Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Islamophobia and Anticommunism

There is no question that Martin Amis is a reactionary, as is made clear, for instance, by his remark on Muslims:
There's a definite urge -- don't you have it? -- to say, 'The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order'. What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation -- further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan. . . Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children. They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs -- well, they've got to stop their children killing people. (qtd. in Ginny Dougary, "The Voice of Experience," Times, 9 September 2006)
The remark has been justly criticized by Terry Eagleton ("Rebuking Obnoxious Views Is Not Just a Personality Kink," Guardian, 10 October 2007) and Ronan Bennett ("Shame on Us," Guardian, 19 November 2007) among others.

Such sharp criticisms have put Amis on the defensive. He now claims:
[I]t's not about race. It's about ideology.

If every inhabitant of a liberal democracy believes in liberal democracy, then it doesn't matter what creed or colour they are. ("No, I Am Not a Racist," Guardian, 1 December 2007)
Amis has a point: at bottom, it's not about race but about ideology. The fundamental question is indeed whether one "believes in liberal democracy" -- i.e., political liberalism and the capitalist mode of production, which together negate democracy -- as an article of faith. Neither Islamists nor Marxists do, though the ideology of the former is not the same as that of the latter.

Islamophobia is similar to many ideologies of social oppression -- e.g., racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia -- but it resembles them less than anticommunism. The rise of Islamophobia, like the rise of Islamism itself, is correlated to the decline of communism. Nowadays, Reds who question political liberalism are in short supply, so the Guardians of the Capitalist Revolution have cast Islamists as the last specter that haunts their global hegemony. The smarter sort of Islamophobes make selective use of not only former Muslims but also liberal ones, just as the smarter sort of anticommunists made selective use of not only former communists but liberal ones as well.

What Amis forgets, however, is that anticommunism often worked hand in hand with racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant xenophobia. Fighters against such social oppressions often found Marxism a useful political weapon, and more communists and communist sympathizers were found among them than among the socially and economically privileged. Anticommunist reactionaries took this kernel of truth and exaggerated it to promote their politics of fear. Today, Islamophobic reactionaries like Amis are doing the same, holding Muslim communities collectively responsible for what Islamists say or do.

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