Misrepresenting Islam to Build Support for War

A video of four white guys arguing about Islam went viral this month. On HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, “liberal” atheists Bill Maher and Sam Harris got a bit upset when Ben Affleck (rightly) called them out for being racist and Islamophobic. Islamophobia, Maher answered, is “not a real thing when we do it.” Harris called Islam “the mother lode of bad ideas,” to which Maher’s “liberal” studio audience applauded. They argued that the minority of extremist Muslims who want jihad is a larger contingency than we think, that most of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims aren’t moderates.

The corporate media loved this brouhaha. Maher became Fox’s new favorite racist. CNN ran a segment, “Does Islam Promote Violence?” in which they asked Reza Aslan, professor at University of California, Riverside, and religious scholar, for his response. Aslan simply pointed out that, in fact, not all Muslims or even a majority hold extremist views. Yes, stoning happens in Pakistan, and women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia. But those are not Muslim problems. They are Pakistani and Saudi problems respectively. Using these examples to justify generalizations of all Muslims is bigotry.

Source: CNN

Maher tried to defend himself by arguing that Islam is not a race. The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain had the perfect response:

Source: The Intercept

Source: The Intercept

Strictly speaking of course this is true. Islam is certainly not a “race”, at least not in the way in which the term is popularly understood in America. But because many people buy into the myth that theocratic governments or even groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS speak for all Muslims, Muslims have become — undeniably — a racialized group after 9/11.

Moreover, in a number of instances, Sikhs have been the victims of violent anti-Islam hate crimes.

Some writers like Ali A. Rivzi have blamed moderate Muslims for letting this generalization spread. It’s not their fault. It is not their responsibility to defend their religion after a few self-identifying members of the same religion commit murder in the name of their religion. It’s not like they would have the opportunity, anyway. How often do you get to hear everyday Muslim voices in the mainstream media? Almost never. The only way Islam can be portrayed is by radical groups like ISIS because it makes for “better” TV. It’s easy to condemn ISIS for its actions, but it takes a bit more effort to understand that ISIS doesn’t represent the views of the majority of Muslims worldwide. No one thinks that the Westboro Baptist Church represents all Christians because most people who see those bigots are Christians themselves or at least have a general understanding of Christianity. This is not the case for the majority of Americans watching mainstream corporate media coverage of ISIS.

One dangerous result of these misrepresentations is broader support for U.S. military intervention against ISIS. There is indeed a certain element of ISIS that wants to establish the caliphate and impose a strict interpretation of sharia law. But much of ISIS is made up of former Saddam-era military officials fired by the United States during its occupation who simply want an end to economic inequality and sectarian oppression in their region. Painting ISIS as one monolithic organization is like painting all of Islam as one monolithic religion.

As Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who embedded with Shia militias fighting ISIS, pointed out on Democracy Now!, fighting ISIS as such is bound to fail. Not understanding the intricacies and nuances of ISIS leads to a broad generalization of the group. “The war that ISIS is waging on the Iraqi government is a coalition of many different tiny, little wars,” in which regular citizens of Iraq are expressing their grievances with their government. “ISIS have managed to include them all under a single one umbrella,” Ghaith said.

When American viewers see CNN’s segment about Islam, they get scared. That’s what the mainstream media is great at doing: fear mongering. If people think that Islam inherently promotes violence, of course they’re going to support the bombing of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria. And since, according to Bill Maher, the Muslim world has “too much in common with ISIS,” it’s quite all right if Muslim civilians die from our bombs because they’re all the same over there, anyway. Maher and his atheist friends fail to see the bigotry in their own logic.

Intersectionality at the People’s Climate March

Source: Working Families Party

Source: Working Families Party

How do you get 400,000 people to show up for an event? Intersectionality (the intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination)!

Climate change affects literally everyone. No good progressive doubts that it’s the most important issue facing the world. Climate change, the oppressor. Humanity, the oppressed. But what many don’t realize is that existing systems of oppression drive climate change. And those who contribute the least to climate change are the first to feel its effects.

For years, study after study has found that poor people and people of color are affected most and first by climate change. A 2009 study by the University of Southern California found that blacks residents of Los Angeles are twice as likely to die during a heat wave as others. This spring a University of Minnesota study found that people of color are exposed to 38 percent more air pollution than white people. According to the study, 7,000 fewer people of color would die every year if they breathed the lower amount of nitrogen dioxide that white people breathe.

Source: Marshall Research Group / University of Minnesota

Source: Marshall Research Group / University of Minnesota

Not only did a United Nations climate panel say that “People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalised are especially vulnerable to climate change,” but also it found that climate change makes it harder for “developing” countries to climb out of poverty.

Source: Democracy Now!

Source: Democracy Now!

Report Shows More Evidence That the United States Created ISIS

Photo: Conflict Armament Research

Photo: Conflict Armament Research

A new report finds that a significant portion of ammunition used by Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) militants was made in the United States. The study is more evidence that the U.S. government facilitated the rise of ISIS.

