By Emanuel Stoakes
22 May 2012
Recently, Wired magazine in the US reported that a military officer and lecturer in a US prestigious military college taught a class of “commanders, lieutenant colonels, captains and colonels” that a “total war” against Islam “would be necessary to protect America from Islamic terrorists.” The tutor, a highly-decorated Lieutenant Colonel named Matthew A. Dooley, also appeared to assert that “Islam has already declared war on the West” and that hundreds of millions of Muslims “[b]y their own stated doctrine…are motivated and unified under one ideology and one goal. They hate everything you stand for, and will never coexist unless you submit.”
In a course text published by Wired, Dooley put forward a “Counter-Jihad” operation model that planned for an assault on the Muslim world unconstrained by “Geneva Convention IV 1949 standards of armed conflict”, an operation that would involve taking war “to a civilian population wherever necessary”, citing the “historical precedents of Tokyo, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki”. In his model, Dooley proposes the “starvation of Saudi Arabia” and the bombing of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in the Muslim world.
Dooley’s views and proposed model service, beyond doubt, jaw-droppingly extreme positions on Islam (and certainly do not represent the policy of the United States government or the Department of Defence). More disturbingly still,his views are echoed by others with influence within the American media and elsewhere. The American right-wing political commentator Ann Coulter described Islam as a “car-burning cult” and suggested invading Muslim countries to “kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”
Guest lecturers in Dooley’s class have variously stated in the past that “it is a permanent command in Islam for Muslims to hate and despise Jews and Christians”and that “Islam is an Imperialist/Conquering Religion”.
Incredibly, a film that depicts Muslims as hell-bent on taking over the US was screened to more than a thousand officers as part of training in the New York Police Department only last year. The narrator’s voice is heard in the documentary saying ““This is the true agenda of much of Islam in America…A strategy to infiltrate and dominate America. … This is the war you don’t know about”. The film depicts “Muslim terrorists shoot[ing] Christians in the head, car bombs explod[ing]” with images of“executed children lie covered by sheets and a doctored photograph shows an Islamic flag flying over the White House”, according to The New York Times.
Last year also, the FBI was found to have produced training documents that contained egregiously Islamophobic content. According to Wired, who again received the leaked material, the documents in question stated, among other things that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”
Is all this hysteria justified? Are Muslims the new red threat, an implacably hostile enemy that despises the West and is plotting to destroy us? Hardly. It is the West not the Islamic world that has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the earth’s human population many times over. It is the West not the Islamic world that instigated actions that have led to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq alone from the sanctions regime of the nineties to the recent war. Even if Dooley thinks that Islam is the boogeyman, he fails to take note of the fact that even those such as the well-respected academic Bernard Lewis, who he quotes at one point in his course materials – a man not considered a liberal dove, who supported the invasion of Iraq- nonetheless has observed that terrorism has no place in Qur’anic Islam. He also asserted that“the fanatical warrior offering his victims the choice of the Koran or the sword is not only untrue, it is impossible”, according to the code of classical Islamic practice [Ibid., p.146].
Additionally, support for acts of terrorism against US citizens either on American soil or anywhere else from the world’s Muslim population remains overwhelmingly minimal, as one can see in recent, carefully-conducted polls. One poll taken in 2007 by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Public Attitudes showed, iconoclastically, that Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any of the world’s largest Muslim countries except Nigeria.
Such attitudes hardly confirm the image of a homogeneous, barbaric Islamic culture filled with hatred for Western civilisation that extremists, from Dooley to Anders Breivik, project. Instead, the narrow, inadequate and reductive analysis of Dooley et al fall short of being able to accommodate a basic truth that so often gets forgotten about cultures that face widespread demonisation: that they are as human as we are.
It may sound ridiculous to proffer such a truism, but if we are to accept its evident validity then we should be able to admit that a propensity for using distorted logic to legitimise horrendous violence is something that people from all backgrounds are capable of. From Hamas to Alabama’s Klansmen or the BNP, irrational hatred and the illegitimate arguments that serve as fig leaves for it have been engines for the dehumanisation of other cultures that so often throughout history have led to needless and terrible civilian deaths. Slobodan Milosevic argued to the International Criminal Court that he was defending his country from “terrorists” during the Yugoslav wars – those who committed the Srebrenica massacre probably imagined the same thing. Milosevic says his troops didn’t massacre anyone, that he was just defending his country from domestic terrorists. “Americans go right to the other side of the world to fight terrorists … and that’s considered logical,” he told the court, “while here, fighting terrorism in your own home is seen as a crime.”] Hitler made similar noises. We mustn’t.
Reminding ourselves the humanity of “the other” is a novel act for many who would rush to a prior assertions that certain groups are incorrigibly nefarious, implicitly morally inferior and need to be aggressively combated. Nonetheless, it is the capacity to do this that stops the worst parts of human nature from infecting our hearts and minds.
This is what must be fought, surely: the temptation to fall prey to simplistic narratives about the world we live in, such as the reductive notion that “a clash of civilisations” between Islam and the west is our future. If we don’t utterly reject such prescriptions with common sense as much as anything else, there remains the chance that we might just end up realising them.