Friday, May 9, 2008

Antisemitic and Islamophobic conspiracies

I recently came across a somewhat old comment on the blog Liberal Conspiracy (via El Neuvo Pantano):
Furthermore, I find it amusing that when Muslims are associated with conspiracy theories to Islamicise Britain (as Melanie Phillips is frequently liable to claim) or ‘Eurabia’, we don’t see that level of condemnation [as we see of antisemitic conspiracism].
Despite the age of this comment, I think it deserve a reply that it didn't get. (This post is based upon an email sent to the author. From this point, I'll stop amending it for general consumption, and leave in the second-person address.)

Firstly, if you feel that the sort of conspiracy theories directed at Muslims are not sufficiently critiqued, it would certainly be appropriate to say so. I've noticed them and wondered about them, but my perspective is different from yours. As such, I think it would be great if you were to elaborate or invite others to elaborate on them on your blog, which I pay some attention to. However, it is not appropriate to undercut the critiques of antisemitic conspiracism, which, contrary to what you imply, are still absolutely inadequate.

Perhaps more importantly, though, I'm concerned that you might be missing something essential about antisemitic conspiracism. It's dependent upon a view of Jews as too much assimilated. While (many) Muslims are visibly Other, Jews are (to make use of an illustrative but fortunately historical extreme) shapeshifters. Jews, mistakenly perceived in the West as white when not all are, live in the uncanny valley. The more assimilated and successful Jews become, the greater the threat we represent to antisemites. To the best of my knowledge, conspiracism in Islamophobia arises through an Orientalist history that views both Jews and other 'Orientals' as superficially clever, but it does not have the same history in Islamophobia as it does in antisemitism. Because of the rules of evidence employed by conspiracists, always returning to disgraced and discarded ideas like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the disgrace proving the "danger" and hence relevance of the text, conspiracism is heavily dependent on its own antisemitic history. While many Islamophobes view Muslims as conspiring to infiltrate the West, those with the most extreme conspiracist worldviews unanimously view Muslims as (racially inferior to whites) victims of Jewish supremacism. And because the Otherness of Muslims is visually marked, I'm not sure it could change targets even if it that history could be overcome. Instead, I think it's more likely that the successful assimilation of Muslims will be viewed as a Jewish plot --as affirmative action, multiculturalism, the UN, and progressive immigration policies here in the US already are.

That last sentence, as it deals with white supremacists' desire to rank minorities, risks a comparison that I hope I can back away from. I have no desire to pit Jews against Muslims in "the Oppression Olympics." Islamophobia is certainly an important topic these days, and I have no desire to stand in the way of the fight against it. I have no doubt that it has the potential to become actively genocidal in any one of a great many Western nations. I have no doubt that it has informed the current wars that have killed so many people already. I have no desire to stand in the way of the important job of accurately and effectively critiquing Islamophobia. But I do very much doubt that Islamophobia will ever follow an antisemitic logic rather than an Islamophobic one.

No comments: