PIECED: Orientalism and Islamophobia in the American left

Electronic Intifada writer Joseph Shahadi takes a look at Steven Salaita’s new collection of political essays, The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought.

Steven Salaita's The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought.

"Oh, come on. Some of my best friends are Muslim!"

As goes with the West’s indisputable! and age-old obsession with the the Other, Middle Eastern societies are barbarous and therefore essentially uncultured according to the Western imagination. Hence the justification of the War on Terror, and “the grotesque excesses of the American right — the expansion of presidential powers, the attendant decrease in civil liberties and the legalization of torture,” Shahadi writes.

But Salaita argues that this discourse also applies to the American left, too, and he targets liberal public figures like Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Moore, Michael Lerner and Katha Pollitt for their anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia. These “chattering and intellectual classes” are protected by liberal politics that often exempt them from such critiques.

While the demonization of Islam and anti-Arab racism on the right is often blatant and easily identified, progressive expressions are more subtle, and rely as much on lies of omission as rhetorical bluster to make the same case. This is a strategy Salaita defines as “the act of professing liberal political viewpoints through the partial use of illicit racism as an unacknowledged rhetorical device.”

Read Shahadi’s review, teeming with weighty concepts like “demonization,” “the liberal value of tolerance,” “smokescreen,” “subhuman,” and “social invisibility,” at Electronic Intifada.


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