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The Jingoism of Anti-Jihadism

Since 9/11, there has been a rampant and fashionable strain of Islamophobia among western politicians, journalists and analysts.  It’s a response in part to the militant jihadism of the sort that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.  Bibi Netanyahu is perhaps the master of anti-jihadist rhetoric.  Shortly after the Al Qaeda attack, the NY Times quoted him:

Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, “It’s very good.” Then he edited himself: “Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.” He predicted that the attack would “strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we’ve experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.”

This naked political aggrandizement at the expense of Islam characterizes his entire political career.  He’s continued along this vein right up to today (more on that later in this post).

hillary clinton

Hillary Clinton’s ignorant, wild-eyed hatred of political Islam (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A similar world-view characterized the Bush administration, though only in a slightly more nuanced fashion.  Pres. Obama has done scarcely better, as I’ve often written here.  His counter-terror-fueled policy toward Arab and Muslim states is little-changed from the eight wasted years of George Bush.

Lately, anti-jihadism has really gone to town on the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Hillary Clinton, and they had a jolly good time ragging on that Islamist whipping-boy.  This gives you a pretty good idea of what you can expect from eight years of Hillary in the White House:

“One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States,” she said. “Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.”

…“You know, we did a good job in containing the Soviet Union but we made a lot of mistakes, we supported really nasty guys, we did some things that we are not particularly proud of, from Latin America to Southeast Asia, but we did have a kind of overarching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism. That was our objective. We achieved it.”

Here you have a perfect example of the sickness I outlined above.  In the 1950s communism was the bugaboo.  Today, it’s jihadism.  Clinton’s conception of the latter uses almost exactly the same terms as those of the Red Scare: words like expansionist, angry, violent, intolerant, brutal, anti-democratic.  There’s even a touch of Reaganism in Clinton’s portrayal of the fall of communism.  There’s the notion that through all of our machinations against the Soviet Union–the assassinations, the coups, the propping up of dictators–all of it helped in some unspecified way to topple Communism.  She further bizarrely characterizes our anti-Communist strategy as an “overarching framework,” when it was little more than knee-jerk oppositionalism to the Red Menace.

What is most pathetic about this political stance is that it offers no sense of our own identity, of what we stand for.  Instead, it offers a vague, incohate enemy against whom we can unite.  We are nothing without such enemies.

On NPR, David Brooks followed on Hillary’s bigoted characterization of Islamism with this even more disturbing “analysis:”

I do think what needs to be said is something that actually Hillary Clinton said in here interview with Jeff Goldberg of the Atlantic, which we talked about a couple weeks ago, which is this is one big thing. And what she meant by that is whether it’s al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Hamas, jihadism is one big thing. And so when we talk about do you need military – or legal authorization to go into, say, to bomb Syria, to go further into Iraq, I think we have to understand this is going to be a long, low-level permanent thing, against one big enemy which is jihadism. And we shouldn’t treat it as isolated things, Islamic State over here, al-Qaeda over there, Hamas over there.

When I read otherwise intelligent folk like Clinton and Brooks sound like absolute idiots when they speak in such reductionist terms about Arab nationalism and Islamism, it makes my heart sink.  The idea that the Muslim world and radical movements within it are “one big thing” is not just stupid, but dangerous.  Hamas has nothing to do with al Qaeda or ISIS except that they stem from the same religion.  To yoke them together is pernicious.  It will fool us into thinking we can develop one approach to deal with all of them.  That the answer to defeating one is the same as the answer to defeating all.  And make no mistake, this view of the Muslim world makes no allowance for co-existence or tolerance or even understanding.  It is all-out war.  Perhaps low-intensity war at times and all-out war at other times.  But with this mindset we will never live at peace with political Islam.

