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High Priests of Islamophobia

12 July 2011 General 4 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Islamophobia comes to the fore in the poorly written articles of Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis.

by Tanvir Ahmed Khan (Gulf News)

All across the world of Islam, we find responsible thinkers, analysts and creative writers engaged in deep introspection on how their societies became vulnerable to religious extremism and how this issue became a casus belli for the West.

Some of the affluent Arab states invest considerable sums of money in the promotion of inter-faith harmony and understanding. Many intellectuals from the West respond positively and help place issues in a constructive perspective.

Unfortunately, the dominant trend in the West continues to be the exploitation of terrorism to demonise Islam. This becomes particularly noticeable when writers of repute give up all pretence to objectivity and weigh in on the side of low order propagandists against the Muslim world.

Christopher Hitchens is a famous British writer who migrated to the United States some 20 years ago. In due course he abandoned his leftist past and became an ardent neo-conservative.

He also claimed a Jewish lineage on facts that his own brother considers rather exaggerated. In internal debates on both sides of the Atlantic, he fiercely supported the invasion of Iraq. In the latest issue of Vanity Fair he returns to Pakistan, a country that arouses visceral hatred in him and lambasts it in a language that does not fight shy of using four-lettered words.

The occasion is the hunting down of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The very opening of his polemic, however, shows that he wants to use the incident to attack the Pakistani society from every conceivable angle. So blatant and biased is the denunciation of Pakistan that the best refutation so far has come from Christine Fair, a regional specialist who teaches at Georgetown University.

Hitchens employs his old trick of seizing on some isolated feature of a Muslim society and dresses it up as its dominant trait. The opening gambit comes from the well-known fact that Islam has not been entirely successful in uprooting some old tribal customs, usually in remote areas. Pakistan still faces the evil phenomenon of honour-killing that raises its head in some communities from time to time.

In the opening paragraph of a very poorly researched article that Vanity Fair thought it fit to publish, Hitchens first finds that much of Pakistan has been Talibanised and then goes on to make the extraordinary observation that Pakistan ‘is a society where rape is not a crime’. “It is”, he declares ” a punishment” to which women can be sentenced by tribal and kangaroo courts.

He then quickly moves on to savage President Asif Ali Zardari as the man who “cringes daily in front of the forces who openly murdered his wife, Benazir Bhutto” ; a man ‘lacking in pride’ and indeed ‘lacking in manliness’. As he ridicules the very concept of sovereignty of Pakistan, very few Pakistani readers would doubt that the writer is a typical American Zionist-neoconservative who cannot bear the thought of a Muslim state equipped with nuclear weapons in violation of the ‘law’ that only Israel in this region has the right to possess them.

Hitchens’ ludicrous claim that much of Pakistan has been Talibanised is a reminder that most polemics against Islam and Muslim societies rely on such sweeping generalisations.

Qutb’s impact

In October 2006, Hitchens’ closest friend, the distinguished British novelist, Martin Amis, published a long essay on extreme Islamism in London’s Sunday Observer. He based his lengthy thesis on the premises that liberal Islam has already been defeated and supplanted by violent Islamism.

For evidence he relied heavily on a critique of the impact of Sayyid Qutb. In his native Egypt as, indeed, in most Muslim countries his philosophy and political activism continue to generate controversy. This dialectical debate about his work is an essential part of intra-Islamic disputations. Amis completely ignored this fact and presented him as the triumphant influence on Muslims.

As a critique of Qutb’s ideas the essay was a non-starter. Having made a most perfunctory reference to this aspect of Qutb, he went on to ridicule him almost entirely in terms of his presumed frustrations in dealing with liberated western women during his travels and study in Europe and North America. The idea was to locate the true provenance of Qutb’s struggle against western imperialism in his discomfort in dealing with western women.

Some time back, a thoughtful article by Michael Vlahos in the American Conservative discussed in detail how the ‘great Muslim War’ replaced the story of globalisation and how American insistence on ‘you are either with us or against us’ is now promoting counter-movements all over the globe. Hitchens and Amis wilfully ignore the context — centuries of western colonialism and the revived quest for western hegemony at the turn of the century — because their basic purpose is to support war as an instrument of restoring dominance.

By trying to show all Muslims as potential Al Qaida followers they sell their militarism to the anti-war majorities in the West. It is unfortunate to see the broad humanism of distinguished writers who should claim a universal audience being made available to the neo-imperialists of our times.

The writer is a former ambassador and foreign secretary of Pakistan. Till recently, he worked as the Chairman of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.

Original post: High Priests of Islamophobia


  1. This statement: “Some of the affluent Arab states invest considerable sums of money in the promotion of inter-faith harmony and understanding” is interesting to me. I have seen many comments that decry the governments of various Arab or Muslim states as not really representing Islam. Yet here we have a statement that they are spending money on promoting inter-faith harmony. Would that be harmony in the sense that Muslims who do not want to force their views on others interact with others from other faiths or harmony with other faiths from Muslims that do want to force their views on others? It cannot be 2 ways. Either these Muslim countries represent Islam with all their repression of other religions or they do not. Money spent on this objective from Islamic states with poor rights records should be rejected out of hand.

