Pros and Cons: Americanism Against Islamism in the “War on Terror”

Sayres S Rudy. The Muslim World. Volume 97, Issue 1. January 2007.

Diverse American elites have developed a progressive view of Islamism requiring a “war on terror.” Journalists, policy makers, human rights advocates, secularists, scholars, militant neo-imperialists, and liberal interventionists sustain a unified American anti-terror discourse rooted in three orthodoxies. First, they hold libertarian-rationalist assumptions about human action, agency, choice, and responsibility. second, they believe that public religiosity is a reaction to apolitical abstractions such as modernity, universalism, backwardness, or sexual frustration. Third, they honor Islam as a great civilization “distorted” by terrorists. These precepts ground a seemingly rigorous analysis of radical Islamism that re-inscribes cultural determinism, but as the result of a methodical, non-racial, scientific logic. The method is a discretionary and empirical causal mapping of various deprivations against global terrorist trends. The observations are that (1) political, economic, and social suffering is ubiquitous and constant but (2) Muslims are disproportionately involved in terrorism. The conclusion is that some aspect of Islam turns common grievances into the uniquely anti-humanist ideologies (“apocalyptic nihilism”) and actions (suicidal terrorism) of a deluded and irremediable minority. Given the anomaly of Islamist militancy (and the cosmopolitan reluctance to deny people self-identification), this minority is cast as Islamic fascists. The “West/Islam” dyad is recoded as Americanism/ Islamism in a consensual discourse that rejects racism and embraces inductive inference, satisfying enlightened normative sanctimony and sociological intuition. Resistance to the “war on terror” must, then, replace anti-racist refrains agreed by imperial ideology [“cultures are complex and internally contested”] with social-scientific and philosophical-conceptual counter-arguments.

Race-hatred and Imperialism: Casualties of Anti-Imperial Dogma

Edward Said’s canonic Orientalism set the terms for a generation of theorists and activists who link imperialism and racism. But, Said’s initial formulations appear conflicted. He claimed “it was the culture that created … European and then American interest in the Orient”—that “colonial rule was justified in advance by Orientalism, rather than after the fact.” But also, European “culture … acted dynamically along with brute political, economic, and military rationales to make the Orient the varied and complicated place that it obviously was in the field I call Orientalism.” Finally, the “relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony.” Said depicted Orientalism as antecedent to, coincident with, or immanent in imperialism. If timeless, Orientalism could have all three relationships to European aggression but, as a general background feature, would cease to explain it. In that case, too, we get only the agreeable truism that colonial invasions were tainted by nasty views of the colonized. The trouble is that any historical choice about Orientalism’s relationship to empire forces a theoretical choice about culture’s relationship to material power. Said’s temptation to locate Orientalism before and as a condition of imperialism conflicted notoriously with his preferred theory of the co-constitution of knowledge and power. On these issues he demurred: “We are not yet at the stage where we can say whether these [discourses] are preparations for imperial control and conquest, or whether they accompany such enterprises, or whether in some reflective or careless way they are a result of empire.” Then again, he declared, “Without a wellorganized sense that these people over there were not like ‘us’ and didn’t appreciate Our’ values—the very core of traditional Orientalist dogma as I describe its creation and circulation in [Orientalism]—there would have been no war” [U.S.-Iraq].

Said’s consternation over the political impact of discursive racism contains an old debate about the explanatory status of ideology. Realists believe that ideas like racism result from material power struggles over sovereignty; the elective affinity view describes material and ideal forces as symbiotic; mentalists see history as an unalloyed battle of cultural ideas. (Notably, a scientific pragmatist would resist all such general rules.) The affinity view connoting Max Weber’s studies of rationalization—irritated Said by implying that methodological interactivity or normative neutrality best accessed historical or political truth. But with greater urgency he resisted realism and mentalism for ignoring, in order, discourse and interests as organizing coercive modalities. Despite their deep ramifications, all three views cohabit in Orientalism. Said reserved an acidic animus for mentalists yet emphasized the cultural composition of Anglo-European empire; he assailed rarefied discourse-critique—urging engage post-colonialism over narcissistic post-modernism—but insisted on the irreducible historical salience of hateful racist discourses. He suspected accounts meshing colonial Realpolitik and racism of false symmetry but did not conclusively transcend them. Finally, his “unmatched … critique of Western knowledge” recalls previous theories emphasizing the material and political contours of social knowledge. One of my concerns is that his provocative indecision has been sacrificed for a dogmatism taken from his more strident passages.

Said’s failure to substantiate hegemony’s affective racist content—to specify the imperial-racist nexus—has provoked mostly his enemies. His allies suffice by intuiting causality between racist and imperial cruelties. Thus, several insist on “the vital role that Orientalist thought has played in unleashing the imperial intervention by the United States. Orientalism stands at the center of imperialist aggression; thewar is Orientalism by other means.” Another holds “[t]his Protean power of Orientalism is extremely important—all the more so now that Orientalism is abroad again, revivified and hideously emboldened.” The “war on terror” (WoT) has exacerbated anti-Muslim/Arab racism, via the wily Orientalism Said found “a much more resilient creature than we once supposed.” But the argument that racism explains official American actions is poor and distracting. First, injustice often causes racism, rather than vice-versa, through structural or psychological mechanisms that Said’s inheritors ignore. second, the critical literature registers minimal effect of cultural animus on foreign policy. Third, Orientalism poorly addresses U.S. policy shifts toward, pivotally, Islamism. Fourth, emphasizing the racism of war has long suppressed attention to the permanent “internal Orientalism” of white supremacy. Finally, hostility against Muslims could undermine racism as fears morph from immigrant to convert terrorism. The complacency of the narrow anti-Orientalist critique is hardly trivial—it determines the anti-imperial strategy. Would a successful anti-racism campaign, we must ask, limit or reverse the WoT? Orientalism set the intellectual and political agenda against Western hegemony by denouncing hateful, direct racism and glossing its concrete relationship to Anglo-European domination. This agenda is now inadequate. The warriors on terror have repudiated Orientalist platitudes about the “clash of civilizations”; indicatively, it is academics and activists, huddled for warmth, who cannot let it go.

The Essence of Style

A second ambiguity lining Orientalism—and etiolating its devotees’ opposition to the “war on terror”—is its relationship to “the Orient,” and “culture” more broadly. Said’s book is about European ideology and power. Its “real argument is that Orientalism is a considerable dimension of modern political-intellectual culture,” able—given “the relationship of power, of domination … between Occident and Orient”—to “represent” the ontological social duality West/East by “Orientalizing” Muslims/Arabs. For western identity he “showed how certain visions of Asiatic societies are deeply woven into canonical European literature. Colonization was no longer out there, in exotic places, but in the heart of European culture.” In sharp contrast, he had “no interest in, much less capacity for, showing what the true Orient and Islam really are.” Here Said was denigrating not himself but the idea of “the true Orient and Islam.” The verity of that idea is irrelevant to his reading of European discourse—self-sanctification requires myths mainly about oneself, not about others. Similarly, the “pathology” of racism rests not in its truth-content but in its “repressing the true reason [Europeans need Orientalism] to sustain their ideological position.” “Western” moral exceptionalism could, after all, hang on the denial of an “oriental” essence. As Said clarified, “Orientalism as I study it here deals principally, not with a correspondence between Orientalism and Orient, but with the internal consistency of Orientalism and its ideas about the Orient … despite or beyond any correspondence, or lack thereof, with a ‘real’ Orient.”

But the Saidian project condemns the falsity of Orientalist thought. Its “unverifiable fictions,” “ideological fantasies,” and “stupid clichés” about barbaric Muslims’ “congenital,” tribal, and anti-Semitic terrorism prove that Orientalism is “racism, it’s xenophobia, it’s a kind of paranoid, delusional fantasy.” Said wanted to show what the “orient” was not without saying what it was. This seems an odd decision. Suppose I want to discredit my neighbors who for generations have gained esteem and profit by claiming their tenants are mute, hostile, and irrational charity-cases. I could dissect my neighbors’ speech—its history, representations, epistemology, ontology, subject position, aporias—for pathogens of authorial contempt, institutional homeostasis, or discursive consistency. Or I could find out who the tenants are. It does seem to matter—even for getting at the neighbor’s need to believe the tenants are loonies—whether they are loonies. Critics could, then, best Orientalist “fictions” empirically: anthropological “reality” debunks racist “fantasy.” But there are two contrary anti-Orientalist correctives—Orientalism (1) misinterprets or (2) invents the Orient. The first would remedy interpretation of the Orient: “It would be wrong to conclude that the Orient was essentially an idea, or a creation with no corresponding reality … There were—and are—cultures and nations whose location is in the East, and their lives, histories, and customs have a brute reality obviously greater than anything that could be said about them in the West.” The second correction would refuse interpretation of the Orient: “My argument was that neither [the Arabs nor Islam] existed except as ‘communities of interpretation.”‘ Pace his perseveration against any Oriental “ontological stability” Said was ambivalent about cultural identity and, accordingly, about directly refuting Orientalist ideas vis-á-vis either the wrong-Orient or no-Orient position.

