By Kazi Anwarul Masud*
While there can be no defense for the terrorism and despicable brutalities perpetrated by the al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, ISIS and their likes the international community should remain conscious of the risks of identity politics by marginalized segment of societies on grounds of religion.
Alarming reports continue to pour in of violence threatening to become structural in Western societies where many people have started to look at Muslims living for generations in their adopted countries with suspicion. When loyalty to the country is questioned then the emergence of identity politics becomes inevitable. Javier Solana, former Spanish Foreign Minister, Secretary General of NATO, and European Union’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy had observed that (Europe’s Jihadi Generation-January 27 2015) the story of exclusion has been repeated millions of times in the countries of Western Europe, with immigrants and their families ending up poor and excluded. In the worst-case scenario, they are recruited by extremist groups that seem to offer what they are missing: a sense of belonging, identity, and purpose. After a lifetime of marginalization, participation in a larger cause can seem worth the lies, self-destruction, and even death that inclusion demands.
Europe needs to take a good look at itself. It must recognize that second- and third-generation immigrants are susceptible to the blandishments of terrorist organizations because European citizenship has not translated into social and economic inclusion. Chicago University Professor late Iris Marion Young had described the aim of the adherents of identity politics was to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations with the goal of greater self-determination.
Identity politics as a mode of organizing is intimately connected to the idea that some social groups are oppressed that makes one’s identity peculiarly vulnerable to cultural imperialism (including stereotyping, erasure, or appropriation of one’s group identity), violence, exploitation, marginalization, or powerlessness. Professor Sonia Kruk (Oberlin College) added that what makes identity politics a significant departure from earlier, pre-identarian forms of the politics of recognition is its demand for recognition on the basis of the very grounds on which recognition had previously been denied. The demand is not for inclusion within the fold of “universal humankind” on the basis of shared human attributes; nor is it for respect “in spite of” one’s differences. Rather, what is demanded is respect for oneself as different? Apart from the differentiation cited by Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington, to name a few, Islamophobia and Eurobia appear to have attracted the imagination of Europeans, mainly the French as among European nations France has the largest number of Muslim population.
Huntington prefaced his thesis on Clash of Civilizations by stating “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural….
Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future” Huntington was emphatic when he wrote “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people is convinced of the superiority of their culture and is obsessed with the inferiority of their power.” Both Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington influenced the Bush administration and other Western politicians leading to the invasion of Iraq and later on to the unraveling of the Middle East through the Arab Spring.
Overthrow of Saddam Hussein has not brought peace in Iraq but has resulted in sectarian conflict between the dominant Shias and the minority Sunnis; overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood President and the assumption of power by the military in Egypt; murder of Gaddafi in Libya and continuing civil war; the brutal civil war raging in Syria. Amanita M Kone in an article (America’s Misguided ‘War on Terror:’ Contrasting Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations with Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Solidarity-Inquiries 2013-vol 5 no 3 )wrote that the global war on terror has done little to eradicate terrorism and on the contrary “the number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased from under two-thousand in 2001, to a staggering five-thousand ten years later (START 2012). Late Edward Said in 2001 labeled Huntington’s thesis as Clash of Ignorance. Yet the diatribe against the Muslims continued as most recently seen in the French Presidential elections (though won by Emanuel Macron) and the one won by Donald Trump in the US.
One prominent commentator observed that “among a generation of Muslims born in Europe, significant number have nothing but contempt and disdain for their native lands and have allegiance only to the Muslim ummah and the lands of their parents”. He strongly criticized the Arab European League for rejecting any idea of assimilation or integration into European society and the AEL founder Abu Jahjah for terming assimilation as “cultural rape”. Such obnoxious comment challenging the loyalty of a citizen who had never seen the land of his/her parents or ancestors should hold in utter contempt.
In the same vein John Rex (National Identity in the Democratic Multi-Cultural State) suggests that national ideology established by the majority community may face corrosiveness by immigration of people from countries that have different culture and religion. He adds that many such migrants are likely to have a dual loyalty to their nations of origin and the nations amongst whom they settle. It is even more obviously true of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who migrate to Britain and, either directly or via Britain, to the United States. Members of the various sub-communities amongst these South Asian migrants may then feel that they belong to transnational communities spread across the world from Fiji to California.
The question is how such transnational communities should be conceptualized. The first thing to note is that the basic unit to which an individual feels attached is an extended family seeking to improve its economic estate. The second thing to note, however, is that faced with competition abroad these families may also feel that, amongst other competing families the markers of religion, language and shared customs may serve to indicate that some of the other competing extended families are also their potential allies in taking collective action in countries of settlement. While this may not mean a tight structured organization of the migrant community on ethnic lines, it does mean that individuals are conscious of ethnic boundaries.
The response to immigration by established societies to the presence of these minorities might take one of three forms. It may involve attempts to assimilate the minorities on equal terms as citizens; it may seek to subordinate them to a dominant ethnic group as second class citizens or, it may recognize cultural diversity in the private communal sphere while maintaining a shared public political culture. The refusal by European nations among the developed economies to recognize cultural diversity or multiculturalism by Angela Merkel, Berlusconi, and Giscard D’Estaing among other politicians strengthens resistance from the minority ethnic groups. The inevitable result of attempted subordination by the majority community has brought about chaos in the global society already afflicted with a real possibility of survival if the projections of climate change scientists were to be proven right notwithstanding the dissention on the question of historical responsibility of carbon emission. It is time, as Javier Solana pointed out, to accept that religion is not only a belief system; it is also an institution, a language, and even a kind of market actor, competing for supporters.
Radical terrorist groups attempt to consolidate their distorted version of “true” Islam as the only institution, imposing their language to win the entire Muslim market. Indeed, it was the failed transitions in Syria, Libya, and Yemen after the Arab Spring revolts that fueled the Islamic State’s emergence. Millions of young people, disillusioned by decades of social paralysis, unemployment, and brutal dictatorships, had dared to expect better. One simply cannot wish away about two billion Muslims through force. George Bush and Tony Blair tried and failed.
In their book cutting the Fuse by Robert Pape and James K. Feldman found that from 2004 and 2009 there have been a total of 1,833 suicide attacks around the world compared with a total of 350 during the period of 1980 through 2003. Between 2004 and 2009, 92 percent of attacks can be seen as anti-American. This startling jump seems clearly attributable to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and in particular, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan where most of the attacks have taken place. This statistic also further strengthens Pape’s earlier argument that the primary cause of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation. Besides contrary popular notion that the attackers come from poor and uneducated background Pape and Feldman argued then they should have come from Bangladesh, Sudan and Afghanistan. Those who did were opposed to foreign occupation and in the case of Iraq they perceived American presence as assisting subordination of the Sunnis by the Shias.
Unfortunately this inter-sectarian conflict originated after the death of Prophet Mohammed ( pbuh) over the question of who should lead the Muslim community. It is estimated that the Sunnis number between 85% to 90% of the Muslims. Though decades might have passed since the “arrival” of the first generation of immigrants the native Europeans may still be considering the socio-economic costs of immigration. It is generally believed that Immigration also has many possible costs (economic, social, national security, domestic security, liberty and congestion costs). These benefits and costs vary by type of immigrant — well-educated vs. uneducated, rich vs. poor, single vs. family, old vs. young, from countries in which there is a substantial amount of militant hostility against the Western developed countries vs. parent countries. In the case of Britain, for example, the Office of Budget Responsibility feels that immigration “does tend to produce a more beneficial picture” for the Government’s finances. “Because they’re more likely to be working age, they’re more likely to be paying taxes and less likely to have relatively large sums of money spent on them for education, for long-term care, for healthcare, for pension expenditure”( The Telegraph-January 2014). The Budget Office advised that Britain would need more migrants to finance the rising cost of pensions, social care and National Health Service. Without immigration national debt will soar to 175 % of the GDP in the next fifty years.
In the case of the US recent studies demonstrate that the higher earnings of legalized workers yield more tax revenue, more consumer buying power, and more jobs. American Immigration Council positively views immigration. One of the observations of the Council reports the example of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) demonstrating that workers with legal status earn more than workers who are unauthorized. And these extra earnings generate more tax revenue for federal, state, and local governments, as well as more consumers spending which sustains more jobs in U.S. businesses. Recent studies suggest that the economic value of a new legalization program would be substantial, amounting to tens of billions of dollars in added income, billions of dollars in additional tax revenue, and hundreds of thousands of new jobs for native-born and immigrant workers alike. In short, a new legalization program for unauthorized immigrants would benefit everyone by growing the economy and expanding the labor market. In a vicious commentary against “immigrationists”
Christopher Caldwell in his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West–in the words of The Guardian (May 17 2009) “cuts to shreds the conventional wisdom of the “immigrationist” ideology – the view that mass immigration is inevitable and in any case a necessary injection of youth into our ageing continent. He shows, contrary to the immigrationists, that the flows of recent decades are unprecedented. He also demolishes the economic and welfare- state arguments for mass immigration and points out that in most countries there was no desperate need for extra workers in the 1950s – in Britain’s case, Ireland still provided a reserve army of labor”.
Fortunately wiser and saner people like Bruce B. Lawrence Emeritus professor of Religion at Duke University descried Caldwell’s diatribe as a full-throttle polemic, a mean spirited book meant to raise alarms, stoke fears, and tame a danger at once unseen and misunderstood yet pernicious and widespread. The danger is Islam, the villains are Muslim immigrants, writes Bruce Lawrence, the terrain is the West, and the outcome is certain defeat for European culture—unless the tide of Muslim immigration, which threatens to become a tsunami, can be stemmed. One hopes that the Muslims, and in particular Muslim Diaspora in the West, would not have to tread “the path of progressive alienation” and become a second class citizen in the country of their birth. The international community must realize and act in the belief that religion is a private matter for the individual and those trying to bring about an age of darkness have to be confronted and destroyed.
*The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary in the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh