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Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West

Irfan Husain

Harper Collins

Pages: 256 Rs. 299

Apologia for imperialism in the voice of a ‘good’ Muslim

Examining the war on terrorism, Irfan Husain’s work is riddled with Orientalist cliches. His ‘authentic’ Muslim voice is used to defend the US onslaught, opines Salman Adil Hussain.

Salman Adil Hussain  1st Jul 2012

The ‘war on terrorism’ has spurned thousands of protests across the world

mmediately after 9/11, ex-diplomat and Pakistani columnist Irfan Husain was flooded with emails from Americans wanting to understand "where the suicide bombers had come from." In Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West he sets out to answer their question, "Why us?" To do so, he borrows Samuel Huntington's civilisational canvas and sketches a narrative of a millennium-long conflict between Islam and Christendom that the US is now heir to: "[t]he leadership of the Western, Judeo-Christian world has passed on to America; with this mantle goes the poisoned chalice." (p47) The poisoned chalice is Bernard Lewis' "Muslim Rage": Muslims are angry at having lost their position of prominence in world affairs to the West. They are seething with anger at their impotence, an anger they displace onto the US.

Islamic extremism — "a reaction to the forces of globalisation" (p13) — Husain assures his readers, is merely a temporary hiccup in the US-led march of human progress. In this day and age, when financiers and technocrats call the shots and ideology is becoming irrelevant, Islamic extremists are spoiling our neoliberal paradise. But, just as "primitive tribes" lashed out with rage and impotence at modernisation only to lose out in the end, religious extremism will die out too. Drone attacks are "necessary and effective" (p181) in expediting that eventuality for all military-age males within a strike zone. They do foster resentment, but only in Pakistanis living away from the places where men, women, and children done to death, as Rabindranath Tagore would have said, meet their fate by a decree from the stratosphere of American imperialism. "Interestingly, those in the firing line of the drones don't share the views of majority of Pakistanis or human rights activists abroad." (p105) People in North and South Waziristan say that the damage drones inflict is more contained in comparison with Pakistan Army's artillery and aerial assaults. Since they prefer not to be bombed at a mass-scale, Husain tells us that they welcome drone attacks. (p11) In this, Husain has illustrious pedigree. Of the Arabs subjected to RAF's early twentieth century aerial bombing campaigns, said Hugh Trenchard, British Chief of Air Staff, "They have no objection to being killed."

Along with drones, Husain offers some "soft-power" solutions to the Muslim problem. "In addition to armed militancy, there is a need to reduce the rampant religiosity that informs the public narrative in many Muslim countries." (p191) The long-term cure for the "virus" of Islamic terrorism is to educate the benighted Muslim masses. That the terrorists in most of the cases Husain discusses have a "modern education" and are well-off does not contradict his prescription, since the specter of the fanatical Muslim horde is self-evident, "for every highly educated terrorist ... there are hundreds of poor, illiterate, young men in Pakistan and Afghanistan who gladly join up to fight against the coalition and the state for as little as five dollars a day." (p191) No evidence is provided for staking this vile claim falsified by numerous studies. Evidentiary requirements do not apply to Husain's "personal exploration."

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The Global War on Terror has spawned a cottage industry of commentators and “experts,” who simply repackage the American public’s commonly held beliefs and serve it back to them.

he Global War on Terror has spawned a cottage industry of commentators and "experts," who simply repackage the American public's commonly held beliefs and serve it back to them: The Muslims are crazy, they hate America (and each other), and America is a force for good. Husain primarily posits himself as an internal critic of Islam, but also offers some tepid critiques of the US. This double maneuver gives him more credibility with his readers: He is fair and balanced. Suspended outside the context of power-relations, such "balance" serves to efface the violence that is imperialism. Besides, who better to provide apologia for the American Empire than an "authentic," Muslim voice? Since the US has the largest military in the world, "it is inevitable that it has assumed the role of world policeman." "Its economic and financial interests are so far-flung that it needs to maintain a global military presence." The cop, however, is hated even by law-abiding citizens. (p54) Empire is thus America's cross to bear for "mankind's progress" – the White man's burden for the 21st century, if you will.

Husain's hackneyed mishmash of Orientalist clichés serves as a reminder of how the logic of the War on Terror subsumes its usual counterpoints. Islamophobia can be both denounced and purveyed in the same breath. "Contrary to the general perception of Muslims as a monolithic mass of threatening would-be terrorists, there are many shades of opinions, just as there are within followers of any faith. One crucial difference exists: Extremist followers from other religions generally do not turn into suicide bombers." (p147) Islam is a religion of peace, as Bush and Blair never tired of proclaiming, and extremists are a very tiny minority within it. This tiny minority of anti-modern, bad Muslims, however, says something about the Muslim whole. That is, Islam has a unique propensity for producing a violent fringe. Its extremist minority is now threatening to take over the Muslim world, and, in Husain's words, "the United States leads the resistance to their power grab." The American empire is simply magnanimously helping the good Muslims triumph against the bad ones for a better and safer world for all humanity. Faultlines is a good Muslim's touching affirmation of this imperial mission.

 
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