The Conspiratoriate

On September 16, 2001 I was flying back to Beirut to begin a new academic term at the American University, located in the city’s Muslim district of  Hamra.   Logan Airport, where the two planes (American Airlines Flight 11 and United Flight 175) that plunged into the World Trade Center towers had originated, had reopened only the previous day, and the mood of all of us who were boarding international flights was, to say the least, apprehensive.  I glared at fellow passengers for any signs that they might have something to hide, and they glared at me with similar suspicion.  There were many good places to be in the days just following the attacks.  In the air was not one of them.

Back in Lebanon, out of the blue, my driver began by asking how I was, how America was (the answer: a little shaken) and then for no reason apologized to me for the actions of all Muslims, everywhere, with the caution, “This is not Islam.  These people are not Muslims.  They are madmen who defile Islam.”

It was an explanation I would get in one form or another for weeks thereafter, delivered with sincerity, often with unnecessary and misplaced contrition, from students and colleagues.

Similar platitudes about the “true nature of Islam” were emerging in a constant stream from Washington, which affected to make a clear distinction between Islam as a religion of peace and the image of people leaping from tall buildings to avoid being burned alive by the engulfing fire of a senseless and wholly evil act, done in the name of God, by partisans of a particular faith.

I discussed some of this in a 2006 book, Just War and Jihad: Positioning the Question of Religious Violence.  In doing research for my piece of the book  even I was surprised at how ritualistic the actions of Mohamed Attah, Abdulaziz al-Omari and Hani Hanjour were.  In 2012,  Attah’s name and that of his comrades in arms are all but forgotten by most Americans.  What remains are the recycled images, the date, and the sense that some sort of preternatural evil had touched Manhattan Island that day.

The very scale of the spectacle made theological explanations tempting: irresistible to Christian fundamentalists who believed the events vindicated their belief that Islam was a satanic parody of biblical faith, and also, ironically, atheists who felt that it corroborated their belief that Islam epitomized religion’s inherent destructive power over the mind.  Hollywood could leave it alone; sometimes art cannot imitate nature, and among other things September 11 was irreproducible spectacle.  Few of us in our lifetime will witness even one murder. On that day the world saw the internationally televised ritual murder of three thousand people.

But even the platitude makers in Washington were lying to themselves and then began lying to everyone else.  In the weeks and months ahead, America got used to a new vocabulary.  Homeland Security. The Patriot Act.Operation Enduring Freedom.  Rendition. Guantanamo. And a new cast of  very odd characters, talking endlessly about radical Islam and threats to the security of the American people.  Even the word “homeland” was contrived by Bush phrasemakers to evoke an image of nation and common good not evinced in words like “country” or “national security.”  Home is where you lived, what you loved, where you went to be secure; you would do anything to protect it.  What do you protect a home from? Intruders. Outsiders.  Foreigners.

Bush himself in eight years of incompetent bumbling on all fronts is famous for two magic moments:  one, when he impulsively grabbed a bullhorn at “Ground Zero” (another imbecilic phrase) and said to the crowd, “I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people —  who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

The second is his unilateral declaration of a win in Iraq in 2003, against the background of a festoon that read “Mission Accomplished.”  Besides Bush, who before this date was just a guy who’d stolen the Florida election won by Al Gore, there were others the American people got to know from briefings, news conferences, security alerts and news updates.  Rudy Giuliani, the “tough DA” who just happened to be mayor of New York on the fatal day; Ray Kelly, the NYC police chief and tough talker; Tom Ridge, the guy appointed by Bush to be the director of new Homeland Security agency, and under whose leadership the red-green-orange alert system  (reminiscent of how you learned to cross a street in first grade), evolved.  They all seemed like emanations of Bush’s plain spoken Wanted- dead- or- alive approach in his “war” on terrorism.

Alongside them, available on call for public ceremonies, were a modest retinue of Islamic spokesmen who were used by the Bush regime as mannequins for modeling what “good Islam” looked like: Wahlid Phares, Zuhdi Jasser, Tawfik Hamid.

If you have missed these faces (I have not) they are reunited for the first time since the passing of the Bush era in a video (released in 2009, but not widely distributed), designed to warm the cockles of your heart’s worst paranoid fears.  If you do not have the stomach for the full 72 minute version (Netflix has it) of The Third Jihad, there is an equally disturbing 32 minute free version that cuts right to the most graphic images and the bottom line delusion:

There is a well developed underground jihadist movement in America.  It is in a perpetual state of struggle against American culture and American values. It wants no prisoners, only victory. Your children are not safe.  “We the people” (i.e. “real Americans”) are not safe.  Wake up and tell a neighbour.  They use our laws against us.  They will not stop before the Constitution of the United States is replaced by Sharia.  Their first real victory? The presidential election of 2008.