Said’s strategy thus became indirect- to derive the falsity of Orientalism from its style, to negate its factual substance via an immanent critique of its intellectual-ethical-aesthetic expression. Any text violating “humanist” principles and guidelines must, aprioristically, be false—and hostile, reactionary, and racist. Humanism values secular criticism, curiosity, compassion, individualism, courage, cultural appreciation, self-reflection, learning, toleration, diversity, complexity, and justice; it abhors totality, authoritarianism, fundamentalism, and anti-historicism. The view here is that humanism itself can detect and confute essentialism, without resort to specific counter-evidence, given textual features; e.g., generalizations about Islam are intrinsically wrong because they are essentialist. This humanist stance has three major problems. First, however enlightened, it lacks external criteria for empirical or theoretical criticism and thus cannot determine the falsity of Orientalist ideas. Second, humanism self-obviates by limiting its range to the popping of balloons; only ideas that are obviously false need apply. Third, and close behind, the core falsity, essentialism, suggests humanism’s myopic haste. To speak about culture, as Said does, entails recognizing some essence of parochial identification, even if the culture is complex or differentiated. As such, Islamic cultures may share properties, “essentialist explanations of Islamic absolutism” may “have a kernel of truth,” and so on. The “ontological irredentism”—invention of religious authenticity—of Muslim militants does echo the anti-Muslim racism of vapid Orientalism. But the anti-ontological irredentism of humanism “turns Said’s negation of Orientalism into a negation of Islam itself.” Said’s humanism tells us little about whether or how Arab or Muslim culture affects, say, Arab or Muslim political thought, but a great deal about why people keep asking the Orientalists.

The Problem of Anti-Discourse Discourse

Said bequeathed a stylistic anti-Orientalism without a critical method; “because he did not consciously provide an alternative model by which to evaluate and critique Orientalist scholarly works, Sa’id’s treatment falls back on unconscious assumptions and aesthetic sensibilities, notwithstanding his defense of his position as one of ‘adversarial critique.'” Recall that the burden of the Saidian program is to reject the existence, not merely a coagulate portrayal, of a Muslim/Arab Orient, culture, or essence on principle. This agenda fails in part because it is precisely the intricate experience of lived culture that trivializes the tone-deaf, dualistic anti-essentialism of postcolonial dogma. Nothing in Orientalism, or its afterwords or countless epigones, lays out when an account of Community Ω’s ideas, codes, practices, rules, symbols, language, and rituals changes from descriptive anthropology to racist essentialism. Indeed, humanist abstractions and assumptions about human variety neither resolve nor impeach questions about how Community Ω will react to Community ψ’s political, economic, or cultural incursions. Thus, a grave weakness in “Said’s conception is the blending of ‘highly selective historical observations’ with broad philosophical and metaphysical ‘generalizations,’ with the latter often running roughshod over the task of concrete historical interpretation.”

Orientalism—as book and calling—urges two untenable simplifications: the links between hate-racism and (1) imperialism and (2) essentialism. The causal racism-imperialism connection and the conceptual racism-essentialism equation—lacking empirical, political, or philosophical justification and precision—are established instead by stylistic negation. But Said’s influential procedure impedes intellectual and activist antagonism. It derides cultural accounts as essentialist, ergo racist and imperialist, perilously leaving culture to the culturalists. It advances impressionistic constructionism over social scientific discernment. And, finally, Orientalism provides a pedigree of Orientalist thinking instead of a genealogy. Saidians trace an isomorphic thread, no matter how thinning, of authoritative anti-Arab/Muslim racism from past to present, oblivious to the changed discourse around Islam more broadly. That discourse reflects the success of Said’s agenda. The consensual argument for U.S. anti-terror hegemony (1) rejects crude racist caricatures, (2) emphasizes intra-cultural diversity, (3) deploys social-anthropological research methods, (4) avoids ahistorical and acontextual abstractions, (5) foregrounds political and economic grievances, (6) lets the Other speak, and (7) expresses a reluctant, confused, and evolving sense of the “Orient.” The WoT has embraced the anti-essentialist heart of Orientalism, rendering Saidian anti-imperial ideology-criticism otiose. Said won. Now the war of America against militant Islamism can proceed, free from Orientalism’s legatees.

An American Interlude

Below I suggest how the textured logic bolstering the popular WoT repudiates the contemptuous paternalism and racism of familiar military narratives. Discussion about Islam and Arabs has changed under American hegemony in ways Orientalism could not foresee. Surely anti-Muslim/Arab ignorance and hatred persist and flourish. But America’s historical, political, economic, and ideological links to Islam depart from Europe’s colonial experience. Said noted this American discontinuity—the U.S. had a Western historical frontier, instrumental experts instead of romanticizing philologists, and “no deeply invested tradition of Orientalism.” Awkwardly for his sociology of knowledge, Said then averred that America’s “entire, vast apparatus for research on the Middle East … retains, in most of its general as well as its detailed functioning, the traditional Orientalist outlook which had been developed in Europe.”

This seems implausible. By Said’s power/knowledge matrix, U.S. Orientalism ought to suit American, not European, political experiences. Indeed, a distinctive American Orientalism has emerged. A few snapshots may hint at the unique picture. By one account, the absence of “Orientalism” among American captives in 19th-century Algeria reveals the “powerful universalist matrices of Protestant messianism and Enlightenment thought that the American Revolution forged … Such a progressive legacy is incontrovertibly visible in white slave or Barbary narratives in whose texts the antislave and anti-Orientalist agendas were often joined.” Perhaps that “creative ontology”65 has made “America … a special case,” “its Orient in the West,” its “West … the edge of the East”—imperial frontier “with its Indians without ancestry” and “its ever-receding limit” and port of self-exile, a “line of flight combining travel, hallucination, madness.” There, in a disgrace added to the near-erasure of its autochthonous peoples, Americans fabricated the “heroic figure [of] the cowboy,” “prototype of the American man,” directly from ‘three fundamentally Indian values: open space, nomadism, and egalitarianism.” In self-portrait, America’s “most gifted writers … have subverted … [the] optimistic belief in the United States as the global exemplar of material progress, the progressive ideology adhered to by the nation’s dominant elites.” After WWII, American Orientalism absorbed anti-racialist and “other ideals of tolerance and inclusion” from peacetime optimism and anthropological novelty. Ever since, America’s “post-Orientalist representations” have been shaped more by U.S. religiosity, diversity, and commodity-hegemony than by European secularism, homogeneity, and proprietary-empire in the Middle East. If dominant Europeans secured their isomorphic identity by externalizing a radical Other across a hard border, Americans ordered their plural ethos by internalizing familiar Others across a soft boundary. There is nothing less vicious in the American imaginary—but it operates on aggressive or genocidal propinquity, appropriation, and absorption distinct from Europe’s Orientalist binarism. Indeed, it is precisely therationalization of American Orientalism that enables the WoT, to which I now turn.

So, Beyond Anti-Orientalism

The “war on terror” must be confronted not on its functional or overt racism but on its misapprehension of Islamism under moral American exceptionalism (or Americanism). This adjustment is key to the question I am posing in this essay: Why does the WoT enjoy the mobilized or acquiescent support of American elites across party, regional, professional, ideological, and other lines? One answer is that there is something in it for everyone, as in the “wars” on poverty or drugs; destructive, lethal, and regressive, they still appeal to multi-partisan interests, perceptions, and moralities. But perhaps more compelling is the shared commitment of these elites to the elimination of political uncertainty under U.S. hegemony. That anti-uncertainty doctrine, enshrined in the National security Strategy (Sept 2002), is not an ideological coup d’état by a sleeper-cell of fascist lunatics but an elite agreement on American objectives, concerns, and strategies. If politics is defined as the struggle for certain conquest, i.e., for sovereignty, this conformity is routine. What surprises is evolving resistance to the inherence of prevention, preemption, aggression, and emergency conditions in sovereign power. The episodic, incoherent, but indignant resistance to the logic of sovereignty by its enforcers exposes cracks in the allegedly collective American belief system. The bases of U.S. foreign policy—”blood for oil,” raison d’état “strategery,” or military-industrial profiteering—cannot be confessed (for a mysterious reason). Instead, public policy must be made moral, and thus obligatory, universal, and sacrificial. However consistent foreign policy is, “making it moral” must answer to changes in domestic political climate, such as diminished patience with militarism and racism, even Orientalism.

