Imperial Islamophobia

Given below is my review of Deepa Kumar’s Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire  for Dawn Books & Authors:

DK - review -p1- 7-14-2013

DK - review -p2- 7-14-2013









“Indeed, the success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say we are at war with Islam.” Obama made this pronouncement in his recent speech on the future of the ‘war on terror’ despite the abundance of evidence showing that the state, with Obama at the helm, has massively encroached upon the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, “our determination” to the contrary notwithstanding. Such state practices, shot through with Islamophobia, penalize people for being Muslim. Take for instance, the state’s monitoring of mosques inside the U.S. It marks mosques as places of danger for American Muslims, making it perilous for them to congregate. Similarly, the practice of sending informants into mosque-centered Muslim communities tears them apart from within as distrust of fellow Muslims sets in and discussions of the sociopolitical issues that directly affect Muslims become taboo. Such state measures make it all the more difficult for Muslims to be politically engaged and fight for their rights, especially as Muslims.

The Islamophobia of such policing measures, however, is utterly lost on the “color-blind” Obama-liberals. In their view, as a relic of the past, racism is the sole preserve of those Americans who’re not with the times—Conservatives, simple-minded country bumpkins, know-nothing mill-workers. What emerges from Deepa Kumar’s trenchant critique of Islamophobia in her new book, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, is that, Islamophobia as a potent imperial ideology is a bipartisan project. Kumar shines a bright light on liberal Islamophobia, and shows how the Obama administration’s emphasis on homegrown terrorism generated a lot of talk about ‘terrorists in our midst’ in the mainstream American media and presented rightwing Islamophobes with the opportunity they needed to (re-)popularize the old ‘Islamic peril.’ As Kumar puts it, “The politics of liberal Islamophobia at the top of the society enabled the extreme Islamophobia of the right.”

Continue reading

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Minor(ity) Issues

This post is for those Pakistanis who squirm just a little bit when they sign that statement on their passport forms, for those who felt even mildly saddened on May 28, 2010, for those who know an Ahmadi and on that day had the minimum of decency to ask him/her if any of their family or friends were harmed, for those that on that day felt may be a tinge of guilt, for those who thought about, even for a fleeting moment, about whether and how  their own views may have something to do with the massacre, for those who could hold in tension, however briefly, their own complicity with that moment of empathy when they imagined how they would have felt if their loved ones would have been at that mosque, and for those who have experienced some sort of marginalization and on that day found some humanity to show solidarity with Ahmadis, and may be, just may be, were able to see a drop of blood on their hands.


At the time the attack took place, we were in the middle of our prayers…Two armed men sadistically gunned down 93 people in our mosque. There were dead bodies everywhere. … It took us four days to bury our martyrs at Rabwa. We began at dawn after Fajr and continued till Maghrib.

“Seventeen-year old Waqar lost his father during the May 28th attacks. He now faces persecution on a regular basis at his college and from the general public for being an Ahmadi. The imam of the village has also declared him wajib-ul-qatl. “I was preparing for my intermediate examinations when this barbaric attack took place,” Waqar told us.” (“A Question of Faith: A Report on the Status of Religious Minorities in Pakistan”)


The perpetrators removed and broke the tombstones of graves. They also told the caretakers that they were not supposed to write the Kalima or Bismillah on the tombstones because, “Ahmadis are infidels.”


“Maulana [Fazlur Rehman] thought I would declare Ahmadis Muslims but Imran Khan is not a munafiq (hypocrite)”


Have you noticed how Khan’s statement goes unnoticed and gets brushed aside by good people, even those who interact with Ahmadis like a decent human being ought to? The euphoria of elections and the romance of the Great Khan rumbles on. That’s how numerical minorities are made into political minorities as issues of horrific violence become ‘minority issues’ and thus minor issues. Their time will come, it is said. First, bigger issues, like corruption, need to be tackled. Until issues of majoritarian violence on minorities are actively and relentlessly pushed to the table of high politics from below, their time won’t come. The majority is vested in making sure that it does not.

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Condemn your Terrah!

Did you condemn your Moozy terror today?

Muslims are […] seen as dispensable because they can be marginalized at any time as not really part of ‘us’; they are always required to perform and thereby prove their loyalty– either by statements distancing themselves from international conflicts where other Muslims are involved or, perhaps more frequently, by maintaining a tactical silence.

