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Viktor Nagornyy

Following inflammatory remarks made by Florida pastor Terry Jones around burning the Qu'ran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, Horace Campbell considers the resurgence of Islamophobia and attempts by powerful sections of the US conservative ruling class to stoke up the flames of conflict. At a time of acute economic downturn, Campbell contends, the forces of peace and understanding must complement one another in a bid to prevent discrimation, prejudice and conflict from gaining traction and cementing the position of the US neo-conservative establishment.

When the news of the plans to burn more than 200 copies of the Qu’ran reached international headlines, any sane person wondered if US society had gone crazy. The incendiary plan came weeks after international debates about the plans by a group to build an Islamic community centre in New York City. Conservatives in the United States distorted the true story and there were wild claims that there were plans for the building of a mosque at Ground Zero in New York. Ground Zero is the name of the site of the fall of the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. It is my view that the decision to burn the holy book during the period of the commemoration of the events of September 11 was a calculated effort to maximise the propaganda effort to heighten the scourges of racism and islamophopbia in the United States and in those societies in western Europe allied to conservative forces in the USA. As a propaganda tool, this announced plan to burn the Qu’ran achieved its most important goal, that is, to promote the ideas of war and hatred. It was for this reason that the timing of the Qu’ran burning was to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Racism and anti-Islamic propaganda had been refined to serve the purposes of the US military–industrial complex. The divisions in the military over whether they were in a war against Islam or in a war against terrorists had been accentuated by the belief of some sections of the military that the commander in chief was in fact a Muslim, and therefore not an authentic citizen of the USA. For two decades US rulers had used the threat of Islamic fundamentalism as a justification for keeping a high military, economic and political profile in the Middle East while supporting the extremists in Israel. The troops and private contractors from the US military machine who had been pumped up by the association of Islam and fascism (so called Islamofascism) had to hear a credible voice from the neo-conservative establishment. Pastor Terry Jones was given wide publicity and the conservative sources of news were now caught in the contradiction of promoting racism and hatred of Islam in a way that made US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan vulnerable to popular outrages. The most challenging aspect of this new period of hate was the spinelessness of liberals. In a period of the most serious capitalist depression since 1930, the scenario planners for the capitalist class had decided that a division between white and black workers was to be supplemented by divisions between Christians and the followers of Islam.


The extreme forms of racism that have been on the rise in the United States since the election of Barack Obama have shaken those who have been pontificating about a post-racial United States. Evidence of racial profiling, discrimination and the aggressive acts of exploitation of black and brown peoples in the United States have only been surpassed by the passionate statements of the racists who are turning up at the Tea Party rallies crying out that ‘we want our country back’. This chant by the conservative is an overt statement by the more racist section of US society that Barack Obama is an illegal president. Carl Paladino, who was running to become the gubernatorial candidate in the USA for the Republican Party in the state of New York, sent out emails with offensive racist and sexist images. My hometown newspaper reported that this candidate sent an email depicting a horse having sex with a woman and another that included a pornographic video and the headline ‘Miss France 2008 F[***]ing.’ He also reportedly sent out an email depicting President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as a pimp and prostitute. Paladino won the nomination with this message. Down in the South, the Obama presidency is dubbed as the ‘nigger show’.

Paladino come out of obscurity with this kind of message to become a frontline candidate in the race between Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate and Howie Hawkins, the Green candidate. After the primary elections on Tuesday 14 September 2010, the Tea Party emerged as a real force in US politics. In nine major races for the Senate the candidates backed by the Tea party won the right to contest in the November elections to be held on Tuesday 2 November. These victories gave the extreme racist and conservative forces front-line spaces to propagate falsehoods, lies, division and hatred of followers of the Islamic faith.

From the Tea Party followers we have been provided images of Obama as the Islamofascist when Obama was being compared to Hitler. These statements from the whipped-up crowds at political rallies have been supported by politicians who have called for the repeal of the 14th Amendment of the US constitution. This amendment was that instrument of the constitution that gave Africans the rights to be citizens of the United States after the Civil War of 1861–65. Prior to this constitutional change, Africans could not be citizens and the Dred Scott decision of 1857 had stated clearly that descendants of enslaved persons could not be citizens of the USA. The question had been posed before the Civil War in the US courts.

‘Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to the citizen?’

The answer as handed down by the US Supreme Court was: No.

This decision was overturned by the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution after the Civil War. Since the US Civil War and the granting of citizenship to blacks there has been a debate among conservative jurists on whether it was a mistake to grant citizenship to blacks, who were considered inferior in any case.

After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the conservatives were alarmed and started a campaign that Obama was not a real US citizen because he was not born in the United States. These citizens who carried this line were called ‘birthers’. As the conservative and right-wing forces gained confidence from millions of dollars being spent by billionaires to finance them and from the silence of the middle, the more extreme politicians went further to target not only blacks but citizens of Hispanic backgrounds. This double assault on black and Latinos was manifest in the posture of the Arizona state that adopted neo-fascist laws against immigrants and oppressed peoples. It was in this climate of heightened racial polarisation that Senator John Kyl (R-Ariz.) became the highest-ranking Republican to suggest support for the repeal of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Appearing on a popular Sunday television show, Kyl said that he opposes allowing children of undocumented immigrants to be granted US citizenship and wants Congress to hold hearings on the matter. The subtext of this statement was to send a signal to the neo-conservatives that it was time to intensify the racist ideas that can leave blacks and Hispanics insecure in the USA. This insecurity would serve to divide the poor at a moment when all poor persons – black, white and brown – should be focusing on unemployment, loss of homes and the fighting of two wars at the same time.