For those of us (barely) old enough to remember the None Dare Call It Treason scare tactics of the 1960’s that kept the Domino Theory and rumours of atheist dominion flowing like sewage through the psyche of the American right, this is the Islamaphobe X-rated version of the same lunacy.

The film  is the brainchild of  former Navy physician and “concerned” Muslim Zuhdi Jasser who is most celebrated for his testimony before Congress in connection with the June 24, 2011 hearings on HR 963–known as the “See Something, Say Something Act.” Jasser is also heavily in with the American Islamic Forum for Democracy which recently has been shouting down the New York Times’ campaign against the film, especially its use in training New York City policemen.

If anyone has any doubts about the second-rate nature of the AIFD, then the quality of its website, its projects, and literature should out all doubt to rest.  It has the smell of a hate group whose odour has been unsatisfactorily sprayed over by the use of academics like Bernard Lewis and (important) dissidents like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  The majority of the interviewees in the film are self-styled experts with a book and a private theory to sell: Rachel Eherenfeld, Mark Steyn, and Melanie Philips fit that description; other like Giulinai and Tom Ridge are there because they bring back the fragrance of Bush era fear management.  It is not that independently these writers don’t have a piece of a thesis to argue; it is that they have been made in the film into a chorus of frogs.  Their incoherent views aren’t intended by filmmaker Raphael Shore and Wayne Kopping to lay out their worries in a coherent way but simply to bludgeon the viewer with  the director’s master-theory of radical Islam.

Confronted by the New York Times blast against The Third Jihad, Mayor Bloomberg ordered its use in training sessions discontinued immediately.  It was soon revealed that Commissioner Ray Kelly (listed in the film’s credits), after initially denying he had had any knowledge of the NYPD’s using the film, had actually cooperated in its development.  The AIFD explained the reversals this way:

The NYPD’s initial denial of having widely used the film for training purposes-and subsequent public apologies issued by Commissioner Kelly (“It shouldn’t have been shown”) and Mayor Bloomberg (“Somebody exercised some terrible judgment. I don’t know who. We’ll find out.”)–are in and of themselves deeply troubling, and say far more about the current state of American society than about The Third Jihad itself. In fact, these public denials and apologies demonstrate the remarkable success achieved by the Islamist lobby in North America, which seeks to prevent any and all public discussion of the supremacist political ideology that non-violent Islamist organizations share in common with terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. In other words, the behavior of the NYPD, in this matter, tends to confirm the film’s thesis.

Well, why not?  The best proof of anything is to say that suppressing it proves it was (dangerously) correct.  In rare cases, as with Galileo and Yu Jie, this turns out to be be right assessment.  But in most cases, there is no real suppression–just a correction of hideous error, and this film is designed to be hideous, with its visual manipulation, dark corners and spliced commentaries.  New York cops were being taught that homegrown Islamic terror cells are growing like cancer in the United States. (Remember Fort Hood? The film was begun in the year of the shootings, 2008). Now the public is meant to believe that vital information is being withheld by a government gone soft on terror because the Islamist lobby is hugely influential in media and politics.  Make you blood boil?  Oh George, Tom, Dick: where are you when the country needs your help?

The thesis is so absurd at every level that it beggars serious discussion. All the more reason that we should be indignant that officers pf the law were told to believe every word and image in it was true.

The worst part of The Third Jihad-philosophy, however, is that it is not the face of American Islam.  It is the face of fear-mongers left over from the (pardon the expression) Bush intelligentsia who are driven by their own political agendas.  Fear, after all, was good for them; it got them legally elected once and kept the country in the pocket of mean-spirited men for almost a decade–an unforeseen stroke of luck for an ignorant man and his lunatic far-right supporters.  These are the same voices who would have goaded Bush into bombing Iran if the mood had struck him, the same cohort who succeeded in pushing him to invade Iraq and stir the hornets’ nest in Pakistan.  These are people who want the Peacock throne and their villas back, but who are not so stupid as to think they can say this out loud.  It is not about Islam; it is about the private agendas of a distraught expatriate community and oil guzzling supporters who think American-style democracy would be good for the Middle East, good for the Islamic wold in general.