The WoT argument identifies an empirical spectrum of diverse Islamist tendencies with a statistically high incidence of authoritarianism, fundamentalism, terrorism, and anti-modernism. It then isolates radical antiAmerican “jihadism” as betraying Islamic universalism, but observes that Islam has an outlier tendency toward such schismatic betrayals. It claims “jihadists” (1) irremediably oppose U.S. practices, requiring “indefinite” or “total” war; or (2) remediably oppose missing out on American practices, requiring the extension of democracy and capitalism. Finally, American values and practices are accredited and moralized against the inhumane actions—particularly suicide bombing—unique to Islamic militancy. Obviously, refuting such an argument takes more than formulaic anti-racism. The WoT discourse is methodical, inductive, and syllogistic. Not based on seventy-two virgins, the 1565 Siege of Malta, or other such ideological kitsch, the WoT argument is unscathed by scholastic anti-essentialist gestures. The widely held beliefs behind the U.S. “war on terror” are wrong social-scientifically, philosophically, conceptually, and politically and must be challenged on those grounds.

The Discursive Formation of Islamism in the “War on Terror”

It is often missed that the European Enlightenment has always seen religionists and rationalists alike securing sources of meaning, value, creativity, spontaneity, freedom, and transcendence against radical secularization. But the recent widespread ” ‘deprivatization’ of religion” has equally alienated secularists and rationalists. “[D]evelopments of the [twentieth] century—two world wars, genocide, decolonization, the spread of populism, and the technological integration of the world—have done less to drive faith inward toward commotions of the soul than they have to drive it outward toward those of the polity, the state, and that complex argument we call culture.” Interest in shared secular aspects of varied religiously coded political movements emerged in the 90s but since the 9/11/2001 attacks, global and local tensions have deepened between secular and religious, across faiths, and within religious communities. An American discourse about Islam ensued, mixing grief, anger, curiosity, vengeance, and conciliation. Readers bought Qur’ans, note-takers crowded lecture halls, corporations funded documentaries, media interviewed “terrorism experts,” and the President went to mosques. The enigmatic “Why do they hate us?” question framed another: “What does this have to do with Islam?”

Facilitating Conceptions I: Globalization

Pundits on the Middle East thrived after 9/11. In the shadows lurked Middle East and North African (MENA) scholars who had been working out how perceptions, class-formations, and institutions shape Islamist politics. An old antagonism between social realists and neo-Orientalists has waned facilitating their agreement with policy makers, rights lawyers, cosmopolitans, generals, journalists, and public intellectuals on an easily digestible and actionable analysis of Islamism. The basic argument is that when Muslims suffer deprivation, they turn to the mosque as the only inviolable social space and to Islamism as the only source of integral moral rectitude and effective social provision. That one sentence has become a meme-like general explanation for the “Islamic revival” since 1979.

“Abstract” globalization theory was ready with its abstractions about modernity and identity. Against political economists, who specify social configurations and causal junctures, global theorists link huge conditions: such as Capitalism and Modernity and Fundamentalism and Postmodernism. Typically, Islamism “defends religion against modernity.” These writers dissolve private, public, militant, and terrorist Muslims into one effect, “fundamentalism,” F. Then they point out a globalizing “modern” condition (e.g., shorts) as the one cause, “modernization,” M. They then ask if for every F there is M: “When you spot a fundamentalist, look around for shorts. If you find shorts, modernization caused fundamentalism.” They avoid the test question: If M, then F? “If shorts, then fundamentalism?” Finding M wherever there is F is beside the point; and even finding F wherever there is M hardly proves M causes F. Just testing the correlations between fundamentalism and secularization in Muslim countries disproves the link.

Global theories of fundamentalism make two related and pervasive mistakes gobbled up by media and policy elites. First, asserting that global M causes local F, they then reverse gears to say that local M causes global F—that many discrete local fundamentalist reactions to shorts constitute a single, cohesive global fundamentalist movement. Suddenly we face an anti-modern uprising, “a loosely connected, still-developing global sub-culture of apocalyptic violence—of violence conceived in sweeping terms as a purification and renewal of humankind through the … destruction of the planet … [by groups with] certain psychological parallels to Aum Shinrikyo … , for instance the Jewish fundamentalists who encouraged the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Palestinian Hamas suicide bombers, and Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists who act violently on behalf of claims to ancient sacred places on the Indian subcontinent.” The temptation to pour such obviously diverse organizations, motivations, and histories into hysterical and surreal prosody eludes me, but it is common. It is the same technique used to identify the “trail of Islam;” more intuitively sensible but equally invalid. There is no reason to suppose that scattered Islamist activities around the world are cohesive, connected, or even compatible.

The “War on Terror” and Derived Islamic Uniqueness

Explaining religious militancy in terms of the valuation of M reclaimed Islamic exceptionalism after 9/11. But here M referred to responses to deprivation. The coding of modern political religion had changed—now Muslims attacked modernity instead of modernity attacking religion. The switch from religion as-effect to Islam-as-cause exploited the disingenuously invoked “inability of poverty to explain Islamist terrorism.” For value-conflict theorists, crude materialism’s loss was complete idealism’s gain: since terrorists aren’t poor, they must hate America for its ethical lifeworld. Their argument follows:

(1) Political, economic, and cultural grievances are ubiquitous;

(2) Muslims are over-represented among terrorists [though terrorists are not necessarily over-represented among Muslims];

(3) Thus, some Islamic quality uniquely inspires terrorist overreaction to grievances;

(3a) Islamist terrorists do not share political or economic grievances;

(3b) Islamist terrorists do share cultural grievances;

(3c) Thus, Islamist terrorists overreact to cultural grievances.

(4) Islamist terrorists attack the U.S.

(4a) America boasts a liberal-democratic-secular culture;

(4b) Islamists oppose liberal-secular-democratic culture;

(5) Thus Islamist terrorism against the U.S. is an overreaction sparked by a unique Islamic quality to the minority Muslim grievance against America’s cultural valuation of liberal-secular-democratic culture;

(6) Cultural valuation and value-conflict are immutable;

(7) Therefore, anti-American Islamist terrorism reflects an immutable conflict of cultural valuations between the U.S. and Islam(ism).

Thus has “Islamism” been subtly “put into discourse”: “At issue is … a process that spreads [Islam] over the surface of things and bodies, arouses it, draws it out and bids it speak, implants it in reality and enjoins it to tell the truth: an entire glittering [Islamist] array, reflected in a myriad of discourses, the concentration of powers, and the interplay of knowledge and power.” But this discursive construction of Islamism is an innovative rejection of crude Orientalism.

This wicked schema—converting social, political, and cultural struggles among variegated peoples into mentalist conflicts between Americanism and Islamism—predated 9/11. One presumes culture-clash diagnosticians guilty until proven innocent of choosing to ignore political injustices, past or present. But the WoT discourse bears a rigorous logic immune to simplistic “political,” “contextual,” or “anti-racist” antidotes. Its explicit core concept is grievance, its core empirical focus is the trajectory of grievance, and its core causal inference is the humiliation or indignity of the grievance. The argument above is, crucially, indifferent to the grievance’s substance. The partial silencing of political grievances in favor of voicing cultural or economic grievances matters but is secondary to the ideological function of the grievance format. As it happens, moving from the Arab or Muslim “mind” to economic, cultural, or political “root causes” of violence has not removed but re-situated and reinforced Islam’s unique anti-modernism. Crude racism indicts the racist but even the compassionate or media-savvy consumers see 9/11 or suicide-bombing as an overreaction to grievance, in which Muslims react unlike other aggrieved people. “Why not march peacefully, produce a Gandhi or Mandela, form civil society, use micro-credit for grassroots mobilization?” The answer is deduced: Islam’s disposition. If racist, this inference represents the new racism of the “war on terror.” It is racism derived from a logical, empirical proof rooted in the humane sensitivity to suffering and pitched explicitly against the spitting hatred and contempt for an inferior other. The proof is flawed but its rational-induction marks the new derived racist logic of the WoT—call it the anti-racist racism of grievance-talk.

Facilitating Conceptions II: Complexity, Agency, and Culture-Skepticism

So the {grievance [arrow right] Islamist terror} equation bolsters the view of Islamic aggression with a quasi-scientific argument whose causal mechanism redounds to Muslim irrationalism. Here is an apt place to scrutinize the appeal of this equation against three dogmas of anti-essentialist universalism: complexity, culture-skepticism, and agency. It seems widely accepted that proving Islam is a complex culture of agents would devastate the WoT discourse. This error has helped warriors on terror avoid relevant criticism, as witnessed in the near-unanimous support for bombing Afghanistan without critical national debate (Oct 2001-). What matters here is the convergence of pro-WoT “liberals” and anti-WoT “radicals” around these critically and politically weightless dogmas as they bolster the WoT.

(1) Complexity-fetishists. Specialist scholars have demonstrated “Islam’s” protean relationship to democracy, gender, tolerance, statism, secularization, legal-philosophical rationality, capitalism, cross-cultural coexistence, political authority, and violence. So we know the dynamism of Muslim experiences, interpretations, ideas, beliefs, and institutions. The credible scholarship refutes the cartoons that Saidian contrapuntalism abhors, just as the WoT discourse itself asserts Islamic multiplicity; it observes that most terrorists are Muslims, not that most Muslims are terrorists. Islamist terrorists, they insist, betray their religion’s majority currents when expressing Islam’s unique dark side. The idea is that Islam has, not is, a unique dark side—a contention at ease with Muslim “complexity.”