Racism and capitalist exploitation have always gone hand in glove with strengthening the powers of the capitalist classes in the United States. This racism carries with it the ideas of white supremacy. Through the power of the Anglo-American media and propaganda, this racism became a worldwide phenomenon. Racism, sexism and homophobia became weapons in the toolbox of exploitation. Although the United Nations has retreated from linking racism to capitalism, the , the sacred text of Islam, at his small church had been mobilised by the language of Islamophobia and had made his own contribution by writing on ‘Islam is of the Devil.’

Pastors such as those in this small church had a material basis for wanting the return of the Republicans to the executive branch of the government. Under the Faith Initiative of the Bush–Cheney–Rumsfeld period, billions were doled out to the conservatives to whip up racism and hatred. There were many blacks who had internalised this hatred by espousing the most homophobic and sexist aspects of the campaigns of the neo-conservatives.

Thus it is necessary to grasp the toxic environment that the US finds itself in at the period of the worst depression since 1930. What could be considered a fringe group before the depression is now taking centre-stage of US politics as the signs of the economic depression set in. The Tea Party then becomes the vehicle to move to the next stage to get the popular votes of poor whites to support rabid racism and Islamophobia. The recent victories of the Tea Party nation in the primaries show that the planned strategy of a right-wing assault on humans is gaining traction. The furore over the burning of the Qu’ran served the purpose of heightening passions all over the world to the point where there is no longer a question of if there will be an incident that will trigger major confrontations, but merely when such an incident will take place.


The fact that it required the secretary of defense to cool out the passions that were mounting is one indication of the impact of this climate on the armed forces of the USA. Increasingly, the strength and power of the militarist is evident from the fact that in the midst of a depression when everything else is being slashed, the military budget of the USA is going up. The anti-Islamic fervour has gone beyond the USA, and is manifest in societies such as Denmark, France and other parts of Europe. The xenophobia in France is now manifesting itself in the expulsion of the Roma peoples and the legislation banning the wearing of the veil (the burka) by women in France.

The conservative forces have so far benefited from the timidity of liberals who have been silent. However, it is in the world of Islam where the heritages of racism and Islamophobia carry many contradictions. In many parts of the Islamic world, non-whites have internalised the racism of the US conservatives and racists. This is manifest in the treatment of Africans in some states of the Middle East and other states in Asia. This contradiction is compounded by the fact that some of the leaders of Islamic states who are flush with oil funds spend their resources to prop up the same neo-conservatives of the Carlyle Group and the Bush family. It is this alliance of some of the Sheiks with the neo-conservatives that can explain the fact that Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater, the private contracting firm, could decide to move to Abu Dhabi. Why would someone with a track record of linkages to the most conservative section of the religious fundamentalists in the USA find a home in the Middle East at a time when there were questions in the US media about the killings of innocent Iraqis by this firm?

One of my brothers has complained of the hierarchy of his mosque where citizens from Bosnia and North Africa treat citizens from Africa as second-class Muslims. This brother has pointed out that at a moment when all people should be praying shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot for peace, some of their brothers from parts of the Middle East do not want to stand shoulder to shoulder with Africans. Some Africans have also internalised this hierarchy and the Somali Bantu are treated as second-class humans by other Somali.


The proposition by Pastor Terry Jones for the burning of the Koran was one more calculated act to promote war. The very fact that the idea was floated and was given wide publicity was an indication of how conservative the US media had become. This act was intended to strike a note of discord with 1 billion Muslims following news of Islam. The president of Nigeria understood the meaning of this provocation. He said firmly that burning the Koran would ‘assault the sensibilities of our Muslim brothers and sisters’.

This was a clear statement from a president who had witnessed the fanning of the flames of religious wars in Jos. These same flames of religious war are being fanned in Sudan. The US media is trapped by its support for militarism and the Wall Street barons who benefit from war. Those who support peace and tolerance must oppose the idea of burning religious text and oppose the furore over the so-called mosque at Ground Zero. Those in the peace movement should see this for what it is: an attempt to divide working people in the midst of a depression. Islamophobia is more than an empty propaganda term. It is an incitement for war.

The continued debates on the so-called mosque at Ground Zero serve the purpose of diverting energies from the peace and justice forces in the world. The announced plans for the burning of the holy book on the day of the sad events of September 11th pointed to an aspect of US politics that had been hidden from the rest of the world. This is the way in which the neo-conservative forces had worked to manipulate the divisions within Islam to serve the most conservative sections of the US ruling forces. That it took the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to call this unknown pastor in Florida was revealing in one profound sense. Gates had to take care of massaging the new propaganda lines in the US military machine. This commentary is designed to alert all supporters of peace to stand up and be counted among those who are opposed to the virulent racism and Islamophobia which is being used as a weapon to bring the neo-conservatives back into the control of the executive branch of the United States. In this struggle to oppose a special type of militarism and conservatism, those sections of the Islamic world who are aligned to the conservatives in the United States must be condemned, exposed and if possible removed from political power. The struggles for peace and social justice, religious freedom and rights for all are interconnected in all parts of the world.


* Horace Campbell is a teacher and writer. His latest book is [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.