Islamophobia and a Challenge to Bill Maher – Deepa Kumar on Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay, The Real News Network Oct 14, 2014

Click for Source Video and Text of Interview with Deepa Kumar on The Real News Network

Deepa Kumar, Associate Professor of Media Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University, Author of “Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization and the UPS Strike” and “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire”

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Bill Maher accused American liberals of being soft on Islam. Our guest, Deepa Kumar, thinks all of that Maher said is Islamophobic. Bill Maher is saying that there’s a great denial of rights in much of the Muslim world, not just Islamic State, but Saudi Arabia and so on, and there isn’t a lot of loud critique about it. Doesn’t he have a point?

DEEPA KUMAR, ASSOC. PROF. MEDIA STUDIES AND MIDEAST STUDIES, RUTGERS UNIV.: What Bill Maher said is a perfect example of what I call liberal Islamophobia by overgeneralization and demonization. Maher takes up liberal themes, such as human rights, women’s rights, the rights of gays and lesbians, the right to free speech, and so on and makes a case of the so-called Muslim world, like it is one big monolith in which these rights are uniformly denied to people, and then proceeds to equate, in essence, the politics of ISIS with the politics of the 1.5 billion people who practice Islam, when in fact you actually look at Muslim majority countries, which is the term that I prefer, they vary widely in terms of, for instance, the status of women.

RIGHTS: In Bangladesh, for instance, we’ve had two women heads of state voted into power, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. But in Saudi Arabia, women aren’t allowed to drive.

MAHER & HARRIS COMMNETS:  ANECDOTES FOR OVERGENERALIZATION: Of course there are these kinds of examples from Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia, like Iran, where women’s rights are restricted. But by focusing just on those and somehow equating this to a problem of Islam as opposed to a problem of USA-SAUDI-ISRAELI politics, he winds up perpetuating this notion that all Muslims are backward, which is the very essence of Islamophobia.

JAY: He overgeneralizes by ascribing fundamentalism about the Quran to all believers in Islam — Saying they are somehow also fundamentalists. But he doesn’t do that for Judaeo-Christianity, because there’s more craziness in the Bible than in the Quran.

KUMAR: Any religious text, whether the Quran or the Bible and so on, can be interpreted in multiple ways. There are progressive interpretations of it and then there are reactionary interpretations of it. Imagine if for every act of terror committed by a Christian fundamentalist, a far-right militia person like Wade Michael Page, who went to Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and shot a gun at a Sikh temple and killed people and so on, now imagine if we were to generalize from Wade Michael Page to all of Christiandom, to all of the United States, and say, now everybody else should denounce this man and distance themselves from him; otherwise, you’re all culpable. Now, that’s completely ridiculous, and of course that would be ridiculous if we talk about Christians in the West, but apparently it’s completely acceptable when it comes to talking about Muslims.

KUMAR: And so even President Obama said moderate Muslims should separate themselves from ISIS and from other groups and so on. Why? In what way, shape, or form are regular Muslims responsible for fundamentalism any more than regular Christians are responsible for Christian fundamentalism or regular Jews for Jewish fundamentalists? You get the idea. We see those people as being the extreme wing of a particular religious interpretation.

JAY: Is there a reluctance by USA left to being harsh on Extreme Islam fascism of killing people just because of their beliefs? It’s a pretty barbaric thing. I want clarify that nothing the Islamic State has done that compares to the barbaric activities the USA has done in Iraq and elsewhere, going back to the atomic bombing of Japan. So if we’re talking scale here, the Islamic State is a whisper of what the USA has done. But one does not need to hold back on describing ISIS(L) as a barbaric, brutal force on the people of the region. ISIS(L) is despised as much as most Afghans despise the Taliban.

KUMAR: Absolutely. I criticize in my book the tendency to somehow see the Islamists as being progressive and painting with progressive colors the Iranian Revolution and so forth. But that tendency has declined since the 1970s. I wrote about how ignorant the left was in terms of Islamophobia by equating the extreme Islamists with all of Islam and all Muslims. In the USA there is a blind spot around Islamophobia and a lack of a nuanced analysis of who these groups are, why they come to power, and what the historic conditions are for their rise.

JAY: It seems to me that Maher extends this extremism to anyone who believes in Islam and tries to make Islam itself extreme — He comes up with some quotes from the Quran that are particularly backward and compares that to our society having liberal values and free speech etc., while the USA has become a national surveillance and partial police-prison state fostering endless pretend wars. But here in USA, compared to a lot of societies, we can have this conversation, and we’re not going to walk out and get arrested. The USA has 50 to 60 years of supporting the worst kind of dictatorships everywhere, and particularly in the Middle East. The USA supports the Extremist Saudis and Big Oil Monarchs’ Extremist Wahabism. USA offers no support of liberal values of freedom and rights when it conflicts with American//Multinational Corporate interests abroad

KUMAR: The narrative in the West that Bill Maher and others echo is the clash of civilizations rhetoric coined by Bernard Lewis and then popularized by Samuel Huntington — Idea that in the post-Cold War, CULTURAL CONFLICT or CAULDRONIZATION (not political) would be useful. That there exist seven or eight civilizations, each with their own unique cultures including the West and the Islamic world and that they are bound to conflict with each other.

KUMAR: There are any number of problems with Maher’s arguments is there just wrong and it negates the fact that the rights people in USA didn’t happen automatically because some benevolent president decided. Rights like workers’ rights, freeddom of slaves, the rights of African Americans to vote, the right of women to vote, gay rights, etc. all were the results of people’s movements taking sometimes centuries — women fought for 100 years for voting rights with their male allies?

KUMAR: Somehow Maher and others assuming the liberal mantle think this was all our natural inheritance of what it means to be the West. HOW ABSURD!

KUMAR: Maher and Harris and others who demonize seeing the East, particularly Muslim majority countries, as being mired in barbarism — The classic language of colonialism we see today in West, like Israel.

KUMAR: Whether Maher knows it or not, he is echoing colonialism. Facts are the East has had Feminist and women’s Rights Movements in Iran and Egypt, which we in west barely ever hear of.

JAY: The roots of this go right back to the early days of the Catholic Church Crusades fighting against the Ottoman Empire NOT FOR LIBERAL VALUES but for “THE TRUE GOD” DEFEATING THE BAD GUYS GOD! Its roots go very deep.

KUMAR: Yes that’s why my book is called “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire” and it starts with the Crusades, because EVERY EMPIRE NEEDS AN ENEMY.” The motivations for the Crusades was to create this ideal Muslim enemy, which could then motivate people to go out and fight wars.

KUMAR: The Christian Crusades used the most horrific stereotypes of Muslims.

KUMAR: In al-Andalus, name given to Muslim rule in then Spain and Portugal, had the most advanced civilization of the time, as Europe was in the dark ages then. In Muslim al-Andalus you had street lighting, developments in science, medicine, and so on and Europeans had a very positive view of Muslims development because they had actual contact with them.

KKUMAR: In Europe in the dark ages Europeans who had contact with Spain typically dropped the idea of a Muslim enemy. But those people who never met anybody from the Middle East or North Africa or Spain, or never traveled adopted the stereotypes used in the Crusade writings. In USA the same is working in the case of ISIS(L) and scaring people to death.
JAY: The USA mainstream media misses that most Muslim and Arab class societies, the classes in power are barbaric and backward using the worst of Islam as controls on the people. You see the same thing in Christian fanatical regimes in Latin America and at other times in the West.

JAY: Lets go back to Maher’s brutal formulation of Islamophobia that says the USA LEFT is a reluctant to criticize the Iranian regime that suppresses its own people.
KUMAR: On the one hand, Maher presents the USA government as somehow a force for good in the region – The old white man’s burden.

JAY: But Maher trashes the USA Iraq war creating a naive kind of hypocrisy.

KUMAR: I certainly have critiques of the Dictatorships and Censorship and Violation of workers’ rights in Iran and Gulf Oil States. In fact very important people from Iran, like Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, have exposed civil rights violations, human rights violations, and so on.

KUMAR: The key is to have international solidarity with workers’ rights, women’s rights, what have you, in terms of how we can get together from a grassroots level to fight back. That is opposed to Bill Maher demonizing all of Muslim societies being like ISIS and Saudi leadership Wahabism.

JAY: Maher is completely ahistorical. If you’re in any Muslim countries you see the destruction and murder caused by American policies supporting Elitist Dictatorial regimes and this causes deep resentment and to have some sympathy for the Islamist opposition. Because the American policy and the Israeli policy destroyed the secular opposition.
KUMAR: That’s right West has been DESTROYING SECULAR NATIONALIST movements since the Cold War — Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt or Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran — USA discovered they couldn’t be co-opted to serve the U.S.’s corporate interests in the region, the key Eisenhower Doctrine from 1958 on was to create an Islamic bulwark of Dictators to counter secular nationalism.

KUMAR: If you read accounts of CIA activity you find they’re putting poison into Nasser’s cigarettes and his chocolates — awful things you think happen only in the movies. The CIA at a very systemic level funded and sponsored all sorts of radical Islamist groups, from Iran and all across the region.

JAY: Roosevelt started this Extremist Elitism when he did a deal with the Saudis who are the heart of all of this. The deal was Saudis would use oil to support the Petrodollar and the Saudis would use the excuse of defending Mecca to spread extremist Wahhabism rules of DICTATORSHIP throughout the Middle East Region as part of the Saudi-American policy.

KUMAR: Absolutely. The State Department wanted the Saudi monarch to be an Islamic Pope and to use the legitimacy of being the guardians of Mecca and Medina to actually push people away from secularism.

KUMAR: Saudi Arabia had a very systematic program of Wahhabism-Islamization:

  • Distributing Qurans for free all over Middle East and Africa
  • Giving tons of petrodollars to set up madrasas all over — All the way to Pakistan
  • Set up schools and colleges and sent their mujahideen preachers — al-Qaeda.

KUMAR: USA-SAUDIS-ISRAELI deal is really important to understanding how the ELITIST Extremist Parties of Political Islam became RULERS instead of secular moderates. It was a USA Goal to promote Extremists to counter the growing democratic tendencies of left secular alternatives. USA-Saudis-Israel systematically crushed moderate democratic secularism and a wider range of politics including left-leaning that Maher wants.

JAY: USA-Saudis-Israel destroyed in Afghanistan a more normal capitalist development under a modernizing king who wanted more modern capitalism. USA-Saudis threw that all out the window to suck Russia into a war and then arming AQ Contract Killers-Saudi-Jihadists — Village elders who didn’t know anything about rocket launchers but become the new powerbrokers — Then you wonder where the Taliban comes from.

KUMAR: In fact, every single reformist and pro-democratic movement that has come into being in the Middle East and North Africa, the USA-Saudis-Israel have always been on the wrong side of it.

KUMAR: The Free Princes Movement, was a modest movement, who wanted a constitutional monarchy. USA-Israel would NOT allow it and immediately dispatched forces to marginalize the movement.

Kumar: There was a workers movement in the Shia eastern region trying to form unions, but Aramco, at that time American-owned, would have none of it. And so they got rid of that. So every step towards creating rights for a whole group of people, from workers to women and so on and so forth, the USA-Israel is always on the wrong side, including after the Arab Spring of 2011.

KUMAR: USA-Israel-Saudis supports dictators till the very last second, and then back counterrevolutionaries or in Egypt they backed the military or USA-Israel gave the green light to Saudi Arabia to crush the resistance in Bahrain…

JAY: USA-Israel-Sauudis made a deal with Qatar to have Muslim Brotherhood rule as a regime with no grand democracy.

KUMAR: Right. So that USA-Israel-Saudi framework is important, because then you start to see that the people of the Middle East and North Africa are just like everybody else. They want economic rights. They want political rights and so on. And if the USA-Israel-Saudis just stopped interfering, we would see a flowering of a different kind of society.

JAY: MAHER Challenge — Does he have the courage to have Deepa and me on his show to talk about this topic?