(2) Agency-fetishists. Orientalists often insist that Islam is an exceptionally regulatory theology based on obeisance to a literal reading of al-Qur’an, in alleged contrast to “Christians and Jews [who are] free to interpret the Bible as they please.” This view fits Islam into the motif that tradition determines the ideas and activities of the poor and undeveloped, while the privileged and advanced decide their fate. “Postcolonialism” replaces this myth of the native robot with ethnographies of the indigenous strategist. War critics have tried to enlist this improvement against claims that Islam is endemically anti-Western, violent, depressive, or resentful. But again this reproach is not germane to the post-9/11 environment. First, the WoT discourse has adopted just this view, accusing Muslim terrorists of choosing to ignore the dictates of Islam, a “religion of peace.” Any subliminal racist implication that agential Muslims choose violence hardly trumps the explicit insistence on Muslim diversity and democracy. Second, the official narrative evolved precisely to make Islamiste responsible by stressing their agency. Initial talk of “evil” or “civilizational” motives, logically exculpatory, morphed into the notion of inculcated hatred—usually modeled on the mad madrasa motif, itself now falling into desuetude.” The instructor-pupil mentorship meshes sadistic subject (teacher of false doctrine) with mindless object (disciple of terrorist worldview). The WoT latches onto the hegemonic anti-structuralism now pervasive in criminology, law, social science, public policy, psychology, economic development, and neo-liberalism.100 Resuscitating subaltern agency is, then, not a challenge to the WoT but subtends it, not least by validating the focus on Islam as object/subject of non-negotiable violence.

The boon to the WoT of the alignment of postcolonial agency-fetishists and American liberal-imperialists deserves special notice. Subaltern humanism—among native-born and immigrant American secularists—is more militantly anti-religious than the main warriors on terror and thus far less tolerant of political religion. Neoconservatives and Islamist militants are ideological (military and political) soulmates. Both “enemies” deplore real democracy and libertarianism and savor fundamentalist, patriarchal, repressive social rule with unfettered access to military and policy force. Less appreciated is the unreflective secularist authoritarianism that makes humanists especially proWoT by root instinct. The anti-Christian—let alone Muslim—”tyranny of petty coercion”103 by influential, if minority, elitists signals a weapon in any campaign by M against F. Fundamentalist secularism simplifies, diagnoses, and silences religion with ferocious thoughtlessness. Typical is this passage by a member of an International Parliament of Writers delegation to Palestine: “As an activity of the imagination, religion seems to arise from a fear of death and the unknown world. Unlike poetry, it arises from the collective imagination and of necessity forms a relationship with authority, then subsequently transforms into an authority, systematizes, and even militarizes, so that when it encounters another collective imagination, the clashing of swords and the flowing of blood inevitably follows.” Such pedantic dogmatism contributes immensely to the general silence of alleged anti-neoconservatives around the WoT. Worse, the absolutism of much secular thought is regularly less tolerant and more coercive toward any public religion, a view conducive to hegemonic impulses that deny Muslim humanism and radicalize Islamists.

Many postcolonials are liberals with equivocal impulses—fastened by their association of religion with authoritarianism—toward crushing the Taliban or al-Qa’ida. This is telling given agency-fetishism’s conceptual dilemma over universal and cultural subjectivity. Is agency a universal or cultural category; does it refer to the immanent standardized human subject or to the existent pluralized cultural subject? It depends whether strategic orientation (a) must unify ends and means under one “rationality” or (b) can guide the satisfaction of divergent values. The secular humanist, believing (a), is reasonably tempted by the forced emancipation of people suffering under tyrants and the “cultural defense” of (b). The final political irony of this constipated strain of anti-war agency dogmatists is that the official line has, since 2003, revived structuralism by emphasizing the political and economic determinants (tyranny and poverty) of terrorism. Relative to the confused WoT discourse that sporadically exonerates Islamists as inevitable by-products of social forces, agency-fetishists must blame Islamist terrorism on the willful actions of subjects freely choosing their version of Islamic injunctions. The ideologies are topsy-turvy. The political-economic structuralism of the WoT discourse now mimes the leftist-Marxians who have attributed terrorism-as-resistance to removable suffering since the 1960s, while the (often anti-war) humanists portray the unencumbered Muslim killer as necessarily the incorrigible foe. The agency-fetishists offer a distinct supporting case for the “indefinite” war’s “irremediable enemy”—the de-historicized true believing Other rather than the Human made irreparable Other by circumstance.

(3) Culture-skeptics. For many analysts of social change, culture, conceived as collective identity, should go the way of the dodo. (a) The “cultural surround” of a given community’s life—in all its richness—must be stable to meet the basic criteria for culture. But if stable, consistent, and integral, it by definition cannot explain its discontinuities, ruptures, and exceptions. This draws on the basic insight that a constant does not explain variation; “Islam” cannot explain, as a cardinal example, how the Qutbian jihad redirected anti-jabiliyya violence against corrupt Muslims. Some change external to a “culture” must explain change internal to a culture. To deny this by treating culture as a self-explaining subject is “culture talk”—a ruse used to ignore material sources of Islamist violence. Cultures exist, but cannot be blamed for decisions in their name, (b) Competing notions of culture get ethics wrong. Culture as a constituent of human self-reflection is the singular abode of language, communication, and imagination, hence human subjectivity. As received, parametric hard-wiring, culture connotes modular regimentation in contrast to the strategic actor of other value-spheres. Both notions miss that culture is a structure like others with the same constraints on responsibility. But both errors tend, as in the “current political discourse that [identifies] culture and politics,” to return to “the Volk romanticism of the nineteenth century.”

(c) Culture is too paradoxical a concept to be workable. We first note the philosophical paradox of identity, that “the continuing identity of a person over the years is predicated not on his retention of substance, but on the continuity of replacement of substance … Was [Theseus’s] ship the same ship despite successive replacement, over the years, of all of its parts?” Cultures modify, react, and adapt but retain coherent linguistic, behavioral, and ethical patterns that constitute a non-arbitrary, enduring agreement. As subjects we (re)articulate meaningful environments where “the beliefs and desires that buttress [our loyalties and convictions] overlap those of lots of other members of the group with which we identify for purposes of moral or political deliberation.” Distinctness requires continuity, not fixity, conflict, or incommensurability. The social changes that result when a cultural, religious, or national identity faces life’s struggles and pleasures suggest not the weakness but strength of its discrete evaluative criteria. Cultural expressions of nation, ethnicity, or tribe shape and are shaped by social, economic, or political conditions. Cultural groups imbricate symbolic, linguistic, affective metaphorical, ethical, or rational patterns, often effecting political outcomes. So culture is a messy, nebulous, inconclusive guide to social phenomena. It has taxonomic, not explanatory, benefits.

Treating culture well requires seeing that people do not either experience values in terms of other social facts—political regime, economic order, imperial events—or experience those other social facts in terms of values. Textured social analyses avoid “approaches that reduce the meaning of action to the consciousness of the actor [and] those that explain it through the latter’s ‘circumstances.'” Affirming the mobius strip reciprocity of symbolic, ethical, or aesthetic meanings and the rest of life shows one’s seriousness about culture; taking culture more seriously shows one is not serious about culture. We know, then, that “to speak of the desires of Iraq or the perspicacity of Holland is to fall into foolish mythologies.” We know “only that which has no history is definable.” We know, that is, not to essentialize. Saying a culture does rather than is warrants “castigation for its emphasis on integration, conformity, and equilibrium; for privileging identity over change; for advocating purity and authenticity over hybridity and syncretism; for being too fixed on symbols and meaning rather than on performance and praxis.” Religious or national culture is a social construct lacking—in a qualified sense—an essence, it is “a passing state, an accident of history … transformed into an intrinsic characteristic.” Essentialism may be defined as any failure to appreciate the paradox of culture.

Treating culture as an individual or explanation—say, asking whether “some unique quality in Islam” explains its extra complicity in terrorism—is deemed racist. A little exercise implies the obfuscation here. Determine the author and essentialism of the following quotations: (I) “[Middle Easterners] are a non-Western people from a civilization that has always been in conflict with the West. The world of Islam has always been a historical competitor, and it has never capitulated”; (II) “[Great cultural traditions are highly complex bodies of ideas, beliefs, doctrines, assumptions, and behavior patterns … [C]ultures historically are dynamic, not stagnant. The dominant beliefs and attitudes in a society change. While maintaining elements of continuity, the prevailing culture of a society in one generation may differ significantly from what it was one or two generations earlier”; (III) “[The book under review] meets the world’s growing need for simplification by reducing all the complex national, cultural, religious, social, and economic problems of the Arab world to a single grievance directed against a small group of easily identified and immediately recognized malefactors.” These interchangeable statements come from major antagonists in cultural analysis.

