Ignorance on parade: Islamophobia, Left and Right

Jeff Sparrow writes:

‘Koran discovered with coffee cup stain on the front cover, US marines deployed to all Starbucks franchises.’

The quip, retweeted by celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins, exemplifies the belligerent incomprehension with which so many, including self-proclaimed liberals, have responded to protests against the film The Innocence of Muslims.

Rioting over a YouTube clip that offends the Muslim sky fairy? How tremendously foolish! How childish; how superstitious; how very, very silly!

Well, we’ve certainly seen ignorance paraded over the last few days but it’s as much by smug progressives as anyone else.

Consider a historical analogy.

In 1857, Bengali soldiers (known as ‘sepoys’) shot their British officers and marched upon Delhi. The Great Indian Rebellion became very violent, very quickly. The rebels massacred prisoners, including women and children; the British put down the revolt with a slaughter of unprecedented proportions.

Now, that rebellion began when the troops learned that their cartridges, designed to be torn open with their teeth, would be greased with beef and pork fat, an offence to the religious sensibilities of Hindus and Muslims alike. Had Twitter been an invention of the Victorian era, London sophisticates would, no doubt, have LOLed to each other (#sepoyrage!) about the credulity of dusky savages so worked up about a little beef tallow. Certainly, that was how the mouthpieces of the East India Company spun events: in impeccably Dawkinesque terms, they blamed ‘Hindoo prejudice’ for the descent of otherwise perfectly contented natives into rapine and slaughter.

But no serious historian today takes such apologetics seriously. Only the most determined ignoramus would discuss 1857 in isolation from the broader context of British occupation. In form, the struggle might have been religious; in content, it embodied a long-simmering opposition to colonial rule.

That’s why those who pretend the protests against The Innocence of Muslims came from nowhere merely reveal their own foolishness.

‘Today, many Americans are asking — indeed, I asked myself — how could this happen?’ said Hillary Clinton after the riots in Libya. ‘How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.’

The echoes of George Bush’s infamous query ‘Why do they hate us when we’re so good?’ suggests nothing whatsoever has been learnt from the last decade and the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

For this is, of course, the same Hillary Clinton who, as recently as 2009, proclaimed Mubarak, Egypt’s torturer-in-chief, and his wife, ‘friends of my family’, acknowledging a relationship that exemplified the pally connections between the US elite and every dictator and despot in the region. Mubarak might have been crossed off the Clinton Christmaas list but President Obama forges ever closer relations with the tyrants of Saudi Arabia, delivering the biggest ever arms deal in US history to fortify a reactionary and criminal government against its populace.

No, Hillary Clinton might not recall such matters. But the people of the Muslimworld are considerably better informed – and that’s the context for their anger. [Continue reading…]

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3 thoughts on “Ignorance on parade: Islamophobia, Left and Right

  1. delia ruhe

    When the Muslim countries of the Middle East finally get through this difficult transition and possibly win the opportunity to select their own kind of government from a variety of parties, secular and religious, they too will require something like a free speech clause in their constitutions. Maybe one day they will even need to entrench a guarantee of the separation of mosque and state. But until then, it’s just plain rude to rub their noses in our own (superior?) indifference to religious sensibilities.

    To my mind Richard Dawkins is as captive to an ideology as extremist Islamists are. He’s a perfect example of how resentful scientists can get when confronted by something over which science is helpless to extend its authority — such as that inexplicable thing called faith in an invisible, immaterial, omnipotent force.

  2. Paul Woodward

    My impression of Dawkins is that he lacks scientific curiosity about religion. Religion — as expressed in belief and behavior — is clearly much older than civilization, so why be so quick to dismiss it as something that needs to be discarded? In terms of pure rationality and scientific exactness, language is a human creation that arguably shares more attributes with religion than with science. Would Dawkins also hope that language be stripped of its non-rational attributes — that for instance we discard the use of metaphor — in the interest that our speech be as close as possible to some notion of literal truth?

    I have no more patience for evangelical atheists than I do for any other kind of evangelist. They have an inflated sense of their own ability to “save” people by spreading “the truth” and a lack of interest in the unique psychological evolution of each individual.

  3. Leslie Garrett

    Millions of Americans place great faith in the statement: “All men are created equal.” They make this the foundation of many of their ideals. To believe that statement requires a far greater suspension of normal judgement and a far greater leap of faith than most religions ask of their followers. The “Enlightenment” ideals that substitute for religion in secular America often require far more blind faith than most religious affirmations of faith. Shall we also talk about the blind faith that most Americans have in the Federal Reserve and the crooks that run their financial institutions, despite resounding proof to the contrary. How about the faith in that fantastic story about half-educated Arabs with box cutters being able to break a multi billion dollar defence network with two planes that made three huge skyscrapers fall at free-fall speed into their own footprint. All of that requires blind religious zeal to an extraordinary degree.

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