Saying ‘Islamic threat’ over and over doesn’t make it real

Soumaya Ghannoushi2“Pick up any newspaper today in Britain or elsewhere in Europe, switch on the TV or tune in to any radio station, and you’re very likely to get the impression that ‘our societies’ – if not western civilisation in its entirety – face an imminent Islamic threat, on a par with the old dangers of fascism.

“Since the terrorist bombings of New York, Madrid and London, the ‘fundamentalist peril’ has become part of the air we breathe. It has become a rhetorical crutch for everyone from rightwing bigots to opportunistic politicians and repenting ‘former extremists’, each with their own agenda….

“Years of peddled fear and demonisation have had severe consequences: a widening of ignorance and bigotry, deepening mistrust between individuals and communities, and the resurrection of the pernicious language of racism and fanaticism – as journalist Peter Oborne illustrated in his Channel 4 Dispatches documentary earlier this week….

“The much hyped Islamic threat is one of the greatest lies of our time. The ‘Muslim world’ – though no such bloc really exists – is politically fragmented and economically impoverished. It is reeling under the weight of crises and a long colonial legacy. Militarily, it is of scant significance. It is laughable that we should be discussing the Islamic threat when in the past seven years alone two Muslim countries have come under direct military occupation, ending hopes that the world had firmly closed this chapter of history decades ago.

“I suspect many military experts must struggle to keep a straight face every time the subject of the ‘Islamic threat’ is broached. They know that strategic threats are not founded on mere anxieties, imagination and illusions, but on concrete military and political facts. This is not to play down the seriousness of the dangers presented by al-Qaida and other violent groups. But these constitute a security problem to be dealt with through the intelligence and security services. Whatever its braggadocio, al-Qaida does not amount to a strategic military threat, let alone a menace to ‘western civilisation’….

“In the fog of the so-called war on terror, al-Qaida, terrorism, extremism and Islamism – the list of -isms goes on – have been employed as potent weapons in a range of battles. They have been deployed to demonise vulnerable minorities – their community groups and their leaders, mosques and faith schools. They have been adopted to eat away at civil liberties. And they have been exploited to target mainstream Islamist political parties. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party; the Muslim Brotherhood – the largest opposition in the Egyptian parliament; and Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice party in Malaysia, are among the movements cast in one terrifying category labelled ‘Islamism’, alongside al-Qaida. The huge differences are wilfully ignored to justify this strategy of unrelenting confrontation.”

Soumaya Ghannoushi in the Guardian, 11 July 2008