To be meaningful, essentialism must refer strictly to the view no one in the debates over the WoT holds: that Islamic culture is immutable. So except in cases of sheer racist genocidal hatred, anti-essentialism is meaningless. Said’s sage reading of Iranian Islamism helps us here. “When we discuss the ‘Islamic’ revolution,” he wrote, “that brought down the Pahlevi regime, we ought to say nothing about whether or not the revolutionaries were really Muslims in their faith; but we can say something about their conception of Islam as it pitted them self-consciously—Islamically, so to speak—against a regime they viewed as anti-Islamic, oppressive, tyrannical.” The famous revolutions in France, China, Russia, and Cuba produced fundamentalist secularist regimes, but Muslims in Iran, Algeria, Palestine, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Uzbekistan, and Kashmir have revolted “Islamically, so to speak,” for their collective subjectivity. Does this interpretation violate anti-Orientalist strictures about complexity, agency, or anti-culturalism? How is this passage in Said different from the inference of the WoT discourse that, given available evidence, Islamist atrocities are carried out “Islamically, so to speak”?

Enlightened Racism and the Loyal Opposition

I am keen to discredit the tropes of complexity, agency, and culture-skepticism as intellectually vacuous but more urgently as politically toothless. These memorized stanzas support more than unseat the WoT discourse. The syllogism above accommodates all these “challenges” as casual caveats; “We refer to Islamists, not Islam,” etc. The WoT has no need for- and diligently avoids—simplifying, objectifying, or essentialist-culturalist racist assumptions. This is clearer still as we turn to the next stages of the near-unanimous WoT worldview: the distinctions Friend Muslim/Enemy Muslim and Good America/Bad Islam. The rest of my account traces these major ideological components of the consensual justification for the WoT. The broad pro-war sentiment, I believe, accepts each of these interlocked components of the official policy. I wish to summarize the discourse before going into detail: As we have seen, some unique quality of Islam seems, empirically, to cause or permit an extremist minority of Muslims to overreact to common grievances with homicidal violence. We ought to oppose those grievances—mainly domestic political and economic deprivation—but the anti-American terrorists they have spawned are irremediable Enemy Muslims. With our Friend Muslims we must defeat Islamist terrorism in a “long war.” This indefinite conflict pits America’s universalist “culture of life” [Good America] against Islamism’s insular nihilism [Bad Islam(ism)].

I need to clarify here that the WoT and its discourse are racist toward Islam intrinsically, and not only toward Islamists, pace official ceremonies and disclaimers, and not only as a by-product of biopolitical sovereignty. Indeed, the trajectory of the war discourse is enormously significant; it is how the argument for the endless war, permanent state of exception, and all attendant civil, social, and human rights violations and atrocities proceeds that matters—especially: how Islamism is (1) separated from Islam; (2) opposed to the U.S.-Islam alliance; (3) re-identified with Islam; and (4) receded as Islam’s ineluctable anti-U.S. enemy. The logic of the argument refolds Islamism and anti-U.S. terrorism into Islam in the end, on grounds that even as a tiny, breakaway “exception to the rule, ” Islamic militarism is endemic to Islam. One knows the nature of racism by its refutation; in this case only sociological and conceptual remedy contests how the WoT argument yields racism—anti-racist lectures are mere jouissance. The WoT discourse is patently untenable but complex enough to withstand superficial rejoinders about Orientalism (or oil and corporations for that matter). The dyadic coding of Islamist extremism as inside/outside Islam confuses adherents and critics of the anti-Islamism campaign. Islamists become exiles within Islam, an apparently paradoxical idiosyncrasy of the religion. The confusion of paradox and idiosyncrasy in making sense of Islam itself becomes foundational to the WoT consensus—the religion per se gets perceived as not only incubating political violence but also in psychologically coded terms as unstable, “schizophrenic,” or manic-depressive.

Finally, the WoT advocates and the complexity- and agency-fetishists, liberal humanists, and culture-skeptics collectively marginalize social scientific and political-philosophical arguments that demystify theWoT syllogisms, concepts, and explanations. To illustrate the contrast with the anti-Orientalism strategy, I will sketch one such argument. First we radically disaggregate, not assert, the “complexity” of pietistic, communal, militant, and terrorist Islamist tendencies. These do not form “instances of one thing” sharing an Islamic core in any useful sense. Indeed, each has more in common with similar variants of belief-systems outside Islam. Second, we test the standard idea that these “kinds of Islam(ism)” are reactions to degree-changes in some form of deprivation—that is, vary along a causal continuum of deprivation in which, say, the poorer the Muslim the more violent the Islamist. This continuum-theory states that Islamism is one thing that gets more or less religious or extreme depending on levels of suffering. It structures all sides in the quarrel about which single grievance (e.g., absence of rights, wealth, sex), as it worsens, pushes Muslims from private observance to reformist Islamism to radical Islamist extremism or terrorism. This model prevents the perception that these discrete strands in Islamist thought and action form for different reasons, want different things, and thrive in different contexts. Muslims have radically divergent objectives, ideologies, and origins that often have nothing to do with “Islamic” grievance. Pacifist, activist, personal, collective, violent, nationalist, communal, and secular Muslims are not instances of a cohesive set of desires, symbols, and ambitions; Islamists have such disparate causes, in both senses of that word, as to question the very idea of “Muslim politics.” If a global ummatic people exist, they do not share “a politics.” These conceptual and explanatory revisions are indispensable to rerouting our understanding of Islamism away from “Islam,” and especially Islamist militancy away from sectarian controversy, globalization, or scripture to authoritarianism, invasion, or occupation.

Wars on Terror and Iraq (interlude)

The war in Iraq has therefore destabilized the WoT discourse. It is accepted that the “coalition forces” occupying Iraq are creating Islamist insurgents—a fact that vitiates the necessary condition of WoT discourse: the irremediable Muslim foe motivated by cryptic Islamic impulses. Had occupation, torture, massacres (as in Falluja, Haditha), merciless marketization, and war not triggered religious or nationalist anger and violent resistance, would “Islam” or Arabs have been called “exceptional” for their pacifism or mocked for their passivity? In the real event, Islamist violence in Iraq does not fit the WoT argument because it is too mundane and typical a reaction to military incursion. For this reason, official conflation of the anti-terror war and the Iraq war has vacillated. “Regime-change” in Iraq at first proved the WoT discourse, as Islamists poured into Iraq “to defend anti-Western dictatorship and terror.” Before long, under the specter of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the insurgency morphed into anti-imperial struggle, forcing the ideological distinction between the two wars on terror and on Iraq. Islamist militants cannot be seen empathically as freedom fighters; this is central to the WoT’s effort to contain the insight that Islamist violence derives from violence done to Muslims. The viability of the anti-terror campaign ideologically must deny this simple fact—most Islamist militants and terrorists are fighting military or police repression of an explicitly or implicitly anti-Muslim agenda.136 This successful denial forges the plurality of pro-war-on-terror and anti-war-on-Iraq advocacy in the U.S. But note the changes that occurred within that denial. Right after 9/11, Bush said

The people who did this act on America, and who may be planning further acts, are evil people. They don’t represent an ideology. They don’t represent a legitimate political group of people. They’re flat evil. That’s all they can think about is evil. And as a nation of good folks, we’re going to hunt them down, and we will find them and we will bring them to justice.

In February 2002, he declared:

We seek the advance of democracy for the most practical of reasons: because democracies don’t support terrorists or threaten the world with weapons of mass murder … As long as [the Middle East] is a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will produce men and movements that threaten the safety of Americans and our friends.

Anti-U.S. Islamists in Iraq must be portrayed as distinct from both (a) anti-U.S. Islamists elsewhere and (b) anti-imperialists anywhere. This latter point is indispensable; even for Iraq WoT proponents have sought to exceptionalize Islamist resistance to occupation. Their strategy is, again, to identify “Islam” as encouraging actions that even under equally atrocious conditions only or principally Muslims do. Hence the importance of suicide bombing, the symbolic crux of the American “war on terror.” I will return to this issue below. For now, I note that mainstream opposition to the war on Iraq claims “it cost U.S. in the war on terror.” The logic by which Americans wholly supported the 2001-2002 U.S. attack on Afghanistan but initially wavered and finally deplored the Iraq campaign is rooted in playground justice about “who started it.” Thus, most Americans cheered the “defensive” WoT but condemned the “offensive” war on Iraq—even ” though American and Islamist militancy followed the same logic in both wars. Complexity- and agency-fetishists, culture-skeptics, and post-colonial liberals have offered no apposite counter-arguments to this “war on terror” disourse.

