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The historic roots of a newly resilient ideology Pt.2

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Hi. Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you from Washington. And now joining us from Izmit, Turkey, is Sener Akturk. He’s a political scientist and a fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, lectures at the Department of Government, both at Harvard University. And coming from Berkeley, California, is Mujeeb Khan. He’s affiliated with the doctoral program in political science at the University of California Berkeley. He wrote a chapter in the book The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy. In the first segment of the interview we talked at Fort Hood and the rising anti-Muslim sentiment or campaigns in Europe. Sener, talk a little bit about the roots of this in Europe. To what extent is this sort of, you can say, a spontaneous reaction at a cultural, day-to-day level, and to what extent is this a really deliberate political campaign?

SENER AKTURK, DAVIS CENTER FOR RUSSIAN AND EURASIAN STUDIES: It is a deliberate political campaign, to a considerable extent, because it’s orchestrated by major political parties and leaders seeking electoral advantage by stoking anti-Muslim feelings in their population. We have many specific examples of this. For example, in 1998 a Christian Democrat from Germany initiated a massive signature campaign to prevent mostly Turkish Muslim immigrants from gaining citizenship, and on the heels of this he won the governorship of a key state in Germany, Hesse, that tipped the political balance in favor of Christian democrats against social democrats. And examples can be multiplied. I only gave one major example from Germany, and, as you’ve suggested, there are some parallels with Cold War and the demonization of the left and socialist movements during the Cold War. Usually social democrats, socialists, and definitely communist parties were stigmatized by picking on some marginal far-left terrorist organizations and their terrorist activities. A similar tactic is being employed to demonize and stigmatize Muslim populations in Europe and elsewhere by pointing to some marginal elements that are committing terrorism in the name Islam. These people are not elected officials. They are not accountable to Muslims in any way. They do not, they cannot possibly claim to be representatives of Muslims. And to compare their actions and their violence with, say, the referendum in Switzerland, or anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from President Sarkozy in France, or any other major political party that is being voted into office is a mistake in comparison, because on the one hand we are comparing popularly elected politicians, political parties, Islamophobic [inaudible] organizations, etc; on the other hand, we are putting on the other side of the scale terrorist organizations who are not accountable to anybody or representative of anybody. The media is deliberately committing this fallacy of a comparison by setting, let’s say, al-Qaeda against the ban on the minarets, which is an indefensible comparison. On the one side, we have citizens who are claiming their constitutionally embedded right for religious expression, whether it’s the headscarf or building of minarets; on the other hand, we have people that nobody knows where they come from or who funds them or where they get their arms, who commit terrorist acts that 99.9 percent of Muslims everywhere condemn, and most [inaudible] majority of Muslim scholars think are thoroughly anti-Islamic, because Islam, just as Judaism and Christianity, condemns killing of people—it’s one of the Ten Commandments. So I think this comparison is both reminiscent of demonizing during Cold War against socialists, and just as a social democrat doesn’t have to apologize for terrorist acts being committed by far-left terrorist organizations in Peru or in Mozambique, ordinary Muslims shouldn’t be stigmatized or accused for something that has absolutely no connection to their preferences.

JAY: In the United States, to what extent—the same question: is this a deliberate political campaign? But also there’s a feeling, at least amongst non-Muslim Americans—some non-Muslim Americans, at any rate, that Muslims don’t speak out enough against some of the extreme forms of Islam. You know, we’ve heard that reports from places like Jordan and other countries where sometimes Osama bin Laden is referred to as the Muslim Che Guevara—there’s a certain romanticization of bin Laden and the whole issue of martyrdom. To what extent is there some responsibility amongst the four Muslims to deal with this issue as well?

MUJEEB KHAN, UC BERKELEY: There has been repeated condemnation by major Muslim organizations in the US, like CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, and MPAC, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and many others whenever there’s been incidents of terrorism or attacks on civilians, as recently as the Fort Hood or the attempted bombing of the plane to Detroit. So, I mean, this has been repeatedly done. But at the same time, I think Muslims would like to see condemnation from mainstream American churches and Jewish organizations when Muslim civilians are killed or deliberately targeted, as was the case in Lebanon during the Israeli attack there, or, as I mentioned, in Gaza. And so I think, you know, what’s happening is that people are busy denouncing one another and expecting denunciations, while often being seen by the other side as not holding the same standards to one another. And so this is where you have this dialog of the death.

JAY: Is part of the problem here that the discourse, being through the official circles and through the far right-wing circles, positions this all as Muslim/non-Muslim? It’s all about the religion, when in fact this is not more a political struggle [sic]. Even if you want to talk about al-Qaeda type organizations, even if they’re framing what they do within religious grammar, this is an expression of a kind of right-wing nationalism. It’s not just—they’re not just fighting for some religious ideology here. And, actually, I’m again raising this issue in terms of Muslim Americans. By not talking more about the politics of this, are they kind of getting defensive and falling into this discourse that it’s really Muslim versus Christians and Jews in all of this?

KHAN: I think that’s exactly right. You know, what we’re dealing with is political violence, which is another word for war or for terrorism, in fact. And so, certainly, nationalist rhetoric or religious rhetoric may be used, or leftist rhetoric, in different contexts, but in itself that’s not—the rhetoric, it’s not itself giving birth to the violence that we’re seeing. They’re political issues and reasons having to do with, you know, desire to control resources, invasions, you know, past historic invasions, and desire to dominate particular areas of the world, and specifically the Arab world and the Middle East; and then the reaction that things like Operation Desert Storm, or the occupation that the Palestinians are suffering, and so on takes place. This is rarely done in the American media, in the mainstream media, is to look at the sort of historical-political context where such things take place, and also to use, you know, the same standard: when we condemn attacks against civilians and indiscriminate bombings in the United States or in Israel or in Europe, we have to use the same standard when it comes to the use of force—often on a much greater scale—against Muslim populations, where civilians are often the so-called collateral damage. And if we don’t, then as I said, we have this problem of this dialog of the death taking place.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the geopolitics of this question, because certainly the roots of all of this have to be with the struggle over oil in the Middle East. If it wasn’t for oil, we probably wouldn’t be doing this interview right now. So please join us for the next segment of this interview on The Real News Network.

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Sener Akturk is a political scientist and fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, lectures at the Department of Government, both at Harvard University. .

Mujeeb Khan is affiliated with the doctoral program in political science at the University of California Berkeley. He wrote a chapter in the book The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy..