Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Clash of Civilization: A Racial Discourse

Dr. Hatem Bazian -- Nov 19, 2015

The often-cited clash of civilization thesis promoted by rightwing politicians, religious extremists, and public figures is predicated on extending and reformulating the already discredited notions of “scientific/biological racism” into new categories based on cultural, religious, and ethnic norms--nebulous and difficult to define terms, as the concept of race itself.  In the clash of civilization rhetoric, the theorized cultural, religious, and ethnic differences are given; essentially, fixed, undynamic and ahistorical meanings that are rooted in colonialist, racist, and orientalized epistemologies.  This essentialist clash of civilization conceptualization, then gets promoted by its advocates, into popular political discourses and enacts policies on its basis. 

Samuel P. Huntington popularized usage of the phrase clash of civilization first in a lecture at the neo-conservative den, the American Enterprise Institute, then, eventually, an article and an often-cited 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.  Huntington asserted, “that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic.”  Furthermore, adding: “the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.”  Conveniently, after the Cold War, Huntington posited that the future clash would emerge from the "Sino-Islamic connection" thus, enjoining the fear of Islam and China’s rising economic power.   

The clash of civilization argument was followed by another book, Who Are We?  The Challenges to America’s National Identity, which problematized Mexican and Latino immigration to the US.   Huntington projected Latinos as an emerging threat to the unity and cohesion of the country.  What was threatening to Huntington and his ilk is that the large scale Latino immigration could "divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages."   The assumption is so spurious about America’s unity and the threat posed by Latinos.  This is the sophisticated racism of the upper-crusted dons of academia who use language, books, and articles to burn crosses with white robes and hoods into the collective meadows of our mental imagination. 

The clash of civilization rhetoric has been deployed against Mexican-Americans and Latinos in general, Blacks and Native Americans in the past and present, Muslim and African immigrants in Europe and North America, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese as a byproduct of the current economic instability.  In all these cases, the evidence and data are irrelevant for the clash of civilization warriors and no need to examine the causes and stimuli for what is taking place across many parts of the world, since all are secondary to the real reason-- the inferior cultures, religions and ethnicities under scrutiny.   Trump, Carson and others in the Republican presidential primaries are crudely parroting Huntington’s arguments when speaking of immigration, Islam, minorities and China, for they have internalized the clash of civilization thesis and made it operative as a blueprint for their campaigns.

More alarmingly, cultural and ethnic differences in the present period are intentionally and sophisticatedly amplified by clash of civilization warriors, so as to serve a utilitarian function in empire’s efforts.  These are directed at hegemonic control and consolidation of power across the globe.  Empire needs the made to be feared other to justify its imperial power and militaristic ventures at home and abroad.  By accepting the clash of civilization as a point of departure, the civilizational warriors make it possible for empire to unleash total war on the Global South, which conveniently, is assigned the subhuman inferior epistemic and the made to be feared other.  If the Global South is inferior and is projected as a permanent and unchanging threat, then the natural and only conclusion to prevent the barbarians from storming the metaphorical civilization’s gates, is total war and constant intervention.  

A clash of civilization is a prerequisite for empire’s expansion, rationalization of violence, and constant direct and indirect interventions in the Global South.  The war and intervention by empire serves as a never-ending chemotherapy treating a terminal cancer case called civilizational deficiency syndrome.   A clash of civilization discourse makes it possible to reconfigure and reprogram the biological racial colonial epistemic in the post-colonial period into the vagueness of culture; while affirming a hierarchy of human and races values based on a fictitious assertion of Eurocentric universalism and uniqueness of Whiteness.   A clash of civilization discourse makes it possible for the ahistorical and fictitious to dominate and shape the empirically verifiable historical record.  

I have more questions than answers to conclude this essay, in the hope, it can lead to a deeper examination of the structures that creates and punishes the other.  How to view the immigration and refugee crisis, securitization policies, interventionist wars under the rubric of open-ended war on terrorism, economic and political interventions, as well as, social and educational projects as an extension of clash of civilization discourses?  More importantly, who, when, how, and by what methods will a response and a counter-narrative be constructed that does not only retort with a critique but offer an inclusive, diverse, truly multi-epistemic in approach, that de-center the Eurocentric center while being truly sustainable and non-hegemonic? 

