Thursday, July 29, 2010

From Red-baiting to Islamophobia

Ron Ramsey, the Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee, created controversy in the United States, and ripples of interest in many other parts of the world, by suggesting earlier this week that Islam might be a 'cult', rather than a religion, and thus not worthy of protection under US law. Ramsey, who is running a poor third in the race to be the Republican nominee for Governor of Tennessee, made his remarks after a man stood up at one of his election meetings and asked what ought to be done about "the threat that's invading our country from the Muslims". In a rambling, ungrammatical response to this ungrammatical query, Ramsey avowed that:

I’m all about freedom of religion. I value the First Amendment as much as I value the Second Amendment as much as I value the Tenth Amendment and on and on and on...We are a law - we live under our Constitution and they live under our Constitution. But it’s scary if we get there...I’ve been trying to learn about Sharia law, I’ve been trying to learn about what going on - it is not good if that’s what’s going on. Now, you could argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality way of life, or cult whatever you want to call it. But certainly, we do want to protect our religions, but at the same time, this is something that we are gonna have to face.

Ramsey's argument has been advanced rather more elegantly by a number of high-profile Western politicians in recent years, including most notably Geert Wilders, a man tipped by some commentators as a future Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Wilders, whose Party of Freedom holds nine seats in the Dutch parliament, considers the Koran a 'fascist book', which ought to be banned from his country, in the same way that Mein Kampf is banned. Wilders wants to pay the Muslim community of the Netherlands to emigrate.

For Wilders and his co-thinkers, Islam is distinguished from religions like Christianity and Judaism by its supposed insistence that all its followers adhere to the same rigid, inhumane code of beliefs and practices, and by its alleged insistence that the rest of world be converted, by foul means or fair, to these beliefs and practices. Where Christianity and Judaism allow believers to interpret their holy books, disregarding passages that have become irrelevant and sometimes even dangerous with the passage of time, Islam supposedly insists that all of its brainwashed followers live in the seventh century, and that they try to make the rest of us live there, too. Wilders has become a hero to right-wingers around the world, and Ramsey seems to be winning similar acclaim this week.

Critics of Wilders and Ramsey have pointed out the long and fractious history of Islamic theology, the many varieties of Islam that exist today, and the lack of interest of the vast majority of Western Muslims in forcibly converting their fellow citizens. Wilders' critics have quite correctly likened his demonisation of Muslims to the anti-semitic propaganda campaigns of the European far right in the 1930s. Although Wilders holds liberal views on certain subjects, like women's rights and gay rights, his desire to portray Muslims as an undifferentiated mass of fanatics bent on controlling the rest of humanity echoes Nazi presentations of 'der ewige Jew'. Contemporary Islamophobia seems like a new strain of an old and deadly virus.

But there is another precursor to anti-Muslim ideology which has gone largely unrecognised by commentators. During the decades after World War Two an hysterical anti-communism was part of the daily life of the United States and many of its Western allies. Newspapers and other media warned continually about the sinister designs of the Soviet Union and its supporters, politicians denounced the 'red menace' in a manner that was both fervent and ritualistic, and both alleged and actual communists lost their livelihoods and, in some cases, their liberty. If anybody wants to understand the ideological underpinnings of postwar anti-communism, they could do worse than study the film My Son John, which emerged from Hollywood in 1952, when the Korean War was raging and Senator Joe McCarthy was an American hero. The movie shows how the youngest son of an all-American family is exploited by a cell of evil communists. Unlike his two brothers, who are former football stars and military heroes, John is bookish, introverted, and a little arrogant. He lacks a girlfriend, and makes fun of his mother's wholesome Christianity. An unbalanced youth like John is easy prey for the commies, who brainwash him and set him to work as a spy. Before he is arrested by the FBI John is persuaded of the error of his ways by his parents, and tape records a warning of the perils of communist mind-control, which is played to an assembly at his old school. My Brother John reflects the widespread belief in 1950s America that communism was a cultish ideology which took over the minds of its adherents, prevented them from thinking and acting rationally and humanely, and made them into tools of a vast conspiracy.

