“Arun Kundnani is one of Britain's best political writers”; his book “is vastly more intelligent than the usual 'war on terror' verbiage”

The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror received this rave review in the Guardian at the weekend:

Arun Kundnani is one of Britain's best political writers, neither hectoring nor drily academic but compelling and sharply intelligent. The Muslims Are Coming should be widely read, particularly by liberals who consider their own positions unassailable. "Neoconservatism invented the terror war," Kundnani writes, "but Obama liberalism normalised it, at which point, mainstream journalists stopped asking questions."

Entitled 'Why the war on terror makes things worse', Robin Yassin-Kassab's review reads as an essay in itself on the failure to understand Muslims communities and political violence:

Arun Kundnani's book, vastly more intelligent than the usual "war on terror" verbiage, focuses on the war's domestic edge in Britain and America. His starting point is this: 'Terrorism is not the product of radical politics but a symptom of political impotence.' The antidote therefore seems self-evident: "A strong, active and confident Muslim community enjoying its civic rights to the full." Yet policy on both sides of the Atlantic has ended by criminalising Muslim opinion, silencing speech and increasing social division. These results may make political violence more, not less, likely."

The assumptions and silences of the counter-radicalisation industry end up telling us far more about particular ideological subsections of Anglo-American culture than they do about the Muslims targeted. The two dominant security approaches to Muslim citizens described by Kundnani – "culturalist" and "reformist" – highlight ideology rather than sociopolitical grievances.

This failure to engage with the real roots of violent alienation has ramifications going far beyond security. Both culturalism and reformism neglect what Kundnani calls "the basic political question thrown up by multiculturalism: how can a common way of life, together with full participation from all parts of society, be created?" 

Kundnani provides detailed, well‑contextualised accounts of the entrapment of vulnerable African-American Muslims as well as the criminalisation of the (already traumatised) Minnesota Somali community (for its opposition to the US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia). Arab-Americans, who had either identified as white or as a "model minority" (patriotic, bourgeois, less troublesome than black people or Latinos), suddenly found those options closing. In comedian Dean Obeidallah's words, "I go to bed September 10th white, wake up September 11th, I am an Arab." Anti-Muslim hysteria was whipped up by the media, the entertainment industry, and a state vocabulary that considered pipe bombs "weapons of mass destruction" when used by Muslims. Anti-Muslim violence in America increased by 50% in 2010.

The book closes with discussion of the new European far-right's embrace of Zionism – it is now Islamphobic rather than antisemitic. In "creeping-shari'a" scaremongering, the tropes of classical antisemitism are clear. Rightists "ascribe to Islam magical powers to secretly control western governments while at the same time [seeing it as] a backward seventh-century ideology whose followers constitute a dangerous underclass".

Read the article in full, here.

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