They’re banking on a tried and true constant in American politics:  American ignorance of the inner workings of the world beyond these shores. To do this they have to convince Americans that they are complacent while really under siege.  The message of the film is that smart (and patriotic) Americans will not be led astray by peace and tranquility.  Smart and patriotic Americans know that there is a war going on between their values and the values of foreigners.  The film argues, if that is the right word–rather impresses–that while violent jihad against the United States may be in suspension right now, cultural jihad is being waged by Islamic groups who are using the laws and rights they are given to work against society and overthrow it.  The tissue of silliness on which this master theory is based is something called the Explanatory Memorandum On the General Strategic Goal for the Group In North America.  Written by a member the Muslim brotherhood, Mohamed Akram,  in 1991,  it reeks of the overblown jihadist sentiment of that era, sentiment more eloquently purveyed in bin Laden’s fatwahs against America.

But it is all mularkey. The kind conservatives in Washington seem to get off on. –Factory-produced xenophobia repackaged as patriotism. There is no “Third Jihad.”  There is no “stealth jihad.”  And the third Jihad conspiracy-sellers can only persuade two kinds of people: people who feel more secure when they are fighting a war against some spectral enemy they are largely ignorant of, and people who stand to profit from convincing the public that they must be eternally vigilant, eternally suspicious, and as a consequence, eternally irrational.

We have a lot of people who fit that description, and a lot more who might buy  the sinister vision of an Islamic apocalypse that the film promotes.  It seems to me we have a lot more to worry about from those kinds of people.

4 thoughts on “The Conspiratoriate

  1. Excellent article. It feels quite relevant to me as a norwegian – the tragedy this summer was perpetrated by someone who was trumpeting a similar mixture of fear-mongering and conspiratorial delusion.

  2. It is an excellent essay describing a dire situation. I was unaware of many details you have highlighted. The reference to “Bush intelligentsia” reminds me of a former NZ Prime Minister David Lange’s quip, to another Republican in 1986, former US Ambassador H. Monroe Browne. Browne owned a racehorse called Lacka Reason. Lange said: “You are the only ambassador in the world to race a horse named after your country’s foreign policy.” Lacka Reason reflects aspects of domestic policy too.

  3. Interesting and persuasive article illustrating the problematic nature of paranoia and xenophobia, and which underlines Roosevelt’s aphorism about nothing to fear but fear itself. They say that the first casualty in a war is the truth itself, and the propaganda war which The Third Jihad appears part of is no exception – although I think what Islamic countries are peddling is far worse.

    However, the tenor and thrust of your article does seem just a little incongruous given that you wrote the Foreword to Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim which makes no bones, in what seems to me a very credible argument, that Islam itself poses a serious threat to universal human rights and democracy:

    Indeed autocracy and Islam are far more natural bedfellows than Islam and democracy. Democracy depends on freedom of thought and free discussion, whereas Islamic law explicitly forbids the discussions of decisions arrived at by the infallible consensus of the ulama. The whole notion of infallibility, whether of a “book” or a group of people [or an individual such as the Pope], is profoundly undemocratic and unscientific. [pg 181]

    A case in point being the recent thuggish attempt by a group of Muslims to suppress a discussion of Sharia law noteworthy for a rhetorical question by one such individual unclear on the concept of democracy: “who gave these kuffar the right to speak?”

    To quote Von Hayek: “Individual freedom cannot be reconciled with the supremacy of one single purpose to which the whole society must be entirely and permanently subordinated.” [pg 183]

    The purpose for Muslims apparently being jihad which, apparently, all believers must commit themselves to, with “dhimmitude” – the “divinely sanctioned system of discriminatory provisions” [The Trouble With Islam Today; Irshad Manji; pg 70] – being the fate of lesser creatures: i.e., Christians, Jews, pagans, unbelievers, etc., etc., etc.

    The truth of the matter is that Islam will never achieve democracy and human rights if it insists on the application of sharia and as long as there is no separation of church and state. But as Muir put it: “A reformed faith that should question the divine authority on which they [the institutions of Islam] rest, or attempt by rationalistic selection or abatement to effect a change, would be Islam no longer.” [pg 187]

    While one might quibble somewhat with his related argument that “there is no difference between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism” [pg 185], I think it is essentially correct. For example the Pew Forum report on religion in America notes that only some 8% of Muslims concede that the Quran was written only by men – no divine entities in the loop. But that only raises the minor question as to how they could consider themselves as such and the major one of just how much of the hateful schlock therein the rest really do buy – schlock that manifests so much savagery and barbarism that is so egregious that one finds it hard to see any redeeming features to it – Sufism, maybe – or the culture it has crippled so pathologically and so extensively.

    As you probably know Warraq starts off with a quote from one E. Renan: “Muslims are the first victims of Islam. …. To liberate the Muslim from his religion is the best service one can render him.” In the service of which and in consideration of the fact that Islam is intrinsically and fundamentally inimical and antithetical to the principles of democracy and human rights then it very much seems that questions of identity have to take a back seat.

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