“Are you a communist?” These were the accusatory words sung by Joseph McCarthy, the neurotic, hard-drinking US senator who was the architect behind the US public’s hysteria towards communism in the early 1950s. The Senate hearings of the House of Un-American Activities, presided over by Senator McCarthy, destroyed thousands of careers and ruined the lives of many more, in a blind witch hunt that sought to identify the “Enemies From Within”: communists and their “red” sympathisers. McCarthy’s reign of terror came to an abrupt and ignoble end when his witch hunt began targeting senior members of the US government and high-ranking military officials.
On 5 May 2003, the US Senate released transcripts from the many interrogations conducted by McCarthy and his henchmen and laid bare an unsavoury period of American History. "Today, by providing broad public access to the transcripts of this era, we hope that the excesses of McCarthyism will serve as a cautionary tale for future generations," said Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine.
But has the USA learnt the harsh lessons of McCarthyism? Has the wider world paused and reflected upon the hysteria which currently pervades our society? The so-called “Red Scare,” or threat of Communism, has conveniently been replaced by the irrational fear of Islam and Muslims have now become that “Enemy from Within.”
When the US invaded Afghanistan under the pretext of the terrorist attacks on the US of September 11, 2001, both George W. Bush and Tony Blair went to great lengths to stress, “This is not a war on Islam, this is a war on terror.” Yet by their actions and the subsequent actions of the media, it is quite clear that within the remit of this so-called “War on Terror” is the dissemination of propaganda aimed at discrediting Islam and associating it with the wider threat and, in effect, creating a fear of Islam amongst the public.
Terrorism has always been with us, whether perpetrated by the IRA, Baader-Meinhof, Red Brigade, ETA, Carlos The Jackal, or Abu Nidal. It has always been here. The fundamental difference is that terrorism of today has been framed by Western governments and the corporate media as a unified and organized international campaign with Islamic ideological aims rather than political demands. Islam has replaced communism as the “great evil” and conveniently justifies the billions of dollars the US government has pumped into its defense industry since the Cold War. The fear of Islam has also conveniently found a tangible reason to justify NATO’s continued existence.
Every act of terror perpetrated by someone of the Islamic faith is portrayed as an act endorsed and encouraged by Islam. Al-Qaeda are suggested to be the ideological brain and muscle behind this international campaign, in an attempt to do away with “infidels,” destroy civilization, and impose Islamic Sharia law across the globe. Yet when the IRA launched its terror campaign across Britain in an attempt to rid the British presence from Ireland, did the media frame it as a Catholic campaign against hard working, law-abiding Protestants? Had they decided such, they would have had enough information to shape the public’s perceptions, sectarian violence, segregated communities, murders for association with individuals from the opposing faith. Yet, that period of terror was presented through the political demands of the IRA: “British troops out of Ireland.”
Likewise, David Copeland, the young British racist who was intent on sparking a race war, planted bombs in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho, creating havoc and generating a real sense of terror amongst Londoners. The media went to great lengths to ensure that ethnic minorities in Britain were aware that this was an isolated incident perpetrated by a sick individual with warped values. I dare say, they would not have been so generous had a Koran been found at his home.
The aims of Al-Qaeda and other militant groups are no different from those of the IRA or ETA, their raison d'être being political rather than religious: the removal of Western troops from Muslim lands. The struggles of the Palestinian people for self-determination are sold to the world through the prism of their Islamic faith rather than their legitimate demands for self-rule.
The Western media fails to put into context the images they broadcast to their audiences; they will show the pre-recorded statement of a suicide bomber asking “Allah” to help him destroy his enemies, or broadcast the words of an Islamic cleric blessing the actions of a combatant. But, isn’t this what army chaplains do in every Western army? Do not Christian soldiers ask their God to make them victorious over their enemy before they go into battle? If Islamic broadcasters so chose, they too could broadcast to their audiences video statements of armed Christian soldiers claiming to be doing God’s work and invoking God to crush their enemies. They too could frame the Boy Scouts, the Army and the Air Cadets as the Western media portrays Madrasas: as training grounds for young terrorists. They too could portray acts of American and British aggression as acts of terrorism against their populations. We are continually informed that acts of terror are blindly initiated by young men who adopt warped interpretations of Islam and believe that they are doing “God’s will.” Yet does not President George W. Bush also claim to be in communication with God, Whom he suggested instructed him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq?