  2. I believe it is true that here in the west Islam continues to be demonized as the very heart of terrorism, often by people who don’t know better because they have been so thoroughly fed the propaganda over and over again they have come to believe it as truth. People believe this as truth and don’t bother to question it in the same way they don’t bother to question gravity or which direction the sun will take in the sky today.

    When a well-known writer such a Christopher Hitchens writes in support of these supposed “truths”, people simply eat it down with their lunch, as if each line was a McDonald’s french fry, just as familiar, no need to examine it, for heaven’s sake. We all “know” what happens in Pakistan: honor killings, rape, women barely seen and never heard, that’s Islam for you. And we see them here, too, wearing those scarves, those poor, oppressed women, stuck with those brutal men.

    But we never check it out for ourselves! We never talk to the women in the scarves, never read any articles written from a pro-Islam point of view, never accept the possibility that Islam could be just what its adherents say it is: peaceful, loving, gentle.

    Why should we bother with the facts when we already “know” what’s what? Facts only confuse people! People don’t want to think for themselves — they want somebody else to think for them and just tell them what to do, right? Isn’t that “The American Way”? Facts are for idiots! Just tell me what to think!

  3. No Kathryn that is not the American way. People over react everywhere be they American or not. If you had followed these forums for a while, it has been discussed that many Islamic governments do not seem to represent the spirit of Islam. Some countries publish books that demonize Jews and other groups, some do not allow bibles to travel in their country, some do not allow conversions from Islam to whatever but encourage conversion from whatever to Islam, some penalize members of other religions, some forbid women to drive, some discourage women from attending school. Now those are not conjectures they are facts and based upon government policies. Now not all of these policies are mandated by the Koran, but they are being used by Islamic Governments. Be it cultural or not it is hard to name current Islamic states who emulate the statement that Islam is a religion of peace and love. From the outside looking in when I view these states they seem to want and strive for conformity more than anything else to achieve this peace and love, as they even kill or repress other factions of Islamic followers. Maybe these states do not represent the majority of Islam but they are the most visible. As you criticize Americans do not forget our intervention in Bosnia. We Americans came to the aide of Muslims who were being killed in the thousands by people calling themselves Christians. So as you insult the average American we have come to the aide of Muslims in need. As Americans died in this country in support of these Islamic peoples ask yourself how many men from highly populated Islamic areas of the world or even Islamic countries were represented in that war? Who provided most of the Aide to the displaced Muslims of that conflict and how many Islamic countries failed to meet even their limited commitments to the effort?
    People are scared; they are scared of those people on TV that put hoods on and kill people with knives. They are scared of the statements of groups that represent themselves as representing Muslims. It is these groups you need to have issue with as they are the root cause of what this paper calls Islamophobia.

  4. The simple, essential task of judging Muslims as a whole on the basis of what Muslims as a whole actually do, rather than on the actions of the tiny minority of extremists, is the most meaningful test of bigotry in our age.
    Hitchens and his ilk spin vast cocoons of rationalizations for their anti-Muslim bigotry, but point by point, they speak in exactly the same puffed-up, intellectually craven tone and argue using exactly the same fallacies that history’s classic bigots, from the anti-Afro American racist in America and South Africa to the anti-Semites of Europe and elsewhere deployed.
    The only thing separating Hitchens’ ilk from the classic bigots universally reviled in mainstream society is that they happen to be attacking Muslims, the one and only religious/ethnic group about which a Westerner can speak with hostile disregard for the truth, while fearing little or no social, political or legal consequences.
    Indeed, the Big Lie of anti-Muslim bigots goes to the heart of this and none other than “liberal” stalwart Thomas Friedman repeats this lie routinely despite many repeated, public demonstrations in public and private (personal e-mail) that it is utterly false. This big lie is of course Friedman’s frequent claim that mainstream Islam does not condemn terrorism and extremism done in Islams name. Friedman, a popular, notably centrist by popular Western standards, columnist for the New York Times, invariably presents this lie on the way to spreading responsibility for terror and extremism from terrorists and extremists to ordinary peace-loving Muslims who, in Friedman’s conception, “don’t do enough to protest terror.”
    This is no different from the American segregationists who argued that Martin Luther King and other Afro-American leaders weren’t doing enough to combat the disproportional rates of crime, poverty and illiteracy among Afro-Americans. Ultimately, it is the same distorted logic that leads terrorists to conclude that ordinary peace-loving Americans are legitimate targets, simply because they “don’t do enough” to combat the military aggression undertaken in their name.
    Decades from now and centuries from now, anti-Muslim bigots will be viewed exactly as they are, which is no different from other types of bigots who attempt to blur the distinction between the best members, ordinary members and worst members of a given human grouping…

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