Facilitating Conceptions III: Friend/Enemy Islam

A central pillar of the WoT is the anti-Orientalist distinction between Friend-Islam and Enemy-Islam [FI/EI], juxtaposed to America’s integrated universalism. The basic idea behind the FI/EI divide is that Islam is a great civilization with a minority of bad Muslims attacking the “West” and “hijacking” Islam. Of course there have always been native informants, compradors, and locals useful for “Western narratives.” In the nineteenth century, Russian Orientalists, for instance, “recruited Muslims, including a leading scholar from Cairo’s Al-Azhar.” Meanwhile, one French observer, triangulating docile and warlike locals and kindly settlers, recorded, at a funeral, the Muslims’ “song is cheerful, and their step quick; for the departed has quitted the hardships and sorrows of this life, and now rests in Paradise beside a shady fountain, served by women whose beauty is unfading.” But, as always in this essay, I wish to bring out the subtle modifications and nuances specific to the WoT within robust discursive conventions.

The WoT intriguingly recapitulates a classic analysis of Islam’s internal other—the brotherhoods. As one typical account says, “[T]he tarikas …—the mystical and semi-secret brotherhoods [guided by] Islam’s holy men—… were a good half of everything that Islam had been since its inception … [T]he tarikas are the ‘other’ Islam … If it was to be a truly human, living faith, [Islam] had to produce them, so as to complement a faith that was a shade too simple, too spare and too austere for the ordinary Muslim believer.” Another describes “urban Sufi mysticism as an alternative to the legalistic, restrained, arid (as it seems to its critics) Islam of the ulama. Rural and tribal ‘Sufism’ is a substitute for it. In the one case, an alternative is sought for the Islam of the ulama because it does not fully satisfy. In the other case, a substitute for it is required, though its endorsement is desired, it is, in its proper form, locally unavailable, or is unusable in the tribal context.” A simplification, this struggle of ruling and rebel Islam parallels the tension between the secular MENA state and Islamist opposition, respectively. The authoritarian state and its official ‘ulema dread the tariqa or ikhwan as ecstatic mystics called by divine will and so self-sacrificially anti-statist. The violence of this state-Islamist impasse can be chilling.146 The U.S. is thus reluctant to apply the FI/EI polarity by supporting repressive Muslim states against anti-authoritarian Islamists. First, thwarting pro-democracy Islamist activism baldly subverts the putative regime-change agenda of the U.S.—the only justification left for attacking Iraq, Iran, or Syria. Second, opposing Islamist democrats on democratic grounds seems anti-Islam, boosts Islamist absolutists, and creates enemies. But beneath the policy dilemmas, the discourse of the “global war on terror” absorbs the legal/ mystical Islam binary from the standpoint of the rational-liberal-legal state. Radical Islamism becomes the “other Islam”—the mad-native-traditional tribe. Several motifs operate here unconsciously. Bernard Lewis’s portrait of Muslims as either enraged or passive is a psychological diagnosis of manic-depression, Ernest Gellner’s siphons off the Apollonian-Dionysian struggle, and so on.

But the FI/EI distinction dispenses with the Orientalist West-Islam alterity, albeit by expunging majority Muslim particularity tout court. The WoT can thus espouse universalism, although “only religions that that have accepted the assumptions of liberal discourse are being commended, in which tolerance is sought on the basis of a distinctive relation between law and morality.” Or as Said puts it, “There are good Arabs (the ones who do as they are told) and bad Arabs (who do not, and are therefore terrorists).” FI/EI-talk identifies Muslims who agree with us, who are like us, who are us, as our friends but also as our Muslims and as good Muslims; their resemblance to us measures them as Muslims. This arrogant pseudo-tolerance is the Trojan horse of imperial conquest—”Moday’s tolerant liberal multiculturalism wishes to experience the Other deprived of its Otherness.” The hypocritical “secular universalism” of the “progressive” wing of the WoT is a good example of coercive universalism. One American militant, admiring “discrepant traditions within the [Muslim] faith,” insists “that the United States was compelled historically to defend the idea of secular pluralism.” Under cover of a joint American-Islamic venture against “extremism,” cross-cultural elites enforce a “brutal ideology called secularism” that would extirpate religion from persons and institutions. Less brutal secularists condemn religious obligations—such as hijab—and valuations of the public and private spheres. An influential novelist condescends to praise Islam’s “deeply civilized culture” only to snarl that “it’s been quite a week in the wonderful world of Islam” whose “moderate voices … cannot or will not insist on the modernization of their culture.” Here the FI/EI gambit elides the political difference between “cannot” and “will not,” an equivocation that hides the thousands of Muslims languishing in secularist prisons throughout the “wonderful world of Islam.” Finally, the American president who declaims, “we are the friends of almost a billion worldwide who practice the Islamic faith,” blurts out in a closed meeting, “At some point, we may be the only ones left. That’s OK with me. We are America.” The FI/EI maneuver is an aggressive hegemonic universalism that defends cosmopolitan “moderates” from religious radicals and substitutes value-conflicts for political conflicts outside the basic Orientalist framework. More insidiously, the FI/EI binary contrasts American unity to Islamic disunity, American stability to Islamic instability, and American integrity to Islamic volatility.

America(nism) Against Islam(ism)

The “war on terror” discourse arrives at an analogy: Universalism : America : Islam : Islamism. America is and represents Universal Value just as Islamism is and represents Islamic Value. That these views are untenable is less germane than their ideological functionality. It seems contradictory to claim that “American values are universal” and unlikely that American patriots envision their civilization as an instance of generic human life. All the same, the WoT is built on the paradox of U.S. universalism:

The cause we serve is right, because it is the cause of all mankind. The momentum of freedom in our world is unmistakable—and it is not carried forward by our power alone. We can trust in that greater power who guides the unfolding of the years. And in all that is to come, we can know that his purposes are just and true.

This theodicy is present and future. It can be seen as generalizing the conditions of the powerful to the whole, ignorant that “each universal ideological notion is always hegemonized by some particular content which colors its very universality and accounts for its efficiency.” Here as dominant classes or governments universalize their own values and conditions as Humanity’s, resistance to U.S. hegemonic expansion becomes anti-Human rather than anti-American or anti-imperial. But for the “war on terror” to cast resistance as anti-Universal, the latter would have to be on offer now, not in the future; the WoT must conceive Human value as the actual condition that enemies oppose rather than as the potential condition those enemies desire. The avowed Universal—the desire for freedom—of U.S. principles must form the axis of American-Islamist value-conflict; the factual absence of freedom in U.S. practices experienced by radicalized Islamists must be occluded. Of course when Haitian slaves (or Algerian peasants) revolted against free, egalitarian, and fraternal France, they were revolting against the oppression and exploitation unimpeded by those vaunted ideals—not against freedom, equality, and modernity, but for them. Hence “the universal begins to become articulated precisely through challenges to its existing formulation, and this challenge emerges from those who are not covered by it [but] demand that the universal as such ought to be inclusive of them.” But by conflating American principles and practices the WoT can translate the political content of militant Islamism into an exceptional Islamic ressentiment, an argument only abetted by the ubiquity of American imperialism.

In complementary fashion, the WoT discourse has seamlessly recast Islamist militants as the exception, enemy, and representative of Islam. The logic prevailed all along, in which the vicious few reflected something of the whole, but the articulation varied strategically. By equating America with Universalism and Islamism with Islam, the WoT finally articulates a global value-conflict between Americanism and Islamism, or more simply, America and Islam. This final move to the America/Islam struggle follows because . although Islam and America are not essentially at odds, Islam produces, enemies of American universal morality. In this formulation, particular atrocities betray America’s integral ethical substance but express Islam’s friable social fabric. The endpoint is that the WoT secures a hegemonic interpretation of the U.S.-Islam value-conflict via five assertions: (1) American principles and practices are coherent, (2) beneficent, (3) exportable, and (4) universal. (5) Thus, no humane, principled, culturally defensible resistance exists to America’s liberal hegemony. Resistance to the U.S. translates as hatred of freedom, hope, God, justice, truth, and (hu)mankind; as such, in the summer of 2006, the “war on terror” was semi-officially receded “the freedom agenda against Islamic fascism.”

The establishment of America(nism) and Islam(ism) proceeds from the moral psychology of imperial expansion and war. It is commonly observed that American hegemony since WWII has developed justificatory schemes for its frequently illegal, abominable, or self-defeating practices. As U.S. power, criminality, and depredations have persuaded the continents, its will to sanctify itself and demonize its enemies has grown accordingly as the task grows more difficult. The longer version of this article reconstructs in great textual detail Americans’ self-simplification in the WoT—the tropes, metaphors, memories, images, and Others Americans invoke to imagine themselves as innocent, pluralistic, pragmatist, and moral in direct and increasingly polarized counterpoint to their actions. The obvious problem is that American aggression, human rights abuses, torture, mass murder, use of WMD, support for tyranny, and violations of international law threaten that self-image. The simple solution has been to portray the enemy as morally inferior in such a way that demands further American hegemony. In the “anti-terror war,” as I have said, the U.S. is true to its martial-ideological past in accusing Islamists of overreacting to normal grievances with uniquely horrible Muslim actions—suicide bombing. The suicide bomber re-marks the boundary between (1) “Western” law, civilization, morality, and rationality; and (2) “Islamic” lawlessness, barbarism, evil, and irrationality. As the “apocalyptic nihilist” who does what “we” would never do and believes, sees, and dreams as “we” never could, the Islamist martyr becomes the core symbol, target, and sustenance of the “war on terror” and American view of Islam.