That has practical consequences for everyone involved.  It portends perpetual war, for example, between Israel and the frontline states (Palestine, Syria, Lebanon).  It means thousands more Israelis and Palestinians will die.  It could mean we never reach a nuclear agreement with Iran and that there are hostilities with it as well.  It could mean the resurgence of the Taliban after we leave Afghanistan and the disintegration of Iraq into warring factions and ethnic enclaves.  What policy can this closed-minded attitude offer other than more drones, targeted killings, and other forms of state-sanctioned mass violence?

Bibi Netanyahu represents the most extreme form of anti-jihadism.  He took the “one big thing” slogan to its ultimate extreme in a press conference with, of all people, Arab-American Congressmember Darrel Issa, during the Gaza war.  In it, the Israeli prime minister attempted to hijack the world’s horror at the beheading of journalist James Foley, for Israel’s benefit.  He did this solely to counter the awful press Israel had been getting after slaughtering 500 children in Gaza and other horrors:

“We face the same Islamist network and we have to fight it together,” said Netanyahu during a photo opportunity. “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas. You saw the gruesome beheading of James Foley. We see the gruesome murder and execution of three teenagers which Hamas has just admitted that they did. These are both branches of the same poisonous tree. The free world, the democracies have to stand together against this terrorism. That’s the only way we’ll roll them back. Ultimately that’s the only way we’ll defeat them.”

There is poison in this passage but it isn’t the poison Bibi sees.  It is, rather, a venomous, take-no-prisoners approach to the Muslim world.  It’s a monomaniacal view of Islam as the root cause of evil.  It’s a refusal to look at our own deeds and ideas as part of the dysfunction that’s characterized relations with the Muslim world.  Any attempt to turn these issues into the dualism of good vs. evil, west vs. Islam, tyranny vs. freedom, primitive vs. modern, will end not just in failure, but in massive levels of violence.

Though we cannot control the jingoism of people like Netanyahu, we must demand more of our political leaders.  We must tell Hillary Clinton that she will fail as a candidate by taking such a stupid approach to Islam. As for talking-heads like Goldberg and Brooks, no one expects better of them.  The fact that NPR and mainstream media disseminate this sort of ignorant Islamophobia packaged as legitimate punditry turns them into a mockery.

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{ 17 comments… add one }
  • FatimaR August 31, 2014, 4:16 AM

    [comment deleted: you're a liar & a fraud & Islamophobe to boot.]

  • Oui August 31, 2014, 7:38 AM

    Exactly! This is what I have been blogging about the last 4-5 years of a strand of neocon/pnac/israel lobby that funds Islamophobic politicians across the US and Western old-colonial world.

    This weekend alone we had PM Cameron doing his Islamophobic gig with a terror threat alert and the same with Anne Sikorski-Applebaum of Russia’s nuclear threat on Central Europe. Israel provides military support for the break-away states from the former Soviet Union. Elbit Systems delivering drones to Georgia and doing an upgrade in avionics for the Su-25 fighter/bomber [Tsiblisi production].

    And we had new developments in the libel case of Greek shipping magnate Victor Restis against Mark D. Wallace of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). A year ago, ‘New York Times’ profile of group bent on sanctioning Iran fails to mention Israel connections.

  • Yastreblyansky August 31, 2014, 11:33 AM

    I notice you’re not mentioning Obama here at all. May I hope you are recognizing that he is one of the few power figures i the West who actually understands that it’s not One Big Thing?

    It sometimes seems as if Hillary Clinton has spent 15 years doing nothing but trying to wipe out the memory of how she hugged Suha Arafat once, as if it were the only action of her career she’s ashamed of. It’s too bad, because she showed signs at that moment of having the kind of foreign affairs thinking the US needs. David Brooks doesn’t do any thinking at all; he’s a kind of magpie of the mind, decorating his nest with sparkly bits of ideological litter. I think you should give some credit to Obama for truly getting that it isn’t “one big thing” at all, and putting the understanding to work against tremendous opposition from Congress and even inside the White House, seeking ways to cooperate with Iran and ways to defend minority groups like the Kurds, Yazidis, Arab Christians, and now Turkmen. Combined with the effort (as with this week’s decision not to have an anti-ISIS bombing campaign) to “not do stupid shit”. He’s not a hippy by any means, but he is vastly ahead of the conventional wisdom.

  • Oui August 31, 2014, 12:37 PM

    Netanyahu was the arrogance himself, after he managed to ditch Obama and Kerry on the wayside, he was clearly bored by UNSG Ban Ki-moon. As in his best days, Netanyahu came with his ferocious war rhetoric without any visible goal.

    UN’s Ban arrives, says no country would allow rockets to rain down on its cities

    (JPost) July 23, 2014 – Ban praised the Israeli people, saying that “even in the darkest hour the people of this country have such a tremendous capacity for generosity and good.” He then urged Israelis not to despair of the peace process, saying “there is no viable alternative to a two-state solution. No closure, no barrier will separate Israelis and Palestinians from a fundamental truth: you share one future.”

    Netanyahu directly responded to Ban regarding the two-state solution option, saying that Hamas is just another manifestation of violent, Islamic extremist organizations like ISIS, al-Qaida, Hezbollah or Boko Haram.

    Hamas’s grievance, he said, “is that we exist. They don’t want a two state solution. They don’t want any solution.”

    Netanyahu knows better than considering all terror groups similar. By mimicking the United States and CIA intelligence, throughout its history Israel and the Mossad has made use of the emnity between groups to create havoc.

    One day later … UN staff killed in attack on UN-run school in Gaza: Ban Ki-moon

  • Donald August 31, 2014, 1:37 PM

    “When I read otherwise intelligent folk like Clinton and Brooks sound like absolute idiots”

    One small correction–Brooks almost always sounds like an absolute idiot. All joking aside, almost everything he writes is propaganda in favor of the (fraction of the ) 1 percent when he writes on domestic issues, and on foreign policy he’s a warmonger with no sense of shame or guilt about any crime committed by the US or Israel.

  • Arie Brand August 31, 2014, 1:38 PM

    Richard you hit the nail on the head here. In many places this “crusade against jihad” approach
    serves ulterior political purposes: scaring the citizens to reinforce the security state and taking their mind off actual problems. In Australia Tony Abbott and his merry crew have been using the sense of panic to deflect Labor’s attacks on an unfair and unpopular budget. Labor felt unable to ward this off and when a backbench Labor parliamentarian said the obvious thing and drew attention to the Emperor’s imaginary crusade outfit she was ticked off by the party leadership. Tony Abbott increased the alarmism by getting himself a bomb proof BMW costing half a million Australian dollars.

    Isis had to be defeated to prevent genocide they said and all the while they haven’t spent a word on the slaughter in Gaza. Netanyahu’s opportunism in the matter is so flagrant that one wonders how he gets away with it but he does, helped in this by the opportunism of others. Concern about genocide can be turned off and on, depending on the occasion. When in 1965 in an anti-communist drive by the Indonesian army and the Islamic parties up to a million Indonesians were slaughtered, and hundreds of thousands were thrown into camps where they were left rotting for decades, this was hailed by Time magazine as “the West’s best news for years in Asia”. The American Embassy in Jakarta rendered a hand in the slaughter:

    “Marshall Green, American ambassador to Indonesia at the time, wrote that the embassy had “made clear” to the army that Washington was “generally sympathetic with and admiring” of its actions. U.S. officials went so far as to express concern in the days following the September 30th Movement that the army might not do enough to annihilate the PKI (Partai Kommunis Indonesia. The U.S. embassy supplied radio equipment, walkie-talkies, and small arms to Suharto so that his troops could conduct the nationwide assault on civilians. A diligent embassy official with a penchant for data collection did his part by handing the army a list of thousands of names of PKI members. Such moral and material support was much appreciated in the Indonesian army. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2005/11/05/the-mass-killings-in-indonesia/)

    You are quite right, I think, in debunking Clinton’s thesis that the US had an overarching approach to what was then the “Red Menace” instead of a series of knee-jerk reactions such as the total indifference to the massive crimes by the Indonesian army and the subsequent long and corrupt dictatorship by what John Roosa and Joseph Nevins call “a taciturn, uneducated, thuggish, corrupt army general from a Javanese village.” Though the slaughter had reinforced greatly the position of the Islamic parties that was of no concern back then. Now the bugaboo of the day has changed. The military-industrial complex is not picky as to who or what figures in that position.

  • Piotr Berman August 31, 2014, 8:14 PM

    Of course Clinton was talking nonsense, but I would deconstruct her differently.

    During “Cold War”, “Red menace” had a reasonably clear definition and thus the strategy to oppose it was reasonably clear, and here I would agree with Madam former Secretary. However, the support of “our bastards”, however criminal (kleptocracy, torture, genocide), was not an aberration but the cornerstone of far-flanged strategy. And it was not “knee jerk” but systemic, USA built its own institutions operating outside the law that were supervising those policies. For example, torturers could receive training and exchange experiences in the “School of Americas” on US soil.

    It was helpful that major Communists power were all “adversaries”, so all minor Marxists movement and government were adversaries as well, barring situations when they were fighting each other on tribal grounds, like when UNITA was fighting FRELIMO government.

    But “political Islam” does not offer any hope for clarity. Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Gulf monarchs are “our bastards” or even “dear friends”. and they support various folks who we view as “drone worthy bastards” if they fight, bomb, kidnap, slaughter in a wrong place (but not if they do it where they should, i.e. in Syria, or in Lebanon against Hezbollah).

    Netanyahu himself made bedside visit to wounded “freedom fighters” from Syria, precisely of the variety that is now kidnapping UN troops at Golan Heights. The equation Hamas = ISIS excludes those “good fighters”, which is somewhat weird given fluid affiliations and allegiances in Syrian/Iraq civil wars. Funding, supplying the “good fighters” and in the same time giving them as examples of savagery (of which the whole blames is given to Asad and Hebollah) is a convenient trick, but too transparent, plus rather stupid. When the valiant soldiers of freedom go back home to France or UK, some turn to be psychotic and proficient killers, e.g. killing Jews in Toulouse and Brussels.

    Remember the first reaction of Obama to the takeover of Mosul? A request to increase direct American funding of Syrian taqfiris by a round half a billion dollars. The logic of that is incredibly convoluted, and ultimately, silly.

  • Arie Brand August 31, 2014, 8:18 PM

    Australia still seems to have a colonial mindset in that it slavishly follows some Big Brother or other in what is supposed to be its foreign policy. Before the Second World War it was Britain but the debacle of the fall of Singapore made it look for a new “protector”: the U.S. Since then it has dutifully followed the US in its misadventures. It was one of the few Western allies in the Vietnam War (New Zealand was the other). It was part of the “coalition of the willing” on the basis of a decision made by the conservative Howard government without the benefit of any parliamentary debate.

    Both military adventures are now regarded by many as unmitigated disasters.
    And now, once again, Australia is following American measures uncritically in Iraq. A proposal of the Greens to have a parliamentary debate about the matter has been voted down.

    The octogenarian Australian conservative ex-PM who during his time in office supported the Vietnam debacle, Malcolm Fraser, now warns against too close an alliance with the US. It has the potential to drag Australia, willy nilly, into a war with China. He has argued his case in a book with the title Dangerous Allies. Admittedly, the ANZUS treaty only obliges its partners to mutual consultations but the military on both sides is already so closely intertwined that Australia will be in the midst of a conflict before any “consultations” can take place. There is also the matter of Pine Gap, the signalling centre in Central Australia that provides, inter alia, information about China’s nuclear arsenal and its possible use. Australia cannot argue that it has no control over it (as indeed it hasn’t) because it is on its territory.

