No doubt I’m overstating it, but it sometimes seems that an honest discussion about Islam is impossible in the United States, and certainly not now, at least for the time being after the terrorist attack in Boston.
In both the popular and sometimes scholarly discourse about Islam, everyone is forced to pick a side. It sometimes seems like the only choice is between angry polemic and desperate apologetics. For rightwing, racist hysterics, Islam represents only a “problem,” not a human phenomenon worthy of recognition and sympathy. For those on the left, any attempt to consider political or radical forms of Islam as a factor in this or that extreme outbreak of violence gets pushed back immediately as reflecting western racism and Islamophobia. At their worst, each side tends to be as vociferous as the other; both sides marked by hyper-ventilation and moral posturing, self-righteous victimhood combined with twitchy paranoia, misplaced sympathy and hyper criticism, the failure to cognize larger pictures.
For orientation, I go to the liberal Arabic press (in English translation) and twitter-sphere where one encounters engaged critics from and in the Middle East and elsewhere who are alert to and write critically about the deep ideological fissures within contemporary Islam. They tend to avoid simplistic catch-calls like “Islamo-fascism” and Islamophobia, perhaps because these terms have no explanatory value vis-a-vis complex social and political dynamics. Most helpful are those voices that follow the ethnic, sectarian, cultural, and political fault lines, in Israel/Palestine, and in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, alert to the human face and life-histories.
It’s claimed by many that Americans get upset only when Americans, especially white Americans, die violent deaths, that for Americans only some lives are worth caring for and only some deaths worth mourning. This may or may not be true. Certainly, it is difficult to generalize. All I On my FB feed, none of my radical friends pay any mind at all to the ongoing carnage in Syria, about which Judith Butler or Slavoy Zizek, or Alain Badiou has said what? Last night I watched this Frontline video, which I found posted at Syria Comment, a site by Joshua Landis which always plays it straight down the middle re: that conflict. The video about Syria puts the Boston tragedy, and not just the Boston tragedy but the entire discourse about “Islam” in a sharp and painful perspective.