— Peter Morey, Amina Yaqin, Framing Muslims

At every new incident of what officials dub an act of terror, American Muslims fall over themselves to condemn the act as quickly as possible. It is then reported by say, NPR, that x Muslim organization has condemned the act though we the viewers/listeners should not assume that Muslims had anything to do with the act in the first place. Then right-wingers and liberals start quibbling about whether or not Muslims condemned the violent act or violent acts in general, or whether Islam is a religion of the sword or does it means peace. The possibilities of other reflections are foreclosed since everyone has something to say about the Moslem. The discourse remains firmly mired in what Islam is or is not with respect to terror. Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin in Framing Muslims show how stereotyping and framing “stak[es] out the territory within which ‘Muslimness’ and ‘Muslim issues’ are recognized and valorized.” “Such structures are prevalent, although more subtle, in supposedly liberal media as they are in the more predictable fulminations of the conservative right,” they write. Continue reading

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Terrifying Muslims – scraps

So, I reviewed Junaid Rana’s book Terrifying Muslims for Dawn Books and Authors. You can read the review here.

Following is the writing that happened before the writing, or what didn’t make the cut. 


In everyday conversations racism is taken to be a form of prejudice and xenophobia, something in the realm of ill-feeling (bigotry) and bad thinking (ignorance), but not anything structural. This conceptual muddle gets murkier when it comes to describing the hostility faced by Muslims. Is ‘Islamophobia’ a kind of racism? A common reply is that since Islam is a religion and not a race, no. This argument is premised upon a conception of race as fixed, and not as a concept the meaning of which has been made and remade continually through history in different contexts. It also takes for granted that race is rooted in biology, that it is not a social construct, and ignores the fact that whatever race may be, it is not necessarily read from skin-color and other biological markers in isolation from cultural markers such as dress, name, and comportment. And it blurs distinctions between Islam and Muslims: Islam is not a race, but Muslims do come in (many) “races” all of which are bludgeoned into one Islamophobic box with one fell racist swoop.

“Islamophobia is a gloss for the anti-Muslim racism that collapses numerous groups in the single category ‘Muslim,’” (p30) writes Junaid Rana in his Terrifying Muslims: Race and Labor in South Asian Diaspora. Though written in jargon-laden academic prose largely inaccessible to the general reader, Terrifying Muslims offers an important corrective to those who consider Islamophobia to be not a deep-seated structural issue. Such apolitical and ahistorical conceptions lend themselves to prescriptions of interfaith dialogue as a remedy, and worse be appropriated by the very generative forces of racism. And so we have the shady statist strategy of “cultural diplomacy” in the service of US empire, whereby Imam Abdul Rauf goes on international tours sponsored by the State department to “build bridges” between America and the Muslim world, whitewashing in the process the anti-Muslim violence in the US and abroad. Rana places Islamophobia squarely in histories of racism, capitalist labor extraction, imperial conquests, and state practices – in short, it isn’t something that can be overcome by droning on about interfaith dialogue while drones continue to turn people into “bug splats,” in the U.S. military parlance, and places into free-fire kill zones. Continue reading

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Reads of 2012

In no particular order:

George M. Fredrickson, Racism: A Short History 

Ashis Nandy, Exiled at Home: Comprising At the Edge of Psychology, The Intimate Enemy and Creating a Nationality. Read The Intimate Enemy here.

Patrick Griffin, American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier 

Tram Nguyen, We Are All Suspects Now: Untold Stories from Immigrant Communities after 9/11

Farina Mir, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab (South Asia Across the Disciplines). Read Kafila’s review here.

Ann Juanita Morning, The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference. Read some of Ann Morning’s work here.

Michael Omi, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (Critical Social Thought)

John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam

Evelyn Alsultany, Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11 (Critical Cultural Communication)

Daisy Rockwell, The Little Book of TerrorRead reviews here.

Pardis Mahdavi, Gridlock: Labor, Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai. Read Jadaliyya’s interview with her.

Andrew Gardner, City of Strangers: Gulf Migration and the Indian Community in Bahrain. Read some of Gardner’s work here.

Aman Sethi, A Free Man. Read an excerpt.

Alyssa Ayres, Speaking Like a State: Language and Nationalism in Pakistan


2011, 2010

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Islamophobia in the US

My review of Stephen Sheehi’s Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims was published in Dawn Books. Writer’s cut of this essay is at Chapati Mystery.

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Moslem Rageology

[Here is the link (PDFto my review of Irfan Husain’s Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West for The Sunday Guardian. A special thanks to the wise Panda for his essay “Taking the Place of Martyrs: Afghans and Arabs Under the Banner of Islam” which led me to Sayres S. Rudy’s “Pros and Cons: Americanism against Islamism in the ‘War on Terror.'” Rudy’s essay helped me in making sense of Husain’s seemingly self-contradictory and confused text, and convinced me that it should not be dismissed as muddled thinking. Most importantly, it helped me locate Husain within the discourse of the WoT and American imperialism for which he provides apologia in supple prose. Below is the chicken-scratch version of the published review, with my notes and/or lines that I didn’t pursue in print.]


