I use “Islamophobia” here to refer to the belief that Islam is irredeemably violent and oppressive, or a tendency to approach Islam expecting to find violence and oppression. In their more advanced stages, Islamophobes will believe that all Muslims believe in violent war against unbelievers, that Muslims who say they don’t are practicing taqiyya or dissimulation and biding their time, and that Muslims should not be allowed to establish a presence in the West. Islamophobia can and does lead to daily harassment for Muslims in the West, and sometimes deadly acts of terror. In Europe, it is obsessed with the “demographic threat” posed by Muslim immigrants, and often links up with anti-Semitic rightwing political parties. It is a real problem.
It’s just not a problem in the U.S. foreign policy establishment. In the U.S. foreign policy establishment (meaning the organs of the executive branch), Islamophobes are mocked and systematically excluded from decision-making. They have no real power there. And to accuse them of having power there is to completely miss the problem.
When it comes to U.S. foreign policy, don’t fear the Islamophobes.
Fear the president who hosts special Ramadan and Eid al-Adha celebrations in his palace, then launches wars that kill millions of Muslims (and other Middle Easterners.)
Fear the Defense Department that changes the name of their Muslim-killing war from “Operation Infinite Justice” to “Operation Enduring Freedom” to respect Muslim sensitivities.
Fear the government that designates high-level envoy after high-level envoy to reach out to Muslims and “counter extremism,” while basing regional security policy on an alliance with the most extreme “Islamic” state in the world.
Fear the political system, media and academy flooded with money from that same state.
Fear the presidential candidate who promises to side with Muslims and their civil rights “should the political winds shift in an ugly direction,” then oversees a government that systematically spies on Muslims and kills hundreds of Muslims and thousands of bystanders by remote assassination.
Fear the government that looks for ways to arrest Americans who offend Islam with YouTube videos and Qur’an burnings, because they might interfere with the war effort.
Fear the foreign service officer who, when a South Sudanese Christian American citizen comes to the embassy sobbing because his Sudanese Christian wife has been sentenced to death for apostasy, and their infant children are in prison, asks for a DNA test to prove that they’re really his children.
Fear the diplomats who think the Muslim Brotherhood could be a responsible ally if they were just given the chance to govern after winning free elections. Or rigged elections. Whatever. Egyptians are all Muslims anyway, right? This should make them happy.
Fear the administration that armed and equipped the Islamist rebel movement that gave birth to the Islamic State, then refused to call the Islamic State “the Islamic State,” lest they offend someone, then promised to “destroy” “ISIL,” then stood by as city after city full of Muslim and Christian civilians fell to the killers.
Fear the ambassador who blames Boko Haram on Nigerian Christians, because they didn’t give Nigerian Muslims “their turn” to rule the country.
Fear the president who gives an address at a “prayer breakfast” attended by an Islamist Sudanese minister personally involved in the killings of millions of Christians (and Muslims who weren’t Muslim enough for him), and uses it to talk about the Crusades.
Fear the State Department spokesperson who thinks the Islamic State wouldn’t exist if the unemployment rate in the region was a little lower.
Fear the foreign policy establishment that believes that Middle Eastern Muslims treat Islam the way they treat Christianity – something highbrow and cultural to do on Sunday and chat about at brunch on Monday, but that never interferes with their pursuit of the neoliberal dream. Fear the people who see Islam as a tool, a plaything, a collection of still-undeveloped peoples fit to be molded to America’s new manifest destiny. Fear the country that doesn’t bat an eyebrow when their “moderate,” “diplomatic,” “antiwar” president announces that he is leading “the one indispensable nation” on a mission to “extend peace and prosperity around the globe.” Fear those who believe that there’s nothing wrong with Middle Eastern history, society and culture that an infusion of capitalism and democracy can’t fix – even if we have to use American military power to do it. Fear the people who still think they can fix the Middle East, after everything. Fear the people who would try even if they didn’t believe it, because American power in the region depends on them being seen to try.
Don’t fear the Islamophobes. Fear the new Orientalists.