Opposing Imperialism and Islamism

There was a searing editorial in the Times the other week, dictated by one of the men still being held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. A hunger strike is spreading among the detainees there, which strikes me as an understandable response of men driven to despair by endless and indefinite imprisonment in a legal black hole. (The military authorities are retaliating with the barbaric and intensely painful measure of forced feeding.)

When the accused Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev was captured, Senator Lindsay Graham demanded he be put into military custody. He clearly said this for no reason other than that the Tsarnaev brothers were Muslims, since he never called for military detention for the man who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed several innocent bystanders, or the mass murderer who sprayed bullets inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Other terrorists have been denied civilian trials, which is a perfectly just and reasonable way to deal with such criminals, thanks to the belligerence of Republicans and the spinelessness of Democrats.

The fallout of our disastrous “war on terror” continues to reverberate around the world. Iraq is sliding back into chaos and dictatorship. America’s undeclared and semi-secret drone war is ongoing in Pakistan, Yemen and possibly elsewhere, randomly dealing death from the sky and then retroactively classifying everyone killed as an “enemy combatant” so they can claim with a straight face that no innocent person has ever been killed by a drone. People, including acknowledged innocent people like Khalid el-Masri and Maher Arar, have been scooped up in military dragnets, flown to countries that routinely practice torture, subjected to waterboarding, chained in stress positions, kept in freezing rooms, denied sleep for hours or days – all of which were tactics practiced by the Nazis.

All these things are reprehensible; most of them are war crimes. It outrages me that they’re being done in my name, in the name of a democracy that supposedly respects and defends human rights, and it’s disgraceful that President Obama has little or no inclination to stop them. (He put an end to torture, but he’s taken no steps to investigate or to prosecute any of the people responsible for it.)

But at the same time, we have to face the fact that this isn’t a wholly one-sided conflict. As ruinous and counterproductive as American imperial militarism has been, the enemies against which we’re fighting aren’t imaginary.

In Afghanistan, the reconstituted Taliban are still attempting to murder girls who want an education and the people who would teach them. In Bangladesh, vast mobs are marching in the streets to demand that atheist bloggers be imprisoned and hanged. In Mali, a violent insurgency sought to impose hardline Islam all across the country, including smashing the ancient and historic tombs of Sufi saints, burning rare and precious books, and amputating hands and feet and doling out other barbaric punishments.

In Europe (and sometimes America), satirists who take even the mildest rhetorical jabs at Islam often find themselves targeted for murder by deranged fundamentalists who kill in the name of Allah. One French playwright was doused in gasoline by a homicidal fanatic in a failed attempt to immolate her in the street. The cartoonist who thought of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” had to change her name and go into hiding. In Muslim countries around the world, preachers and politicians whip up fury against harmless cartoons or blundering D-grade movies, sending the message that freedom of speech should be subject to an Islamic veto where it comes up against even the outermost bounds of religious sensibility, and too many people who should know better are buckling to them.

In my earlier post, “Why the New Atheism Isn’t Islamophobic“, I talked about some of this, but I want to put it in its larger context.

On one side of this battle are delusional, warmongering neoconservatives, aligned with the American religious right, who think that Muslims are irredeemable and subhuman and that preemptive invasion, torture, and wholesale denial of human rights is an appropriate way to deal with them. On the other are violent and ignorant Islamist thugs who dream of a new global caliphate and think they can bring it into being through random violence and terror against writers, against women, against ex-Muslims, and everyone else who won’t obey their harsh and austere theocratic vision.

I believe in universal human rights and in the ideals of the Enlightenment, which means I support neither of these factions. The problem, as I see it, is that criticizing either one of them often makes people assume you must be aligned with the other. (The example that comes to mind is this column by Glenn Greenwald, whom I usually agree with but who here far too blithely accuses “this New Atheist movement” of giving unqualified support to neoconservative aggression. Maryam Namazie has had the same experience.) And an even bigger problem is that good arguments – against both sides – have been tainted by racists, bigots, theocrats and warmongerers who make them in support of evil ends. (This is what Sam Harris was getting at with his infamous and easily misunderstood remark about how the danger of Islamic extremism is most clearly recognized by fascists.)

But the only antidote to bad speech is better speech, which means we have to keep making these arguments even if people we strongly disagree with are also making them. If we say these things often enough – and it probably helps to criticize both factions at the same time, as I’ve tried to do here – then it may begin to sink in that we’re a side all our own, supporting neither of the other two.

Image credit: Shutterstock

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Bruce Heerssen

    The world is not a binary system. There is a spectrum of ideologies that encompasses more than a linear, left-right political alignment. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who go blinkered their entire lives, and never see the diverse panapoly of people and cultures, and never recognize their diverse beliefs and attitudes.

    This is what we fight against: those who see everything in black and white; those who must cram everyone and everything in little boxes, each one arranged just so, in easily understood patterns.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

    In Afghanistan, the reconstituted Taliban are still attempting to murder girls who want an education and the people who would teach them. In Bangladesh, vast mobs are marching in the streets to demand that atheist bloggers be imprisoned and hanged. In Mali, a violent insurgency sought to impose hardline Islam all across the country, including smashing the ancient and historic tombs of Sufi saints, burning rare and precious books, and amputating hands and feet and doling out other barbaric punishments

    I’d like to believe these cultural and secular reasons are why we (the west) are intervening in these countries. But somehow I doubt it.

  • Improbable Joe

    I think we have a serious problem with people within the atheist community embracing the “there’s no such thing as Islamophobia” thing and thereby putting themselves squarely on the side of Western fascist bigots, often unintentionally. They’re so unwilling to cede an inch to “Islamsists” that they come down on the wrong side of the line. Especially here in America, where there have been multiple terrorist attacks against mosques over the last few years, it is bigotry to claim that Islamophobia is nothing more than a rhetorical dodge for Muslim extremists to avoid criticism.

    It is fine and good to criticize Islam. It is unacceptable to allow or even encourage bigotry to catch a ride on your arguments in your eagerness to attack and score points.

  • http://filipinofreethinkers.org/ Twin-Skies

    @Adam

    Quite interestingly, the Panorama documentary “The Power of Nightmares” did an indepth look into the rise of Neo-conservative movement in the US, and how it was paralleled by the rise of Bin Laden and the Taliban in the Middle East.

    I highly recommend the docu :D

  • Forrest Cahoon

    There is a definite image problem for atheists in that Sam Harris, who started off so well with his first two books, effectively equated every Muslim with the 9/11 hijackers in his attack on the “9/11 Mosque”, enthusiastically siding with the reprehensible right-wing bigot Pamela Geller. I don’t know when he slipped from thinking clearly into massive overgeneralization, but he’s firmly in the camp of delusional, warmongering neoconservatives now.

  • smrnda

    On the notion of suspending due process, the whole reason we have due process is to force people to handle criminals in a uniform way, where we don’t cut corners or twist elbows just because we happen to be more pissed off than usual. Due process exists so that, even when a particularly heinous crime has been committed, we can still say we provided a proper investigation, a fair trial, and that we didn’t just resort to mob rule and that we didn’t make some particular agents of the state de facto judge, juries and executioners.

  • Bdole

    Just the sort of thing I’d expect to hear from a lilly-livered, liberal, neocon fascist Muslim-loving Islamaphobe.

  • CelticPeace

    You said there are two sides.
    “On one side of this battle are delusional, warmongering neoconservatives, aligned with the American religious right… On the other are violent and ignorant Islamist thugs who dream of a new global caliphate”

    So what side is Obama on ? You said he is unwilling to stop the drone attacks, as if he does not truly endorse them. So is he IN the delusional, warmongering neoconservative camp ?, or is he just a spineless puppet of that camp ?

  • Kenneth Polit

    Once again Adam, you write what I’m thinking. How do you do that?

  • HA2

    @CelticPeace:

    Hard to tell. Makes some reasonable gestures and sometimes says the right thing, but doesn’t do that much about it. And the drone war is all under his watch.

    He’s probably better than the party that started the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but that’s not a very high bar…

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani J. Sharmin

    This reminds me of something I read a while back that was written by Maryam Namazie and Adam Barnett: a post on Namazie’s previous blog on blogspot called “The Far-Right and Islamism are two sides of the same coin”. (It’s part of a larger report.)

  • CelticPeace

    HA2 – as you say the bar is not very high. It is true he did not start the War in Afghanistan, however he strongly supported it when he ran for President. He even indicated it was the right war, and that we should not have diverted resources from there to Iraq. And of course he surged troups after he took office. While he opposes torture, he is comfortable serving as judge, jury and executioner, using the drones. No one knows how many innocents were also killed, as Adam points out. Not sure this is much better than torture. It appears he may also get us sucked into the Civil War in Syria.

  • Max1967

    Stopping immigration from Mu-s-lim countries has nothing to do with terror. Each country has the right to determined it’s future and characteristics. There are hundred of millions of Mu-s-lims that will be glad to come to the west. If the current trend continues; within a short period of time the west will be colonized by Mu-s-lims. A country has the right to have a selective immigration policy. A country has the right to preserve its nature.

  • GCT

    That doesn’t sound Islamophobic at all…no siree.

  • Bdole

    W-hya-re yo-u wr-it-ing Mus-li-ms-li-ke th-at -?

  • BJ Murphy

    Another great example of both playing into motion is the U.S. response to Syria’s internal conflicts. While the Syrian govt certainly has many things needing to be criticized, it should be recognized that the Assad-led govt and military are now fighting Islamic fundamentalists openly aligned with al-Qaeda.

    What makes it worse, despite the UN stating that there’s no evidence of the Assad govt using chemical weapons – most evidence, as circumstantial as they may be, in fact point to the Syrian rebels! – the U.S. govt is still considering arming the Syrian rebels against the Assad govt!

    This alignment between U.S. imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism is frightening, to say the least.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X