The public misconception and fear of the Islamic enemy is shaped by US foreign policy and sold to the world via the corporate media: the very media that transformed General Musharaf the dictator into President Musharaf, the peace-loving ally of the West, and the very media that rehabilitated and reinvented the public’s perception of the so-called “Mad Dog” Colonel Ghadaffi into an ally in this so-called War on Terror. The vicissitudes of public opinion are shaped and moulded by the hidden agendas of the state and corporate media.
The public are informed of questionable practices supposedly endorsed by the Koran, such as the execution of adulterers and the killing of innocents. And with this information, the public condemns Islam as a barbaric and inhumane religion. Yet aren’t these archaic and brutal practices also embodied in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible? In Leviticus 20:10, does it not call for the killing of adulterers? Does Leviticus 20:13 not call for the killing of homosexuals? In Numbers 31:17, does not the Christian God cry out for blood: “… kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” I’m sure we can all agree that these scriptures are open to misinterpretation and should in no way be used to condemn followers of the Christian faith. Yet it is upon such archaic scripture and text that the entire Muslim faith is inaccurately portrayed and hypocritically judged.
Even some of the most liberal speakers on the subject claim, “it’s not the words of the Koran, but people’s interpretations of it that cause problems.” Yet the West fails to realize that the very same statement holds true for the Christian scriptures. The Holy Bible was used for centuries in the West to oppress women, discriminate against homosexuals, and even to condone the evils of slavery. Even today, the Bible is used as the text book for the US’s pending legislations against legal abortions and same-sex marriages. It is even used within the Catholic Church to place the practices of safe and legal contraception under scrutiny, at a time when the world is being ravaged by AIDS. So it must be acknowledged that the West, too, uses the misinterpretations of archaic texts as a yardstick to restrict freedom of choice.
Western society criticizes Islam for the enforcement of cultural dress codes that sanction women for not pursuing cultural norms and fails to see the cultural parallels with those of many Asian women who wear Sari’s and also cover themselves from head to toe. A Caribbean woman who enters a church with her head uncovered faces the very real possibility of being rebuked by her fellow worshippers. And lest we forget the Christian Nun who looks uncannily like the shrouded figures of Iranian, Afghani and Saudi women, the Nun who has chosen this form of attire out of religious piety and as a means of conforming to God’s word. In the West, it is further argued that a woman should have the right to wear what she wants to wear; however, even here in the liberal West, the issue of choice is questionable, for whilst a man can walk the streets bare-chested, if a woman were to do the same, she would undoubtedly be arrested for indecent exposure. So, even here in the West there are restrictions, albeit less draconian than those of many Islamic cultures, but restrictions nonetheless, restrictions based upon cultural values that invariably limit choice.
The power of the media and Hollywood to influence public opinion and shape public perceptions is unquestionable. Its ability to rewrite history and present fiction as fact is unparalleled. Only Hollywood could sell the US bombings of Somalia and the resultant killings of 5,000 Somalis as a humanitarian mission. Black Hawk Down (2001) presented the story to the American public and the wider world as eighteen US soldiers who were killed while attempting to liberate ungrateful Somali Muslims from feuding warlords. Hollywood also gave us such propaganda-based blockbusters as True Lies (1994), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Under Siege (1998), starring Denzel Washington, where, incidentally, the plots unfold as Islamic terrorists besiege New York City with a reign of terror as a result of US renditions. South Park The Movie (1999) and Rules of Engagement (2000) starring Samuel L. Jackson, and other films like these are the only points of reference from which many citizens in the West can relate to Islam. These films have served to massage public fears and influence public opinion. Little wonder then that the Western public considers Islam a vile threat to their security and their way of life.