The Suicide Bomber as Unique, as Muslim

If humans are distinguished from animals by their willingness to die for a cause, then naturally nations as the repositories of collective human life -historically if not preferably—are suicidal as well as murderous. The nuclear powers that risk human extermination are, for starters, morally beneath suicide bombers who are martyrs for some human cause. On a smaller scale, many in the U.S. remain daunted by the compass of human self-sacrifice for God or country, yet martyrdom is woven into the fabric of nearly every national, religious, and cultural myth we know. But why would suicide for a noble cause, however indoctrinated or freely chosen, puzzle U.S. when suicide has had so many more mundane reasons? Suicidal temptation needs only the dark feeling that life is not worth living. Anyone who has known depression, bereavement, or loss may know this feeling, and can empathize with people whose families, communities, and humanity have been sacrificed by others, who wish to avenge death even if only to reassert the very last strand of feeling, of community, of life.

It is emblematic of the discursive WoT that Americanism forgets its heralded cultural and literary heritage to Otherize Palestinian or Iraqi “Islamist” suicide bombers. We puff up when Henry V exhorts his fighters before the battle of Agincourt:

And Crispin Caspian shall ne’er go by

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentleman in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

We laud the national martyr Sullivan Ballou—husband of Sarah and father of Edgar and Willie—who, a week before the Battle of Bull Run (1861), wrote home:

Not my will, but thine, O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged … A pure love of my country and of the principles I have often advocated before the people and ‘the name of honor that I love more than I fear death’ have called upon me, and I have obeyed … Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

Celebrating the “ultimate sacrifice” remains a staple of nationalist zeal. President George Bush stirred his compatriots with these words: “I recently received a touching letter that says a lot about the state of America in these difficult times—a letter from a 4th-grade girl, with a father in the military. ‘As much as I don’t want my dad to fight,’ she wrote, ‘I’m willing to give him to you.’ This,” Bush said, “is a precious gift, the greatest she could give. This young girl knows what America is all about.” Similarly, a journalist died in Iraq for his cause, having declared, “Accepting death [is] indispensable to defeating death. We [Americans] are a nation in which there are fewer and fewer people … who accept what every twelve-year-old [Bosnian] knows: That there are things worth dying for.”

Are we appalled that the Palmach “sent us like sheep to the slaughter … on a suicide mission out of political and non-military considerations.” Or that the halakha of the Palestinian Talmud requires martyrdom not “only as a public event in which the martyr dies a heroic death” but to elude less dramatic ills, such as “accepting healing from a forbidden source”; or that “the Gentile persecutor’s intention vis-à-vis the Jew is the governing factor in the Jew’s assessment of whether or not he is obligated to submit to martyrdom.” We may recoil when we hear an Israeli settler in Hebron/Khalil, her son frolicking in danger, say, “There’s a bullet out there for each one of us. But you can always die. At least his death here would sanctify God’s name.” Or when the interviewer invokes the “greater imperative” to save lives and she says “with contempt,” “‘Hellenizers’—secular Jews—’will never understand.'” As examples of willful death for great causes multiply, the mystery of Islamist self-sacrifice diminishes, much like the moral indignation over “terrorism” against state atrocities, mass civilian deaths, and civil warfare.

As I suggested regarding Orientalism, situated ideology-critique—juxtaposing reality to its representation—is key to discourse analysis. Merely normalizing Muslim suicide bombing, to dismiss Islamist uniqueness, we miss the discursive action of exoticizing the unexceptional—what needs to be done with the particular phenomenon to make it Other of Americanism. It is in the specificity, not the simple fact of distortion, that we witness the rationalization of racism for a “just” total war. Standardizing U.S.-Israeli occupation and Palestinian suicide bombing into colonialism and resistance, for example, may eclipse what is unique or significant about U.S.-Israeli domination and Palestinian suffering, and thus about the construction of the suicide bomber. Fortunately, valuable research on suicide operations counters the cottage industry of voyeuristic pornography posturing as theoretical case studies and, as bad from another direction, empirically indifferent opportunistic theoretical abstractions.

So what have we learned about suicide bombings, taking Palestinians as our focus? Palestinians generally shun non-combat suicide in belief and action, despite desperate and dehumanized conditions, in part because of national duty under siege. As for fighters, certain circumstances trigger Palestinian suicide attacks, notably that Israeli political assassinations that peak during cease-fires and truces. The U.S. government has found that “there is a clear correlation between suicide attacks and concurrent events and developments in the Middle Eastern area,” particularly massacres of Palestinians in the occupied territories. From an intensive and extensive empirical examination of all suicide attacks between 1980 and 2001, we know that “suicide terrorism follows a strategic logic, one specifically designed to coerce modern liberal democracies to make significant territorial concessions …, especially to withdraw forces from territory terrorists view as their homeland.” It is apodictic that suicide bombers are not poor, insane, uneducated, teenage religious fanatics dizzy with indelible hatred or sex-starved fantasies of heavenly reward. Instead, diverse theories about suicide bombing agree on the common conditions provoking suicide attacks. In Palestine, four decades of oppression and arbitrary rule have fostered deep anger and battlereadiness. The Israeli presence is militant and inhumane. Militancy cheapens human life, inuring people to its sacrifice. The “ethical world” of imperial domination facilitates martyrdom decisions. But inhumanity—denying the conditions of Human Life (creativity, dignity, esteem, communication, subjectivity, natality, and productivity)—is a more definitive force. The Invasion/Occupation/Annexation, ethnic cleansing, torture, supervision, expulsions, arrests, and objectification are “attempts to eliminate Palestinian political will,” to extinguish subjectivity.

Politicide yields expulsion, annihilation, or failure. Palestinian subjectivization creates a politics of “redemption—from domination and of suffering—tightly tied to the practices of freedom that prophets endorse.” This is precisely what the WoT (American or Israeli) can never admit—that Palestinian suicide bombing results from militarist, finitless and inhumane occupation. In part this inability is a defense of that occupation, particularly its annexations. But, as important, the obvious, mundane truths of Palestinian resistance are inadmissible because they echo Israeli redemptive politics.

The conquerors were those who had suffered the greatest genocide in history. Of this genocide the Zionists have to make an absolute evil. But transforming the greatest genocide in history into an absolute evil is a religious and mystical vision, not a historical vision. It doesn’t stop the evil; it spreads the evil, makes it fall once again on other innocents, demands reparation that makes the others suffer part of what the Jews suffered (expulsion, restriction to ghettos, disappearance as a people). With ‘colder’ means than genocide, one ends up with the same result.

Likewise, the mirror-image of the suicide-bomber in the U.S. WoT that requires the “masters of terror” and “killer clowns” to despise and discursively annihilate the enemy qua human. Superficially, the Palestinian suicide bomber is the antithesis of the American war machine, for all the usual reasons about law, civilians, targets, and sacred life. Thus the usual critical analysis is to excuse that distinction. But the suicide bomber is the simulacrum of the Great Power (with a twice shaming moral perch: he is occupied and willing to die for liberation, like “our founding fathers”) in the new WoT.

Now continuous patterns in U.S. foreign policy do challenge the novelties often attributed to the WoT. America has long been a self-consciously expansive, imperial-hegemonic power. Its hegemony emerged with certain rhythms such as the oscillation between direct and indirect rule. Thus it is reasonable to identify repetition and stasis in U.S. policy toward the Middle East:

Contingent and negotiated in … debates but also robust and determining in their effects, cultural structures persist over time and transcend national boundaries. By decoding their elementary grammar we can get that feeling of déjà vu as the same hands are dealt time and time again in the cultural politics of debate over war …

The question of inventive rupture in the WoT has surfaced most urgently in debates about the global “state of exception” in which the U.S. has “suspended law in the name of law.” The manifest content of the WoT discourse fixates on the Rule of Law as the core of civilization, a central marker disidentifying with terrorism, for when the U.S. sovereign is caught at it. Transparent as this is, it fools smart people into distinguishing legal/good mass “collateral damage” from illegal/evil terrorism. Controversy over the legality of WoT tactics (especially torture and Guantanamo Bay detentions) illustrates again how the WoT benefits from its own red herrings; one might say, how only meaningless debate is allowed. Elites demand the Rule of Law the same way they demand the use of “soft power,” the winning of “hearts and minds,” and a withdrawal from Iraq: to improve and rescue the war machine against “terror.” But, “legal conditions can never be other than exceptional conditions, since they constitute a partial restriction of the will of life.” The “liberal” demand for more law ignores the historical contribution of juridical order to imperial conquest and the relevant contemporary record of law’s arbitrary morality.

