Psychoanalyzing the Tsunami of Islamophobia
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
The long-time founding editor of the scholarly ezine, http://www.theamericanmuslim.org Sheil,a Musaji, has done yeoman service in exposing and countering Islamophobia through her two articles posted on February 17, 2008. These long, encyclopedic accounts are entitled “Danish Cartoon Wars, If at First You Don’t Succeed ... ” and “Radical Judaism’s War with Islam.” In a recent personal correspondence she expressed her frustration, “Don’t you sometimes feel like a hamster in a wheel trying to keep up with how fast these crises are coming at us?”
Like most of her articles, her two articles of February 17th, 2008, documenting what appears to be a tsunami of hate-motivated attacks on Islam and all Muslims, are the most thorough accounts available anywhere. As a life-long amateur historian of the rise and fall of civilizations, I am sure that these will be invaluable for historians long after we are dead. I don’t know of anything comparable during the build-up to the Nazi holocaust, though the early Neo-Cons at the time tried to warn against the ignorance in America that helped bring on the inevitable.
The vehemence of the hatred that propels phobic reactions to Islam as a religion may be explainable by psychologists, but it remains a mystery to Muslims who cannot understand why extremist Muslims throughout the ages are taken as representatives of the religion rather than as representatives of their own evil minds. These un-Islamic Muslims since the very beginning have thoroughly distorted the classical understandings of the Qur’an. Their distortions have led those who rightfully fear such hate-filled Muslims to pervert the Qur’an and the model of the Prophet Muhammad still further.
Why this vicious circle continues from one century to another perhaps has no explanation except that it has been human nature for millennia for neighboring tribes to demonize each other in order to justify “inhuman” attacks on the “other” as a means to survive in a world of limited resources. Such an economic explanation, however, seems too artificial, because the so-called “limits to growth” theory has always been more fiction than fact. This theory to justify aggression may itself often be motivated by deeper causes.
The vehemence of the mutual demonization among people of different religions no doubt does derive from a survival instinct, because nothing else would seem adequate to explain it. Perhaps one could compare the phenomenon to the natural immune reaction of every form of life to an existential threat. For example, when a person becomes allergic to penicillin, this immune reaction to the first shot can cause a much more violent and often lethal reaction to a second shot or to anything that even resembles penicillin. What could be compared at a more fundamental level to penicillin, which doctors claim is so beneficial to health but can turn out to be so deadly?
One candidate might be ideological. The ideology of Nazism in Germany offered to end the oppression of Germans after the First World War and to end the Great Depression, which this ideology claimed was caused by Jewish bankers, and to inaugurate a world utopia based on global conquest by a super-race. This ideology turned out to threaten the existence not only of the Jews but of the entire civilized world. Fortunately, the rest of the world crushed the Nazis just in time before Hitler could finish his crash development of nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them. Official Nazi documents published in the Voelkisher Beobactor in 1943 showed a map of the world with a swastika and a date for the final conquest of each country. America had the date 1949.
This most extreme threat to civilization in human history (Ghenghiz Khan notwithstanding), and especially its most extreme manifestation, the Shoah or Holocaust, has left a much deeper impression on all of humanity than younger generations can imagine, even though they unconsciously are a product of this universal reaction of dread.
An entire new ideology, known as Neo-Conservatism, developed half a century ago specifically to combat the pathological but entirely reasonable fear that after the collapse of Communism the entire world would collapse into utter chaos, just as it did in the Europe of the 1930s. The specific origin of NeoConservatism can be traced back to a seminal article by Robert StrauszHupe published in 1957 in the inaugural issue of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s house organ at the University of Pennsylvania, Orbis: A Quarterly Journal of World Affairs. In this article, entitled “The Balance of Tomorrow,” the founder of the FPRI forecast that Communism would implode well before the end of the century. He forecast that this sudden extinction of the Communist threat would create a new world in which population explosion in the Third World and the proliferation of nuclear weapons would bring on the end of civilization unless the United States was courageous enough to use its enormous military power to restore order in a world federation that would end forever the very concept of the nation state. He did not foresee sub-state actors like Al Qa’ida, but then no long-range forecasts are ever entirely accurate.
When the ideology of Communism finally self-destructed, as predicted also by the non-NeoCon, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a decade before the actual sudden event, historians, political scientists, economists, and experts on religion were dumbfounded and admitted that they did not have a clue what would happen next. Some predicted that history itself had ended and that American culture had finally triumphed as the only force left in the world.
Not so, said the Neo-Cons, who had been preparing for this eventuality already for decades. By analogy we might say that their immune system had been sensitized to any threat that might resemble the ideology of Nazism. Their antennas went out and found evidence of a very similar ideology that had been spreading quietly under the influence of Syed Qutb, who preceded Samuel Huntington in forecasting a clash of civilizations. Whereas Huntington emphasized that such a clash was by no means inevitable, Qutb insisted that there must be such a clash and in his insistence became its ideological godfather.
Syed Qutb’s paranoid hatred for “the West” differed little from Hitler’s except that Qutb was more open in attempting to enlist religious justifications for his ideological assaults. What happened next was perhaps natural and even inevitable. The collective emotional immune system of “the West”, which had developed in response to the ideology of the Nazi Holocaust, was again activated in response to perceived symptoms of a new ideological threat perhaps even more serious than its forebear. The mechanism of paranoid hatred that dominated in the first threat clearly was behind the next threat looming under the guise of Islam. And the immune reaction to it soon adopted the same irrational extremism that gave rise to the threat itself.
Of course, the fear of Islam as a religion, known as Islamophobia, had been around for centuries, but the spread of morbid fear from an intellectual minority group to the mainstream required a spectacular event like 9/11 in order to break down the normal resistance to purveyors of group hatred. The study of history reveals remarkably the atavistic power of group hatred to pass on from one generation and even one century to the next, even metastisizing from one enemy to another, often with increasing and suicidal virulence.
The NeoCons’ post-mortems, beginning in the 1950s half a century ago, concluded that anything similar in the future must be stamped out just as brutally as the Nazis stamped out those who opposed them. There is no room for rationality in any kind of prejudice, any more than there is in treating phobias against spiders. I have heard of effective treatment by desensitizing the phobic person through encouraging them to hold big, hairy tarantulas in their hands. But, very few phobics can do that. I see the same phenomenon even among some individuals who are very close to me.
The problem we have now in the gathering climate of psychotic hatred is that the phobic Islamophobes will not read anything that objectively explains Islam. If we try to explain it and differentiate it from the Muslim extremists who would pervert it, this merely shows that we are apologists and must be dismissed. If we become “reformist” Muslims and want to free Islam from the source of its evil, namely, the Prophet Muhammad (sas) and the Qur’an, then we may qualify as exceptions because we have joined the phobia against Islam and against all the Muslims who do not disown the Qur’an as a work of evil.
Although Sheila and the host of others who have been writing in The American Muslim now for almost twenty years appear to be waging a losing battle in the face of the overwhelming gathering of forces against the billion Muslims in the world, this should not discourage us. Allah in the Qur’an has much to say about people in our situation. Furthermore, as I noted in my recent article, posted on January 30, 2008, entitled “The Great Awakening of Justice: A Winning Strategy for Peace and Prosperity,” we are not alone in our efforts to transcend the hatred that appears to be dooming all of civilization. The worst thing we could do would be to withdraw into a ghetto mentality, as many Muslims are doing, including apparently especially the youth. No-one with taqwa and tawwakul can be defeatist. Even the fallen, according to the Qur’an, are not dead. Our motto should be the Prophet’s encouragement, “Go out and plant a tree,” because Allah says “kun wa yakun.”