of obstacles to entry, one wonders why a terrorist would try to enter the U.S. via the refugee route. 
Advocates of banning and monitoring Muslim refugees say they simply want to tighten security to keep Americans safe. This was the excuse given for why we blocked the entry of Jewish refugees in the 1930s and early 1940s. It was also used to rationalize the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. One can only wonder how many talented and upstanding human beings won’t have a chance to contribute to a better America because of Islamophobia.
It’s shameful enough that profiling and discriminating against worshipers of Islam is occurring in a country that has enshrined freedom of religion and other fundamental rights in its founding documents (it’s noteworthy that despite the Paris attacks, French President Hollande announced his country would accept 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years), but worse yet is that this pattern of behavior is aiding and abetting extremist Jihadists.

Paris Attack
Paris in Mourning
It is well known to those who have closely followed events in the Greater Middle East since 9/11 that a key component of jihadist strategy is to sharpen the division between Muslims and non-Muslims in order to instigate what American pundits like to call a “clash of civilizations.” Any act that provokes Western governments to clamp down on their own Muslim populations is justified. Unspeakable horrors like beheadings and mass executions, often filmed and broadcast with a Hollywood flair, and murderous terrorist attacks like took place recently in Paris, are calculated to provoke Western overreaction, retaliation and crackdowns on Muslims at home.
Creating a black and white world with no “gray zones” is what Osama bin Laden envisioned. He was prescient in predicting how easily the West could be provoked into heavy-handed military reactions. George W. Bush proved accommodating when he told the world after 9/11: “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”

Discrimination against Muslims in Western countries and denigration of their religion in print and on the air have proven to be a potent extremist recruitment tool. So have the bombing campaigns, drone killings, and various military interventions on the ground. These actions have done far more to spark extremism that to stifle it. After all, it was the US invasion of Iraq that paved the way for the rise of ISIS. (See my previous post: The Blame Game)
Despite years of bitter experiences in the Middle East, military engagement continues to be our dominant policy response to international terrorism. Every jihadist we kill, every civilian who dies in our crossfire, every Muslim we repress, radicalizes more people and deepens the pool of jihadist recruits. An increasing number of foreign grown terrorists are rising to the call. The extremist groups are fully aware of this, which is why they plan actions designed to drive the US and its allies into deeper military involvement. So far they’ve succeeded. Whether they will in the future depends on the American people. Republicans and their neo-conservative sponsors are determined not to let wiser heads prevail.
Rabid war-mongering by conservatives, militants, and Americans thirsting for revenge in the wake of the Paris attacks is adding fuel to the terrorist fire. Republicans blast Obama as responsible for the rise, expansion and boldness of ISIS, but offer no coherent alternative for how we should deal with the extremist threat. Getting tougher is no strategy. Dropping more bombs, sending in our troops, bombing oil fields, as Donald Trump has suggested, is no solution. Even if such acts disrupt, or even roll back, ISIS expansion, even if they cut off a vital source of its funding, even if we kill scores of terrorist leaders, such successes are likely to be only temporary. What follows is usually worse.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in America’s military approach to changing regimes and fighting Islamist extremists is that we seem to be following the failed Vietnam script that towns and villages need be destroyed in order to save them. The scorched earth strategy didn’t work in Vietnam and it won’t work in the Greater Middle East. With US air support for Kurdish fighters, ISIS was driven out of Kobani and Sinjar, but these towns have been left largely uninhabitable.

Kobani Syria
A Destroyed Kobani, Syria
If we leave vast destruction in our wake, with destroyed buildings and infrastructure (oil in particular), what will be left to enable a reasonable democratic regime to emerge from the rubble? Will the “victors” be able to reconstruct flattened towns, restore a sustainable economy, establish order? The reality is a scorched earth strategy sets the table for more extremism, and we can expect that what comes next will likely be worse than ISIS, as it has been worse than al Qaeda. Military occupation may help us maintain order, but what happens when we leave? Most Americans wisely have no stomach for another occupation; we’ve been there, done that.
This has been the legacy of our striving for a military solution to the jihadist evil. It’s a natural consequence of our drive to “win.” Our 14 years of failed wars, military interventions, and conflicts of every kind in the Greater Middle East have helped create failed states in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, fuel regional chaos, provoke more terrorism by increasingly murderous groups, and cause a catastrophic refugee crisis. Bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State, couldn’t have written a better script.
In previous Phronesis essays, and in conversations with friends, I’ve been critical of President Obama’s policies and leadership, in particular his Syria policy. I must say, however, that I stand in great admiration for how he’s standing up to growing pressure in Washington for a big military response to the latest terrorist atrocity. And, I applaud the high ground he’s taken on growing Islamophobia. He was at his finest when in his press conference in Turkey he called out those Americans that advocated a Christian litmus test for immigration, saying: …when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religions test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted…. That’s shameful. That’s not American… We don’t have religious tests for our compassion.” Obama has promised that Syrian refugees will be admitted.
Trump and Muslim
Trump Ready to Kick Ass
Despite the efforts of Obama and other global leaders to call for calm and a reasoned response to terrorist attacks, the Paris rampage, and other horrific terrorist events that will surely occur in the future given the vulnerability of soft targets, the political appeal of right-wing, hyper-nationalist, Muslim hate groups are likely to spike. This will be especially true in countries with significant Muslim populations and upcoming presidential elections. In France, Marine Le Pen’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant National Front Party has already surged in the polls. Neo-Nazis are on the rise in Germany. Donald Trump’s support rose after his recent anti-Muslim outbursts.
Let us hope that conservative Americans will put love of country and the values for which we stand above their hatred for Muslims and President Obama. And, let us hope Americans won’t succumb to fear and hatred and lash out at all Muslims, for if we do, the terrorists will have won. The only enemy that can defeat us is ourselves.

Islamophobia I


  1. "The presidential hopefuls seem to be in a competition to see who can be the most Islamophobic. Who will be the first to call for Muslim internment camps..."

    If former presidential hopefuls count, that would be Gen. Wesley Clark, 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidate... *before* the Paris attacks.

  2. I find it strange that the word "containment" never enter the policy discussion on how to deal with the Middle East morass and ISIS, in particular. I tend to disagree that US policy created the problems in Syria, Libya and Yemen (you could throw in Egypt) - unless you want to give us credit for the so-called "Arab spring." The evolution of the uprisings against these autocratic regimes seem to be taking a very familiar course. The first step in the fall of the Romanovs was the formation of a somewhat democratic, but short-lived, Provisional Government. As might have been expected in a nation with little or no familiarity with democratic governing, it relatively quickly transformed into the Stalinist USSR, which lasted about 70 years before somewhat democratic currents led to its demise. I submit that the policy of containment worked to allow those currents to flow. Of course, it is yet to be a Western-style democracy (perhaps never will be), but Putin is no Stalin (certain US press characterizations notwithstanding), not even Brezhnev. The point is these things take time. The problem is to figure out the equivalent of that containment policy in today's world -- one that will work against a stateless (so far) adversary. Hopefully, Americans will have the patience to pursue it.


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