…the WoT discourse bears a rigorous logic immune to simplistic “political,” “contextual,” or “anti-racist” antidotes. Its explicit core concept is grievance, its core empirical focus is the trajectory of grievance, and its core causal inference is the humiliation or indignity of the grievance. The argument above is, crucially, indifferent to the grievance’s substance. The partial silencing of political grievances in favor of voicing cultural or economic grievances matters but is secondary to the ideological function of the grievance format. As it happens, moving from the Arab or Muslim “mind” to economic, cultural, or political “root causes” of violence has not removed but re-situated and reinforced Islam’s unique anti-modernism. Crude racism indicts the racist but even the compassionate or media-savvy consumers see 9/11 or suicide-bombing as an overreaction to grievance, in which Muslims react unlike other aggrieved people. “Why not march peacefully, produce a Gandhi or Mandela, form civil society, use micro-credit for grassroots mobilization?” The answer is deduced: Islam’s disposition. If racist, this inference represents the new racism of the “war on terror.” It is racism derived from a logical, empirical proof rooted in the humane sensitivity to suffering and pitched explicitly against the spitting hatred and contempt for an inferior other. The proof is flawed but its rational-induction marks the new derived racist logic of the WoT — call it the anti-racist racism of grievance-talk.

The broad pro-war sentiment, I believe, accepts each of these interlocked components of the official policy. I wish to summarize the discourse before going into detail: As we have seen, some unique quality of Islam seems, empirically, to cause or permit an extremist minority of Muslims to overreact to common grievances with homicidal violence. We ought to oppose those grievances —mainly domestic political and economic deprivation — but the anti-American terrorists they have spawned are irremediable Enemy Muslims. With our Friend Muslims we must defeat Islamist terrorism in a “long war.” This indefinite conflict pits America’s universalist “culture of life” [Good America] against Islamism’s insular nihilism [Bad Islam(ism)].

I need to clarify here that the WoT and its discourse are racist toward Islam intrinsically, and not only toward Islamists, pace official ceremonies and disclaimers, and not only as a by-product of biopolitical sovereignty. Indeed, the trajectory of the war discourse is enormously significant; it is how the argument for the endless war, permanent state of exception, and all attendant civil, social, and human rights violations and atrocities proceeds that matters— especially: how Islamism is (1) separated from Islam; (2) opposed to the U.S.-Islam alliance; (3) re-identified with Islam; and (4) recoded as Islam’s ineluctable anti-U.S. enemy. The logic of the argument refolds Islamism and anti-U.S. terrorism into Islam in the end, on grounds that even as a tiny, breakaway “exception to the rule,” Islamic militarism is endemic to Islam.

Sayres S. Rudy, “Pros and Cons: Americanism against Islamism in the ‘War on Terror.'”

Immediately after 9/11, ex-diplomat and Pakistani columnist, Irfan Husain was flooded with emails from Americans wanting to understand “where the suicide bombers had come from.” In Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West Husain sets out to answer their question, “Why us?” To do so, Husain “was forced to confront the prejudices and atavistic desire for vengeance that millions of Muslims harbour.” (p5) Americans are too focused on local issues, he tells us, to know the forces of history that came crashing into the Twin Towers. Faultlines is premised on an essential difference between Westerners and Muslims. (West and Judeo-Christian West — and when speaking of the West in history, Christendom — are used fairly interchangeably.) Since “the ongoing confrontation between Islam and Christiandom began long before either faith was born,” and “bin Laden and his ilk are driven at least partially by events that happened a millennium or more ago,”  Husain explores the “historical and religious factors that separate the Muslim world from the West – especially America.”

A narrative of human progressundergirds Faultlines with the US, the leader of the West, its vanguard. Muslims are the backward other of progress: “[W]e tend to forget what Christendom was like when it was the same age as Islam is today. Imagine, for a moment, that it is the year 1400 in Europe. This would be the Dark Ages, before the Reformation, and well before the Enlightenment.” (p226) … ‎”Obviously the rest of the world isn’t going to wait for centuries for Muslims to catch up and enter the 21st century.” This Muslim lagis the essential divide, a fatal fault-line between Islam and the West, which Husain brings into being with his historical narrative of a millennium-long conflict between Islam and Christendom. The US is now heir to this history: “the leadership of the Western, Judeo-Christian world has passed on to America; with this mantle goes the poisoned chalice.” Continue reading

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