[Here is the link (PDF) to 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.
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.”
Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” pulsates through Husain’s exposition, guides his analysis, and stays his hand as he rides through the well-trodden road of explaining, in Lewisian terms, the roots of Muslim rage: “My book is an attempt to explain the causes of the resentment and anger that millions of Muslims harbor toward America and the West.” (p15) This separation of Muslims and the West is the binding thread of the book and the bedrock of Husain’s analysis. It cleaves history on these two axes, and finds the US and the West at the right side of history.
For this fault-line to make sense, a negative Muslim exceptionalism is needed. ”Faith is probably the most important element in a Muslim’s identity — an idea quite alien to most Westerners, who usually define themselves in terms other than purely religious ideas. If asked who they are, most Muslim believers would reply ‘Muslim’ before naming their nationality or ethnic group.” … ”Islam unites Muslims in the Western diaspora* in a way that other faiths do not.” … “The downside of this bonding is that it delays integration. Whereas most other migrant communities do their best to blend in with the majority by adopting to the mainstream modes of behaviour, Muslims tend to cling to their own dress, customs, and traditions. This makes them stand out and, in the post 9/11 climate of suspicion and hostility, makes them targets of selective profiling.” The Moslems are the most religious race. To top it of, Husain approvingly draws on Caldwell’s book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West in his ruminations about European Muslims. (see Matt Carr, or Pankaj Mishra, or Kenan Malik on that Eurabia-monger.)
(*Aside: By “Muslims in the Western diaspora” he probably means Muslims in the West and not Western Muslims living in a non-Western country or in a Western country other than theirs i.e. “Muslims in the Western diaspora.” But this is unlikely to be a gaffe. He does consider Western Muslims to be ipso facto diasporics and out of place. Regardless of how many generations they’ve lived in the West, they are perpetual outsiders. He refers to their Western societies as “host communities,” implying that Western Muslims are guests in the West and hence, are not in their own homes, and so, they should behave like good guests. Newsflash: They are at home and they will walk around in their pjs or whatever and do as they wish.)
Enter, the Muslim rage: The West has moved on but the Muslims have not, since “[b]eing relegated from their prominent position in world affairs to the status of losers has not been easy to accept, especially as they continue to languish at the bottom of world rankings.” (p72) They are seething with anger at their impotence, an anger they displace onto the West: “Given that it is easier to hold a superpower responsible for Israel’s ascendency than to accept that it is their own weakness that has contributed to this state of affairs, most Muslims naturally end up blaming America.” (p10) But Husain’s Lewisian canard has a bit of a twist.
It is crucial for the book that Moozy rage has no parallels. Many other peoples were colonized but Moozies were especially pissed off for being dethroned from global prominence. While colonialism injured many peoples, “[f]or Muslims, in particular, the past weighs heavily on their collective psyche.” (p72) As for ‘American imperialism’ (yes, in quotes): the American foreign policy makes a lot of the world angry “but nowhere in the world have they provoked the kind of visceral hatred as in the Muslim world.” This hatred is explosive: “…once they are told their acts of terrorism are not only sanctioned by Islam, but they also lead straight to heaven, they are quickly brainwashed into becoming human bombs.” The Iraq war would only add more fuel to this fire of Muslim hatred. And so, Husain was against the Iraq war because it will spread anti-Americanism which will only distract us from the good war in Af-Pak.
Fortunately, “the trajectory of mankind’s progress has remained remarkably steady.”(p15) Financiers and technocrats call the shots and ideology is becoming irrelevant. Islamic extremism, “a reaction to the forces of globalization that have transformed the world,” (p13) is spoiling the neoliberal paradise: “Islamic extremists want to drag the world back to a period in which they counted for something.” Invoking “primitive tribes” lashing out with rage and impotence to modernization, he foresees religious extremism to die out as well. There is a small matter of genocide in that historical imagery, but that need not detain us. It is for progress, after all.
Since the US has the largest military in the world, “it is inevitable that it has assumed the role of world policeman.” “Its economic and financial interests are so far-flung that it needs to maintain a global military presence.” The cop, however, is hated even by law-abiding citizens. (p54) Empire is thus America’s cross to bear for “mankind’s progress” –White man’s burden for the 21st century, if you will.
Speaking of barbarism, drones attacks are “necessary and effective.” (p181) They do foster resentment, but it is only the Pakistanis not living in the places under the aerial sovereignty of America’s humanitarian drones that have their panties in a twist. In contrast, the people subjected to drones, in North and South Waziristan, say that the damage they inflict is more contained than Pakistan Army’s artillery fire. Husain interprets their comparative preference for not being indiscriminately bombed at a mass-scale as them welcoming these attacks. The natives have no objections to being killed. In fact, they ask for it.
So what to do? Well, mosques and madrassas need to be state-controlled as in Turkey or monitored as in the US. Drones are good but only in the short term. The long term solution is to provide these unwashed Muslim masses some education. The Arab Spring gives him hope. The US-supported autocrats spent more than 5 percent of their GDP on education on average in the past 40 years. And now, the educated youth demand their rights and wish to take their destinies in their own hands instead of blaming the West. (p187) (X exists and now Y occurred, therefor X caused Y.) (Also, Palestinians should follow the example of the Arab movements and quit blaming the West for the continued colonization of their land, the ethnic cleansing, and their treatment as a third-class citizens within Israel, unconditionally supported by the US.). But unstable places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia are fucked beyond redemption.
Oh, also, can we hez more diplomat parties like we used to? That will help winning hearts and minds too.
The consensual argument for U.S. anti-terror hegemony (1) rejects crude racist caricatures, (2) emphasizes intra-cultural diversity, (3) deploys social-anthropological research methods, (4) avoids ahistorical and acontextual abstractions, (5) foregrounds political and economic grievances, (6) lets the Other speak, and (7) expresses a reluctant, confused, and evolving sense of the “Orient.” The WoT has embraced the anti-essentialist heart of Orientalism, rendering Saidian anti-imperial ideology-criticism otiose. Said won. Now the war of America against militant Islamism can proceed, free from Orientalism’s legatees.
The challenge that Husain’s book presents is how to respond to something so hackneyed that its counterpoints too have become clichés, and, to some extent, even appropriated by it. “Contrary to the general perception of Muslims as a monolithic mass of threatening would-be terrorists, there are many shades of opinions, just as there are within followers of any faith. One crucial difference exists: Extremist followers from other religions generally do not turn into suicide bombers.” (p147) There are many kinds of Muslims—conservative, liberal, fundamentalists, moderates, and extremists etc.—who can be rendered good ones or bad according to the exigencies of empire; Islam is a religion of peace, as Bush and Blair never tired of proclaiming, and extremists are a very tiny minority. Most Muslims however share their warped worldview. Hence this tiny minority of anti-Modern Bad Muslims, an exception to the Muslim whole, says something about the whole: Islam has a unique propensity for producing the violent fringe. The empire is simply magnanimously helping the good Muslims triumph against the bad ones for a better and safer world. Those skeptical of empire’s benevolence can read the good Muslim’s touching testimony to the metropole.
Husain is only explaining to the American man something that he won’t understand, that the rest of the world lives with and deals with historic memory. Its conflicts tap into that memory. Americans have trouble understanding how that can be, because Americans don’t have historic memory inflecting the present! The American is the new man. Irfan, the Oriental sage, is just informing this new kind of man about the hatreds of the old world.
In sum, Teh Moslems are crazy, my dear American man-child reader. Take it from me because I am one. Love, Irfan Husain