The U.S. will to global sovereignty—with its risk-free shadow will to legalism—is not, then, the innovation that connects the warriors on terror to suicidal mujabideen. There are contact points, such as complicity in ending the civilian-military distinction as an ideal or practice, the alchemization of the feoi/y-politic into an emancipatory killing machine, and perhaps indifference to the enemy. But the American WoT as doctrine and organization are, I think, departures. American ruling elites always want certainty and liberalism. The neoconservative wing, often seen as the monolithic—if Paleolithic—fascist core of the WoT, actually seems torn between anti-democratic realists like Cheney and rights-talking micro-managers like Pelosi or Wolfowitz. By all accounts, both camps are ruthless, unscrupulous, paranoid, and vicious, and so the WoT is secretive, lawless, hierarchic, and totalitarian in its tendencies. Three points are important here. First, the uncertainty inherent in the maniacal pursuit of certainty fuels the violence of the WoT, the “almost theological conviction that American power is by nature good and what follows in its wake will be freedom and democracy.” Violence seems to become the goal in itself for the WoT, rather than neo-imperialism, precisely to retain flexibility, prerogative, and impunity internationally. This marks the novel uncontested intersection of sovereign and biopolitical power and the state of exception. Second, the WoT forces the U.S. to switch places with the likes of Hamas and Hizballah, organizations devoted to social provision, equality, accountability, democratic processes, civil society, international law, negotiations with enemies, and fair peace agreements. Third, the U.S. then relies on suicide bombing to prevent Hamas or Hizballah from seeming to renounce “terrorism,” lest the switch be exposed.

Finally, suicidal bombing captures the war discourse’s central feature in dichotomizing Islam and America. That the phrase “war on terror” conveys legitimate public actions against illegitimate private actions (there are “just war,” not “just terrorism,” theories) is obvious. That the WoT can isolate a stable empirical referent for “terror”—Islamist suicide bombing—to set semiotic terms for “liberal empire” is more difficult. Suicide murder must be made unique morally.

The moral distinction between suicidal and homicidal combatants parallels the inhumane one between (1) genocide-ethnocide and (2) politicide or war-crime. Genocide is routinely characterized as uniquely inexcusable or inexplicable—the “worst” of all crimes: pure evil. In contrast, the mass murder of political opponents, economic classes, or enemy soldiers is justified in the name of progress. Genocide amounts to value-rational murder, or massacre as an end-in-itself, while mass killing of social, political, or economic groups amounts to instrumentally rational murder, or massacre as a means toward some other end. “Killing for hatred” is never profitable or rational, that is, but a secular theodicy of “killing for progress” suggests a beneficial rationality. If a traditional theodicy satisfies our “absolute need to be at-home in the world” by showing “that the existence of evil is compatible with the claim that the world was created by a benevolent and omnipotent god,” perhaps a secular theodicy reconciles mass atrocity with a benevolent and omnipotent historical process. While hate- or race-killing is demonized, progress-killing is rationalized in a social conception that “refuses to undermine the conventions of self-justification because virtually everyone … may need to draw on them in the course of a lifetime.”

Genocide can be hateful, psychopathic, cultural, developmental, utilitarian, despotic, acquisitive, strategic, defensive, ideological, retributive, deliberate or unintended. Explanations of genocide include its modernist technological, scientific, state-centralizing, or cultural preconditions or psychosocial roots. Diverse in kind and cause, genocide retains its special status long after Lemkin’s “genocide,” recognized and outlawed, foundered on its incoherence. Genocide means killing with the “intent to destroy … as such,” “in whole or in part,” an ascriptive group via “any of the following acts”: “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, [or] deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Under this concept, occupation, terrorism, war, agitation, annexation, hijacking, kidnapping, harassing the neighbors, or suicide bombing could be genocidal. Genocide exceptionalism singles out living-to-kill over killing-to-live for special opprobrium emotively and immorally, exactly as current polemicists single out suicide bombers over homicide bombers. The basic view is that killing for hatred is more condemnable than killing for profit, the alluring premise being that a discerning characteristic of an evil action is its commission for no reason “outside itself.”

Genocides occur for many instrumental reasons, not only as ends-in-themselves, including state-consolidation, communal mobilization, strategic calculation, high modernist social homogenization, crass profiteering, and nationalist ethnic purification. In addition, ethnic purification by genocide is morally indistinct from political development or industrialization by genocide. Opposing this view commits one to the legitimation of instrumental-utilitarian mass murder, “for the good of humanity.” But in practical-moral thought about killing, no principle identifies nationalist, ethnic, or religious purification as evil but state-capitalist, bureaucratic, or political progress as justified. Genocide exceptionalists must think it morally preferable that, say, people die in the slave trade, war, imperial conquest, or HIV-AIDS than due to ethnic cleansing. This means choosing the Kingdom of means over the Kingdom of ends—what Kant understood as itself the foundation of “radical evil.” If a viable moral distinction separated living-to-kill from killing-to-live, or hate- from progress-murder, then the latter would receive greater opprobrium than genocide or ethnic cleansing. Historically, non-state terrorist and religious killing pales compared to state-led, developmental, industrial, secular murder throughout the world by any measure. In sum, the moral exception granted genocide expresses the acceptance of progress-killing as the paradigm morality in which suicide bombing is morally sequestered in the WoT.

The Racist “War on Islamism”

The moral preference for effective over affective killing is the last discursive construction I will discuss in analyzing the WoT. But it is paradigmatic of all, as I hope is clear by now. In each case, a discursive maneuver protects domination by morally isolating victims—ignoring social explanations, confusing ethical judgments, and mystifying the “enemy.” Ideological projections and defenses must keep pace with facts on the ground to correct glitches in the Matrix—so the unconscionable WoT always retains its worse enemy: the anarchic, causeless, violent Islamist fringe in need of permanent punishment. In the WoT discourse the Islamist fighter is another Zizekian “sublime object of ideology.” America’s drive for global sovereignty over Islamism fits the pattern perfectly:

On the political level the first problem of evil issues in a series of attempts to protect the purity and certainty of a hegemonic identity by denning as independent sites of evil (or one of its many surrogates) those differences that pose the greatest threat to the integrity and certainty of that identity. The second problem of evil emerges out of solutions to the first one. It flows from diverse political tactics through which doubts about self-identity are posed and resolved by the constitution of an other against which that identity can define itself [and] secure the surety of self-identity.

Elites are more distinctive for their social power than for their views. I remain amazed by the consensus of argument and silence bolstering the U.S. government but I intuit in the successful WoT a “dominance without hegemony.” I consciously approach the problem “not with a consensual model of the social formation in which ideology can be seen as fully pervasive, almost constitutive of social and civil life itself, but rather with a model of division in which ideology is a discourse whose mode is largely textual in the narrow sense and whose address is largely internal, towards that group in society most directly concerned with colonial matters.” This means I do not wish to abandon politics to either discursive or structural analysis. Rather, I want to return via those analytics to the politics of racism that occupied the earlier discussion of Said.

I have described the evolved Orientalism of the WoT as moving from crude to derived racism, hot to cold racism—”racism without anger.” I call it the new “anti-racist racism” because of its explicit normative enlightenment and empirical scientific method. But why bother with it, why not carry on in my own apparent direction and conclude that racism per se no longer matters in the global system. By some persuasive accounts the global order is an integrated, disciplinary, capitalist, and biopolitical machine with automated substructures and networks. People are directing it profitably or suffering it miserably, but it is a system determined by prices, classes, resources, and other objective criteria. The global system is one of structural not racist violence; racism is an output, not input, of this system whose directors and benefactors are not driven by racist feelings or calculations. Let us call it racism as effect replacing racism as affect. This view obviates the rationalization of racism I have discussed. But my argument is that racism is needed for sustaining the machine; so how it is sustained matters analytically and politically? How is it significant that South African apartheid racism was “guilt”-ridden in contrast to Nazi racism, with such colossal and “systemic” suffering? How does the “raciological disunity of mankind that attended the emergence of biopolitics” operate precisely? I have tried to argue racism now functions between hate-racism and system-racism. It is true that bureau-capitalists can make insensate business decisions that “just so happen” to kill off a distinct “racial” population, and far more efficiently than lynch-mobs. Between hatred and system, what and where is the racism whose reality is undeniable? My analysis of the WoT has tried to answer this question. American liberal, secular, pluralist, educated, and conservative elites whose desire for the perpetual war of global sovereignty clashes with their ideological self-image rationalize the racism of that war in the assumptions, errors, or simple absence of their thought. Effective racism without affective racism is not, I insist, racism without hatred. It is a new kind of hatred, systematic hatred. The hatred of mass racialized death is simply embedded in the “system” because that is where the “winners” want and accept it in plain view. It is not biopolitical disciplinarity, corporate malfeasance or systemic indifference that allows thousands of Muslims, Africans, Lebanese, and the poor to die of illness or violence. Ultimately, the systemic hatred of rationalized racism does, and that is why it hides.