Media incitement: Is there such thing as 'radical Islam'?
Anyone watching either American cable news or the US presidential race might conclude that no two words put together are said more often and with more political charge than the words “radical Islam".
During the most recent GOP debate, US presidential candidates mentioned “radical Islam” more than two-dozen times. “Look, we have a tremendous problem with radical Islam,” said Donald Trump. In an earlier interview, Ted Cruz (R-TX) said Obama’s refusal to mention “radical Islam” is not befitting a commander-in-chief.
So why do right wingers, Christian fundamentalists, Zionists, and New Atheists insist on using the term “radical Islam”? It’s not as if ISIS or al-Qaeda will suddenly surrender the day the rest of us chant “radical Islam” like some kind of weird mantra. It’s not as though not saying “radical Islam” fails to identify the enemy, given I easily identified the enemy in the previous sentence: ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Those who insist on thrusting the words “radical Islam” into the body politick do so for sinister reasons. The application of “radical Islam” not only strips Muslims of normal human emotions (revenge, humiliation, desperation), it also implies that Muslims are ticking time bombs to be monitored and viewed with a suspicious eye.
John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University, told The New York Times: “In a sentence such as ‘We must eradicate radical Islam,’ the object of eradicate is technically ‘radical Islam,’ yes, but the core object, the heart of the expression ‘radical Islam’ is ‘Islam'. In another interview, McWhorter said: “That affects how one processes such a sentence – the adjective can come off as kind of decoration.”
We should get one thing straight: there is no such thing as “radical Islam". There are radical Muslims. Equally there’s no such thing as “radical Christianity,” but there are radical Christians. When the Planned Parenthood gunman, a Christian, made it clear his opposition to abortion motivated his attack, no one used the term “radical Christianity".
The term “radical Islam” is used most by right wing, neo-con politicians as a fig leaf to divert conversation away from examining the role US foreign policy, and particularly the War on Terror, plays in radicalizing some Muslims.
Instead of “radical Islam,” a more accurate way of defining the US targeted terror threat would be “radical anti-Americanism," but that then means examining our role in the link between cause and effect as it pertains to understanding violence and counter-violence, which is not conducive for neither good television ratings nor those who profit from endless war.
American television audiences don’t want to be told how their government’s actions have led to the death of four million Muslims in US led wars since 1990. When those who target the US with terrorist deeds cite clearly their central grievances, for instance the Boston bombers cited the US killing of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, their grievances are ignored or mentioned only as an afterthought.
American television audiences want to be reassured America is that “shining city on a hill,” which is why graphics attached to a Fox News backdrop are so star spangled awesome. “Radical” + “Islam” instead of “Iraq” + “invasion” is how right-wingers keep their sense of awesomeness.
The major television network CBS News is also a cog in the wheel of feel-good American exceptionalism. Last week the network aired a focus group discussion that centered on how American Muslims view the rise of ISIS, and how much responsibility they feel, as Muslims, to condemn ISIS attacks.
After the feature aired, however, two of the participants, Muslim Americans, contacted The Intercept to complain CBS had “edited out parts of the discussion where they raised their own concerns – including critiques of US militarism, surveillance, and entrapment".
They also said the host of the program, Frank Luntz, a well-known right-wing commentator and pollster, “silenced members of the group when they criticized discriminatory US government policies".
All of which underscores how sinister the motives are of those who insist on thrusting forth the words “radical Islam” – for the inference from the media and elsewhere is clear: in order for Muslims to retain their “moderate” Muslim-ness, they must keep any criticisms they have of US foreign policy and/or the war on terror to themselves.
“To be classified as moderate Muslims they must forget what they know about Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and instead align themselves with the fantasies of the war on terror; they are expected to constrain their religion to the private sphere but also speak out publicly against extremists’ interpretations of Islam; they are supposed to see themselves as liberal individuals but also declare an allegiance to the national collective; they are meant to put their faith capacity for reason above blind faith but not let it lead to criticisms of the West; and they have to publicly condemn using violence to achieve political ends – except when their own governments do so. No wonder moderate Muslims are said to be so hard to find,” writes Arun Kundnani in The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror.
Fear of being wrongly identified as sympathetic to “radical Islam” by work colleagues, friends, and neighbors is forcing many Muslim Americans to self-censor their political views.
“We’re Arabs, we talk about politics all the time. Politics is all we do! Every coffee shop, it’s either Al-Jazeera or a soccer game on TV. This new idea that we must be suspicious of those who speak about politics – something’s wrong,” said Linda Sarsour, a prominent Arab American activist.
Indeed, something is wrong by design. The term “radical Islam” is used to silence opposition to those who benefit most from the $1 trillion counter-terrorism spend, endless foreign wars and military occupations, which explains why those who are tied intimately to both the military-industrial-complex and the homeland-security-industrial complex are the loudest cheerleaders for the “radical Islam” chant.
“Radical Islam is motivated by a religious doctrine that requires them to purify their religion. They can’t be accommodated or appeased,” said US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is one of the top recipients of defense contractor campaign donations. While John McCain (R-AZ), who receives more defense contractor money than any elected official in Washington, warned: “The world has turned dramatically towards radical Islam.”
Ultimately, money drives all political narratives, and given the money that’s at stake here, the words “radical Islam” are here to stay, which means more fear and suspicion placed on Muslim Americans; which means an honest conversation regarding the roots of US targeted terror will remain shunned; which ultimately means good television ratings for the corporate owned media. And that’s the way everyone likes it.
CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America (2013), God Hates You. Hate Him Back (2009), and Koran Curious (2011), and he is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: People listen to speakers at a demonstration against racism and conservative presidential candidate Donald Trump's recent remarks concerning Muslims on 10 December, 2015 in New York City (AFP).