Fareed Zakaria Reapplies Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” to Muslims

Recently, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria attempted to present a show entitled, “Why They Hate Us.” As to who “they” and “us” are, it tends to fluctuate and remain ambiguous which made the program difficult to understand. Here is my attempt.

Conservative Republicans are certainly correct about one thing and that is: “don’t trust the ‘liberal media.'” Of course, they are right for all of the wrong reasons, but CNN’s moderate-liberal Fareed Zakaria recently hosted a special segment called “Why They Hate Us” and in a manner of speaking, it was based on prejudice, conjecture, ignorance and ahistorical findings.

“They,” of course, are Muslims. Zakaria stated that, “The next time you hear of a terror attack — no matter where it is, no matter what the circumstances — you will likely think to yourself, ‘It’s Muslims again.’ And you will probably be right.”

Zakaria would be even more accurate if he honestly put forth the rest of the sentence to say, “… and you will probably be right that it had Western or US backing.” For much of the world, real “terrorism” is what we call our own “nation-building” or empire creation in times of war. How does one run an entire program dedicated to a broad concept of unrest in the Arab world without mentioning President Eisenhower and Iran, President Carter and Indonesia, Presidents Reagan and Bush in Iraq and President Obama and Saudi Arabia (and these are just a few examples) without mentioning our cozy relationship with authentic terror operations?

In other words, of course Islam is not “terror,” which Zakaria fails to categorically mention, but beyond that, when there is “Islamic terror,” it is likely US-inspired or actually hired. The notable works of William Blum, Richard Falk and Medea Benjamin tell us about our quite often hypocritical stances.

To his credit, Zakaria did mention how ISIS (also known as Daesh) targets mostly Muslims. But he falls short of contextualizing how this points to the overall narrative. One of the more dangerous comments by Zakaria was this:

Islamic terrorists don’t just hate America or the West. They hate the modern world, and they particularly hate Muslims who are trying to live in the modern world. Let’s be clear. While the jihadis are few, there is a larger cancer within the world of Islam — a cancer of backwardness and extremism and intolerance.

Here, there are a host of issues. First, what exactly constitutes “modernity?” Has Zakaria ever read the words of the late great Edward Said? His modernity thesis sounds like a Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis “clash of civilizations” trope retread. This concept of “backwardness” was debunked easily by my college professors when I was a freshman. Even right-wingers that served in the military or went on to become diplomats know (albeit cynically) that the blowback from the Middle East is through failed US policy, and not a clash of cultures.

Zakaria is fond of citing Islamic “backwardness.” He says:

It’s not theology, it’s politics. Radical Islam is the product of the broken politics and stagnant economics of Muslim countries. They have found in radical religion an ideology that lets them rail against the modern world, an ideology that is now being exported to alienated young Muslims everywhere — in Europe, and even in some rare cases in the United States.

This misrepresents Muslims terribly, so why then call ISIS “Islamic” at all? The fact that they call themselves the “Islamic State” does not make them Muslims, according to the insightful work of Juan Cole. The Branch Davidians, the Ku Klux Klan and the legacy of white supremacy consists of some self-professed Christians, but most sensible people do not refer to them as radical Christian terrorists, nor is there a concept of radical Judaic terrorism. ISIS is simply a cult.

As to Zakaria’s question of “How can we bring an end to this?” We need to consider a change in US foreign policy, for starters. As Noam Chomsky simply points out, “If you want to stop terror, stop participating in it.”

Zakaria’s willful ignorance is also evident in this quote: “There’s really only one way: Help the majority of Muslims, fight extremists, reform their faith, and modernize their societies. In doing so, we should listen to those on the front lines, many of whom are fighting and dying in the struggle against jihadis.”

This comment is extremely patronizing and does not allow for a thorough understanding of the Arab world and its knowledge of the US government’s actual practices. Zakaria basically sets out to reconfigure Rudyard Kipling’s White Man’s Burden and applies it to Islamic societies. Kipling, like Zakaria, was a well-intentioned elite liberal that had internalized his own racism and prejudicial attitude toward helping the “half-devil, half-child.” This also harkens back to our Native American policies that historian Eric Foner has highlighted to mean promotion of a “civilizing agenda” on the part of the federal government. For that matter, Zakaria should read Nicholas Guyatt’s most recent work, Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation.

In some respects, what Zakaria was probably attempting to understand was how a violent actor in the United States can at any time simply state they “did it” on behalf of ISIS. But this is an entirely separate phenomenon from what he attempted to package into a one-hour segment that was short on historical fact. Just because a terrorist, as the west might define one, acts as a lone wolf, while subscribing to a caricature of an Islamic fundamentalist, it does not mean we are at war with a major religion. This is just “enlightened thought” and willful ignorance. This is especially true when it is an unhinged American kid in deep isolation, devout to only inflicting pain and hate.

Zakaria asked: “Who are they? How many? Are they multiplying in a new deadly form?” He also falsely asserted, without evidence, that “they” are “inside schools being taught how to kill us.” To my understanding much of the schools he refers to were set up by the US.

Zakaria wasted his opportunity when interviewing Professor Rashid Khalidi, because he gave Khalidi less than a minute of actual air time. This was most frustrating since I was much more eager to hear Khalidi’s extended responses compared to anything Zakaria had to say.

You also hear Zakaria use the term “jihad” very loosely. This word basically translates into “struggle,” and in most senses, it is spiritual. Jihad has many historical and cultural implications, and one would think that Zakaria certainly knows this since he is one of the world’s “leading public intellectuals.” Again, as a student I was taught by my campus-watched “dangerous professor,” (in other words, great teacher) Lawrence Davidson, that “Sabr” means “patience,” and thus another aspect of jihad.

As to why Zakaria rejects the notion that terrorists simply react to US adventurism? Zakaria stated that, “America has waged war in many lands, but there are no Vietnamese or Cambodian terrorists.”

But he fails to even mention that US power had a simple term for Vietnamese terrorists as well. We simply called them the Viet Cong. Further, we referred to the Cambodians as “guerilla fighters.” They considered themselves liberation fronts, but we did not. And how would Vietnamese commence in proverbial terror on US soil after we destroyed their countryside, devastated their livestock and children, while calling it a “loss” on our part? We murdered 2-4 million Vietnamese and left a legacy of deformed infants, chemical poisoning and unexploded shells in Cambodia as well.

And what exactly justifies Zakaria’s need to promote the idea that Muslims resent “modernity?”

He used the tired story of Sayyid Qutb as an intellectual root. This is of course propaganda, intellectual dishonesty and is analogous to claiming that the Hamas Charter has real meaning, other than Israeli propaganda. The Hamas Charter was cobbled together by a small group under assault in 1988. It has no historical relevance, and its rhetoric is used to preempt Israeli violence and policy. Of course, this can only explain a tiny fraction, at best, of anti-Western sentiment, since Qutb wrote critically of US and Western materialism. But he also wrote critically of Muslims who had similar cults of personality.

Moreover, many Islamic commentators and followers have ample skepticism and criticism of his work not to mention, lone wolf actors who are totally ignorant of him. What is more, many terrorists are not irrational, they are often rational middle-class members of society that utilize their only way to symbolically react to a less than normal life imposed by an outside force for which they have no symmetrical response.

You only need to read A Concise History of the Middle East to better understand what constitutes the complexities of various Islamic societies and its traditions. And to better understand, “Why They Hate Us,” view CNN with skepticism and go to primary sources.