A couple of years before My Brother John appeared, the philosopher Sidney Hook published an article in the New York Times called 'Heresy, Yes - Conspiracy, No'. Hook had been a communist in the 1930s, and had published a lucid study of the connections between the thought of Marx and that of American pragmatist philosophers like John Dewey. After becoming a critic of Stalin and a supporter of Trotsky in the late '30s, Hook had travelled rightwards, and ended up as a determined Cold Warrior. 'Heresy, Yes - Conspiracy, No', which was expanded into a short book in 1953, can be considered a highbrow rendition of the view of communism expressed in My Brother John. Hook argues that, because American society thrives on the 'free trade of ideas', all forms of intellectual 'heresy' ought to be tolerated. But communism cannot be tolerated in America, because it is a 'conspiracy' based upon secret organisation, manipulation of gullible minds with untruths, and the undermining of democratic institutions. If they are not shut out of public life and discourse, Marxists will inevitably make America resemble Stalin's Russia.

Portraying himself as a 'realistic liberal', in contrast to outdated 'ritualistic liberals' like his old mentor Dewey, Hook calls for universities and similar institutions to purge themselves of communists, and of anyone who sympathises with communists. (In one passage of the full-length version of his text, Hook seems to call for the exclusion of all opponents of the Korean War from university teaching positions.)

It is easy to see why 'Heresy, Yes - Conspiracy, No' became a Cold War classic. For university administrators and senior civil servants wanting to rid themselves of politically 'unreliable' staff, Hook furnished the perfect set of excuses. Because all Marxists, everywhere, in any age, inevitably engage in the same dishonest, dangerous tactics, it was not necessary for bosses to consider the actual practices of individual employees who were communists. The mere fact that an employee was sympathetic to Marxism ensured that he or she would inevitably engage in evil activities.

The Communist Party of the United States and its Kremlin bosses unwittingly helped the likes of Hook to construct an image of Marxism as a monolithic, teleological ideology. Like Hook, the Kremlin and its satellite parties in the West were keen to emphasise that Marx had produced a single, consistent body of ideas, that Lenin had developed these ideas in a logical manner, that Stalin had continued in Lenin's footsteps, and that around the world communists were a united force. Like Hook, the dogmatists of the Kremlin and its satellites relied on a few decontextualised quotes from Marx and Lenin to make their case, and ignored both the complexity of the vast bodies of texts Marx and Lenin had left behind and the divisions between different groups of Marxists, some of whom worshipped Stalin and some of whom despised the man and all his works.

Unlike communism, Islam is not, for the vast majority of its adherents, a political ideology. There are conservative Muslims, centrist Muslims, liberal Muslims, social democratic Muslims, even Marxist Muslims. An analogy can be drawn, though, between the method at work in Sidney Hook's famous attack on communists and the method used by Islamophobes like Geert Wilders. Like Hook, Wilders creates a narrow, essentialist, and highly negative definition of what is in reality a complex, changing set of ideas and practices. Like Hook, he claims that the ideology he has defined will inevitably lead its adherents to act in certain negative ways. And on the basis of his definition and the prediction contained within it, Wilders calls for the removal of the rights of a vulnerable minority. We should all hope that the Islamophobes of today do not gain the sort of influence that Red-baiters like Sidney Hook enjoyed in the 1950s.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

from wikipedia:

In the 21st century, red-baiting does not have quite the same effect it previously did due to the fall of Soviet-style Communism,[12] but notable events in 21st century American politics indicates a resurgence of red-baiting consistent with the 1950s.[13]

In May 2009, a number of conservative members of the Republican National Committee were pressing the committee and by extension, RNC chairman Michael Steele, to officially adopt the position that the Democratic Party is socialist. Over a dozen members of the conservative wing of the RNC submitted a new resolution, to be eventually voted on by the entire RNC, that would call on the Democratic party to rename itself the “Democrat Socialist Party.” If the RNC adopted this resolution, the RNC’s official view would become that Democrats are socialists.[18]

3:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This big fat fucker (he is reeeaaallly fat) has been kicked out of the Oz elections for running an anti-Muslim, anti-atheist campaign:

http://www.news.com.au/features/federal-election/revealed-liberal-candidate-david-barkers-anti-muslim-campaign/story-fn5taogy-1225896534232

6:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Party officials last week ordered Mr Barker to shut down his Facebook site.

But senior Liberals were so concerned by his preselection that they photographed his profile page to mount a case for his disendorsement. The parties have until Tuesday to formally register candidates.

Mr Barker happily posed for photographs at his Rooty Hill home in Western Sydney yesterday, but would respond only to written questions.

"I don't believe God would have called me to run in this seat if he didn't expect me to win," he said.

Mr Barker, who stood for the seat of Barton in 2001 for the Call to Australia (Fred Nile) Group, appears determined to stir sectarian division in a letter to a Blacktown church, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, by raising the religious beliefs of Mr Husic.

In a Facebook entry dated April 17, he says: "I vote for freedom of worship if the worship is of Jesus Christ or The Jewish God anyone else well they are worshipping a false god anyway so who cares."

An entry that day reads: "Voting should only be voluntary for Liberal and National voters the rest can not bother since with every vote they bring the nation closer to the brink of disaster and closer to the hands of a (sic)muslim country."

In another entry, Mr Barker says: "Someone get me into parliament ... and watch me go. They will see my talent as the voice of ... God himself."

Read more: http://www.news.com.au/features/federal-election/revealed-liberal-candidate-david-barkers-anti-muslim-campaign/story-fn5taogy-1225896534232#ixzz0v3CKV9zi

6:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/saturation/4445289865/

12:27 am  
Anonymous herb said...

People's weight should not come in to it. I am fat. I worship at the temple of fine food. Nothing is too good for the working class.

11:57 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Herb - you are fat! Bad, very bad. (High blood pressure diabetese strokes heart attacks cancer - booze is also bad and causes of all cancers and many of (if not all and more of the above diseases or maladies) diseases BTW - also you are probably having too much pleasure...).

But you'll be on crutches next....:

No wonder you have all the wrong ideas about Marxism!

It is all also symptomatic of a form of Escapism - a deep failure to look at yourself and engage with reality...
You need to lose weight and so do other of your degenerate Trotskyist mates who pretend to be revolutionaries.

If I could lose weight and did - so could you (don't make weak excuses - it is part of your "bad", Revisionist, Trotskyist, and "splittest" thinking I have noticed of your world view); as I lost weight I suddenly gained a tremendous insight into the deep meaning of all things including politics and why for example Mao was 100000x better than Trotsky...

My chess improved also and I started beating Capitalists and 'ordinary' working blokes etc as well as Trotskyites...

1:11 am  
Blogger dave said...

Richard leave off the red baiting and go back to your food.
I don't think you would have beaten Trotsky at chess and he was quite slim.

5:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I am Herb baiting - he said himself he was rather rotund but he has gone to ground. And Maps has disappeared into Smithyman's insides...

To be fair - it was Comrade Herb who started attacking ME - and in fact put words in my mouth that were quite untrue...

But I recall the red baiting of Muldoon and also how the Reader's Digest et al used to rave on. Of course Nixon was a fanatical anti Communist....

8:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound like a true American sir! but we have no idea how many muslin want us Death....Christians and Muslin,s have been at each other throats for many moons. Our current president is not a true muslin sir, bear in mind his father abandoned him at a early age and also very important he is half white and was raised Christian.

We are having a lot of problems with each other, I think we should abandoned our struggle with the Muslin's and come back home.

1:37 am  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home