Sometimes the difference between liberals and conservatives really isn’t that far. In The Nation, while reviewing White Liberal thought that led to increased incarceration of black people during the last fifty years, Willie Osterweil made the point that White conservatives don’t believe that racism exists but fundamentally believe that race does. White liberals, however, believe that racism exists, but not race. American liberalism is rooted in individualism and has a difficult time seeing past that, even while it makes sweeping generalizations. I think the same can be said for White/Western liberals and conservatives irt Muslims and Islam.
White conservatives think that Muslims (as in the people of color – North Africans, Sub-saharan Africans, Middle Easterners, Central Asians, etc.) are savages and so their religion reflects that. White liberals will say that Muslims aren’t savages naturally, it’s just that their religion makes them that way.
It’s a blood-thin line, you see.
Outside of the racism (which neither will admit to, arguing that Islam is a religion and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of its adherents are non-White), this view of Muslims as point-of-fact savage in one way or another is justification for endless war. While the endless war is a tool of empire and capitalism, it needs to be justified to a population that sees itself as civilized. The Myth of Civilization in fact needs an alter ego, a demon – the uncivilized. The Other. The foreigner. The Oriental.
Edward Said would look at the vast majority of portrayals of Muslims through popular entertainment and news media and would not be at a loss. In the 1990’s, even before the mass upgrade of the Military Industrial Complex’s to the permanent War on Terror, even before the literal bombardment of Muslims through perpetual foot soldiers, mercenaries, US-based oil companies, and drones, Muslims were exotified, other-ized, villified, barbarianized in the popular US imagination through movies and pop culture (in much the same way Natives have been within this land through popular imagination, through the Cowboys and Indians mythos of traveling road shows and John Wayne movies and Tonto-ism). The Oklahoma City bombing was first blamed on Muslim extremism. Muslims and Middle Easterners were and are the easy villains of popular imagination – from Blackhawk Down to Alladin‘s Jafar to the literally faceless hordes gunned down by Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Popular media primed the Western mind for the War on Terror.
Now every terrorist attack – whether domestic or international – is blamed matter-of-factly on Muslims and Islam. It doesn’t matter that most of the victims of terror done by extremist Muslims are Muslim. White Conservatives will blame Muslims while White Liberals will blame Muslim Extremists – by which they mean REAL Muslims.
Christians and Atheists and Jews get to come in various forms and in different aspects with vastly different worldviews within their prospective religions (or lack-of-religions). But not Muslims. Because Muslims are Orientalized, they are simplified. In this imagination, there are, at most, Good Muslims and Bad Muslims just as, in the popular White imagination, there are Good Black people and Bad Black people. The Good ones are like us. The Bad want to kill us.
There are of course concerns within the wide world of majority-Muslim countries. There are concerns within Islam. Patriarchy and gendered violence is strong in many of these regions. And there are many attendant factors within that which shock Westerners. But shocking does not preclude the fact that very similar things happen in our own shores and next door and possibly in our own homes. Domestic violence is rampant in the US and in every demographic. Every day, three women are killed by intimate partners in the US. These are de facto honor killings. Domestic violence happens predominantly and exponentially in impoverished communities. It is nine times more likely to happen among the poorest in the States than among the richest. So, community and resource investment is important. So is dismantling patriarchy. But this must be internal. Sending poor people from here who are already predispositioned to violence (due to economic and psycho-socio violence perpetuated on them through generations upon generations) is a perverse practice of perpetuity. American violence is exported to the Middle East, intensified and imported back again to the American household and against our own women.
There is an irony that one of the primary justifications for anti-Muslim violence is to free women from the oppression of Islamic violence, forgetting that we are also bombing and killing Muslim women. Through the pretense of fighting for the independence of women, anti-Muslim fears welcome and perpetuate anti-women violence both home and abroad.
Yet talk of “spreading democracy” and freeing them from their own oppression is not just meaningless, it is in itself an act of violence. White liberals who say this are advocating the same “blow it all to smithereens” policies that white conservatives argue for. A democracy that is forced on the people through warfare is no democracy. It is colonialism and despotism.
That seems a lesson that is not just difficult for White Conservatives but for White Liberals as well. But then whiteness is, after all, primarily colonial, primarily conquering, primarily about supremacy.