According to London-based Conflict Armament Research, China, Russia, and the United States are the top three manufactureres of the sample of small-caliber ammunition recovered from Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria. Of the 1,730 cartridges of ammunition collected, 20 percent was produced in the United States.

IMG_0261

Source: Conflict Armament Research

During just the 2000’s, the majority came from the United States. “IS forces appear to have acquired a large part of their current arsenal from stocks seized from, or abandoned by, Iraqi defence and security forces. The US gifted much of this material to Iraq,” the report said.

Source: Karen Yourish/The New York Times

Source: Karen Yourish/The New York Times

Though important, this report should come as no surprise. As Jeremy Scahill said on Democracy Now! last Friday, “the United States, through its policies, created the very threat that it claims to be fighting.” He pointed out that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri al-TakritI, a secular Baathist and former top military commander for Saddam Hussein, is now a top military commander for ISIS. One of Paul Bremer’s first actions after George W. Bush put him in charge of the occupation of Iraq was to fire 250,000 Baathist Iraqi soldiers. Then the United States put in power Nouri al-Maliki, who systematically slaughtered Sunnis. These Sunnis formed insurgent militias which eventually became the Islamic State.

The situation is worse under President Obama. During the Bush presidency, liberals held him and his allies accountable, bashing the administration for committing war crimes. Despite the fact that Obama is doing almost exactly same thing, liberals blindly support him. They can’t see past the “Democrat” label. He’s one of us, so we have to defend him, they say. What about standing up for your principles? Apparently that is not a thing for mainstream liberals. The result is a culture of endless war (and blowback).

Who benefits from this? Arms dealers (rich white men).

Source: Murtaza Hussain/Twitter

Source: Murtaza Hussain/Twitter

In the long run, our military interventions never bring about peace. Instead, our policies instigate violence and anti-American sentiment. We really need to examine the consequences of our foreign policy beyond “defeating” terrorists. The next time John McCain slut-shames a 16-year-old girl for having pre-martial sex, we should remind him of the consequences of bombing a country back to the Stone Age. Because guess what? You can’t put a condom on a bomb.

To the Protesting Colorado Students: Keep It Up

Source: Matthew Staver/The New York Times

Source: Matthew Staver/The New York Times

For the past few weeks, hundreds of high school students in Denver suburbs have been protesting a proposal for an anti-protest curriculum. The new conservative school board majority in the Jefferson County school district has created a curriculum-review committee to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” According to the proposal, “materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

If students had spent years learning this curriculum – one that discourages civil disorder – they probably would not be protesting. And that’s exactly what the school board wants. Though not advertised, the long-term goal of the proposed curriculum is to squash dissent. After years of being brainwashed about “respect for authority” and the “positive aspects” of our history, students would turn into fear-mongering robots of conservative patriotism and empty black holes for any critical thinking. Essentially, they would be the same people who are on the majority of the school board now, fearful of any “social strife” in America today.

Even the teachers are supporting the students. According to the Denver Post, 52 of 65 teachers at one school called in sick for Monday’s classes. A few weeks ago, two high schools had to close because of teacher absence. In response, the school district superintendent has threatened to bring disciplinary action against the protesting teachers. In this case, the teachers aren’t demanding higher salaries or better benefits or collective bargaining rights; they are protesting in solidarity with the students – which shows just how appalling the proposed curriculum is.

Not surprisingly, the new school board has won the praise of American for Prosperity-Colorado, the local organization affiliated with the national group run by Charles and David Koch. The Koch brothers, who have inherited their father’s oil and gas fortune, are known for opposing government regulation and defending economic freedom. It’s quite fitting that their local affiliate would support and push for an academic curriculum that promotes the “benefits of the free enterprise system” and discourages civil disobedience – a common tactic of anti-oil climate change activists.

History is not about learning the “positive aspects.” We study history to better understand why things are they way they are today. If your country was founded on and continues to thrive on what bell hooks calls imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, then you probably shouldn’t focus on the “positive aspects.” And if you don’t think that our country was founded on imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, then I suggest you study our history more closely. It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate their oppressors.

What else was this country founded on? Revolution. Protest. Civil disobedience. A lack of respect for authority. Some history scholars like Gerald Horne even think that the Revolutionary War was actually a counter-revolution by conservative colonists to protect and expand slavery. It seems that the only type of dissent that the all-white Jefferson County school board supports is the type that mainly benefits white people. They want to put down all other dissent, using a history curriculum that lauds the achievements of white people and minimizes the struggle of the oppressed.

So, to the protesting students, keep it up. You are embodying everything you’ve learned about history. You are making your history teachers proud. Maybe you’ll make it into a history textbook someday – as long as it’s not written by someone like the people on your school board. You are the real “patriots.” And I just vomited because I used the word “patriots.

Source: Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

Source: Brennan Linsley/Associated Press