    On Vietnam Fraser now says that the US was deceitful towards its allies and withheld information that, if he had known about it at the time, would have changed his judgment.

    Australia’s slavish following of US foreign policy has also led to its embarrassing position on UN votes re Israel where it has frequently been the only Western country supporting the US and Israel beside such international heavyweights as Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. Fraser fully agrees with Bob Carr, Foreign Minister in the previous Labor cabinet, that the pro-Israel lobby has an unhealthy influence on Australia’s foreign policy. An objection by his interviewer that other ethnic groups also lobby the government, as for instance the Italians, was countered by Fraser stating that the Italians don’t try to influence Australia’s policy towards Italy.

    If any other country did what Israel is doing, he said, it would certainly be accused of war crimes.

    Fraser aso dropped a bombshell by stating that he is certain that the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty during the Six Day War was deliberate. The Israelis didn’t want the US hearing about what they intended to do. He could not disclose the source of his information (which is most likely the Australian intelligence service). Of course a man who had equal or superior access to classified information about it, the US’s Secretary of State during the Six Day War, Dean Rusk, was of the same opinion (see his As I Saw It).

    Meanwhile we have again the matter of Iraq. Paul MCGeough, a journalist with personal experience in Iraq during the American invasion there and the chief foreign correspondent of the quality paper Age stated under the headline “Australia still at the US’s beck and call” among other things: “This time around, Australia is interposing itself in a country wracked by civil war – and it seems to be taking sides. Canberra has signed on in circumstances in which it has no control over its own destiny. You’ve seen mission creep before? We’re already seeing it in this effort – last week, we were the nice guys dropping food and water; this week, we’re not so nice because we’re dropping weapons.
    What next, Tony?”

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/australia-still-at-americas-beck-and-call-20140831-10albb.html#ixzz3C1sa4Szh

    • Oui August 31, 2014, 8:49 PM

      Thanks, quite informative. The brotherhood of the 5 Eyes, though I believe other nations have joined. I understand the Netherlands has a special relationship too with radar facility in Burum in Drenthe, international hub of Internet cables and the Mossad HQ on Israëli territory of El Al @Schiphol airport.

  • Oui August 31, 2014, 8:59 PM

    4,000 Dunams declared as State Land west of Bethlehem

    U.S. State Department read out: “Not helpful.”

    • Mary Hughes Thompson September 1, 2014, 9:54 AM

      One report says a State Department spokesperson called this latest bit of land theft “Counterproductive.” I’m trying to decide if “counterproductive” is harsher than “not helpful.” Doesn’t really matter anyway since we and Bibi know it’s just lip service.

  • Zany September 1, 2014, 4:26 PM

    [comment deleted: Gossip is not credible & not permitted here. Nor are off-topic comments. Since you've attempted to publish five comments in a row & clearly have not read the comment rule as directed, you will be moderated. Further violations will cause you to lose commenting privileges.]

  • Arie Brand September 1, 2014, 9:18 PM

    Paul McGeough, the foreign policy editor of the Age, rightly spoke of “mission creep”. It now turns out that the Australian planes dropping weapons for the Kurds will have SAS troops on board. In the future these might also be stationed on the ground in case Australia joins any airstrike campaign against Islamic State militants. Allegedly they are there to rescue aircrews in case a plane is shot down. Yeah, one can imagine such actions to be just as “surgical” as an Israeli strike on Hamas.

    The Greens are still clamouring for a parliamentary debate on the matter, joined in this by an independent member for Tasmania, Mr.Andrew Wilkie, a former intelligence analyst (he resigned from this job because of the Howard government’s alleged fraudulent use of intelligence to justify its joining of Bush the Lesser’s “coalition of the willing”).
    But “in answer to Wilkie and others, both Abbott and his foreign minister Julie Bishop said they were merely following convention. No one ever asks the parliament. It’s up to the government of the day to make such decisions.” Funny that “merely following convention”- as if Australia goes to war every other day.

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