Britain and the US suggest that bringing democracy to the Middle East is the only way of creating stability in the region; yet was it not this very same duo who, in 1953, overthrew the Middle-East’s first democracy under Mohammad Mossadeq in Iran? Are these not the very pair who encouraged the cancellation of the Algerian election results of 1992 once it was determined the Islamists had won? Is it not this very pair who endorsed the Iraqi elections under the most questionable of conditions, whilst disputing the overwhelming results of the Iranian elections? The very pair that penalise the Palestinian people for exercising their democratic right to choose their elected representatives. The very pair which forces democracy on its Islamic enemies whilst endorsing dictatorship amongst its Muslim allies in the wider Middle East. It is amidst the silence of the muted Western media that these injustices, double standards and blatant hypocrisies are permitted to flourish. Is it any wonder that frustrated young Muslims are becoming radicalized and seeking alternative methods with which to be heard?
The irrational onslaught against Islam and the endless propaganda thinly veiled in the Western media has to stop if we are to understand the current threat of terrorism. The root causes of so-called “Islamic terror” need to be addressed if society is to reverse the tide of disaffected young men who are unwilling to tolerate the double standards. Tarnishing a faith and victimizing followers of a religion which boasts over a billion adherents is a very reckless and dangerous thing to do. Western governments and their obedient corporate media have tailor-made oversized clothing for this Islamic terror threat and if they continue spreading misinformation and marginalizing disaffected Muslim youth, they may soon find that the clothes they have made are quickly outgrown. Prior to the 7 July bombings in London, there had never been a terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims in Britain. Whilst the media scratched their heads in disbelief, the government hijacked the occasion to bolster support for its failing adventures in the Middle-East, suggesting it was this type of wanton terror that they are trying to protect the public from. However, these arbitrary, uncoordinated, and indiscriminate acts of terror have not arisen from a vacuum, they are as a result of this so-called “War on Terror” and broader injustices, whether real or imagined.
The recent arrests of two innocent Muslim brothers in Forest Gate, London and the resultant trial by media only serve to underline the fears and discontentment felt by many young Muslims. Many are not as fortunate as these two men; some are presently incarcerated under new anti-terror legislations which allow British courts to imprison individuals on the basis of suspicion. It was recently revealed that the individual most likely to have given information to the security services regarding the two East London brothers is ex-waiter Mohammed Abu Bakr Mansha; he is currently serving six years for terrorism charges. His crime and the sum total of evidence against him was that he was in possession of an old address of a British Army war veteran, against whom the police “suspect” he was planning a terrorist attack. Similarly, we have the case of Andrew Rowe, a convert to Islam who was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for the “possession of items which might be of use to terrorists.” His crime? Having a notepad which contained details on how to fire a mortar and allegedly having socks which had traces of explosive residue. Whilst these individuals fade into oblivion, the list of Muslims imprisoned on the most spurious and questionable evidence goes on and on.
And let us not forget about Guantanamo Bay, where hundreds of “terror suspects” are still being held by the US government, indefinitely and without trial. Hunger strikes have resulted in forced feedings which have resulted in recent suicides; yet the world’s corporate media have only given a cursory mention of these most grotesque injustices and have failed to lead an international debate on the legality of these detentions. Many in the Muslim world consider the ill-conceived invasions and continual occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq as imperial land grabs by the West. They consider the democracies imposed upon their brothers in faith as a farce, merely puppet regimes to sanction US domination. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared the invasion of Iraq illegal. Yet has the media articulated these comments into a debate that challenges the legality of the invasion and sets in motion the discourse that will facilitate justice for the scores of thousands who have lost their lives and continue to lose their lives daily? Many Muslims are highly sensitive of the duplicitous nature and lop-sided reporting of the Western media and it is these injustices accompanied by the muted voice of the media that make many young Muslims question their loyalties.
Western governments and their obedient media have foolishly accompanied an imperialistic US administration into an ill-planned and ill-fated ideological crusade: a crusade which clumsily tramples on the sensitive, cultural and religious values of one fifth of the global population and which has reduced the international value of the United Nations to that of a colonial office.
This insanity must be brought to an end. The threat from so-called “Islamic Enemies” must be put into context. The “War on Terror” must be strip-searched to expose the hidden agendas and defuse the public hysteria. We must not allow the lies, deceptions and paranoia of the McCarthy era to repeat themselves. Honest journalists and the public at large need to make their voices heard against these injustices; they must make a stand against this phoney “War on Terror” before this nightmare for Muslims becomes a reality for us all.
1st July 2006