Hatem Bazian, PhD is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Terrorism is wrongly framed!


by Dr. Hatem Bazian -- Nov 18, 2015


In the aftermath of Paris terrorist attacks, politicians took to the airwaves to shape public opinion and insert a heavy dose of Islamophobia and clash of civilization venom. Marc Rubio said these attacks are a “wake-up call” and urging the country to commit itself to “civilizational war against radical Islam.” Former Governor Jeb Bush wanted to outdo his understudy, Rubio, by declaring: “This is an organized effort to destroy Western civilization and we need to lead in this regard.” The moral and ethical low-grounds were claimed by none other than Senator Ted Cruz who called for altering rules of military engagement, in such a way as to, “not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life.” Defending civilization by killing civilians should be Cruz’s presidential motto!

On his part, Trump attacked Obama’s Middle East policy as weak and suggesting to an audience that he has “instincts” for terrorism in the same way that he has it for “a good location" in real estate deals. Critically, Trump emphasized his readiness to close down US mosques and urged security institutions “to watch and study the mosques because a lot of talk is going on at the mosques." In France, Marie Le Pen wrote on Twitter: “For the sixth time in 2015, Islamic terrorism has hit our country,” and "French people are crying for the dead and I cry with them." 

What is clear from Republican candidates in the US and Le Pen in France, is that the extreme rightwing wasted no time in attempting to ride another terrorism tragedy into ballot boxes. The rightwing immediately shift away from the heinous crimes committed by terrorists into a debate about Syrian Refugees, immigration, the Iran deal and Muslims in Western society--this adding insult to injury of the attacks. Real questions must be asked and appropriate measures taken to address the crisis of terrorism holistically and not electioneering soundbites. 

The unequivocal point to be made first is that Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism and counterterrorism efforts. Terrorists kill Muslims so as to force them to adhere to their distorted worldview and likewise when Western states and their allies undertake military reprisals, Muslim civilians are the primary victims. While we should mourn every human life equally, however, in reality we rarely stop to mourn, humanize, and put a face and name to Muslim and Arab victims of terrorism and counterterrorism efforts. 

Terrorism is a tactic that has no religious identity. The constant proclivity of civilizational warriors on both sides to clothe the tactic in religious garb does a disservice to efforts at countering or addressing the problem of terrorism. A terrorist claim of defending Islam gets a long mileage when Cruz, Trump, and Le Pen place the “Islamic” adjective on that which is criminal and heinous. Inserting “Islamic” or “Islam” in the debate shifts away from the criminal terrorist as an individual and moves the focus instead to his/her faith and community (local and global) as the “real” problem. Precisely, this shift is the cause that makes it possible on the one hand for the terrorists to use it to claim a civilizational war on the West and the Islamophobes to push Muslims in Western societies to the margins because they don’t belong in the West.

The loudest voices are calling for another round of bombings and more intervention as if the past 15 years (more like 30 years) have not established the limitations and futility of this approach. The same neoconservatives and their allies will not concede failure and will bomb their way into Armageddon before admitting that their invasion of Iraq is the decisive factor in the ongoing chaos. In addition, no one in the US, Europe, or the Gulf will take responsibility for the Frankenstein laboratory that developed the Jihadi platoons in Afghanistan and unleashed it on the Russians in 1980s.

More intervention, bombing raids, and drones will not resolve this problem. In the absence of a real political, economic, social, and educational project in the region, terrorism becomes the instrument through which regional actors with support from global allies settle their disputes. 

If war is politics by other means then terrorism is politics by choice deployed by regional and global actors to prevent real change and alternatives from emerging. In reality, terrorism flourishes when politics runs into a dead-end wall. Look at the list: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Israel, Mali, Central African Republic, Chechnya, Pakistan, Somalia, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Ukraine all have run into a dead end wall where violence has become the only politics. 

Reducing terrorism to mere religious identity markers frames the problem wrongly and is driven by electioneering politics. It is easy to have a candlelight vigil but much more difficult to ask about the policies that brought the world to this point. Who supplied the weapons and ammunition to these groups? Why continue to sell weapons in a region soaked in blood? And who benefits from propping up and rewarding undemocratic regimes that have sent more of its young populations to Da’ish than to universities? 

Hatem Bazian, PhD is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley.