On August 31st, 1967, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered The Three Evils of Society speech at the National Conference on New Politics, which is the most prophetic and revolutionary address to date on the questions of militarism, poverty, and racism.[ii]
In this speech MLK framed the problem that “has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning,” by stating, “we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong[ed] sickness. He also identified “the sickness of racism, excessive materialism, and militarism,” and considered the three problems as the “plague of Western civilization.”
Revisiting the speech is instructive for anyone who is troubled by the current local-global conditions affecting the human family, with: the visible ravages of racism eating at our soul and causing death and mayhem across the globe; poverty’s death march leaving behind millions of destroyed lives and rendering 99% of the world into servitude and indebted bondage; and, last but not least, the ever expanding military industrial complex, a cancer devouring everything in sight while making fools of people and setting brother against brother, tribe against tribe, nation against nation, religion against religion.
The “three evils” outlined by MLK are all around us; they are the DNA that give rise to the blueprint of today’s falsely called “modern society;” nothing is modern when racism, materialism, and militarism are set by design and are barbarically, clinically, and methodically killing millions.
I can attest to the presence of the “three evils,” having just returned from a trip to Europe, where I attended a series of conferences on Islamophobia. In France, and on a similar scale in England, an average of 52 Islamophobia cases are reported to Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France (CCIF) on a daily basis.[iii] In the US, to date, 71 mosques have been attacked in one way or another.[iv] We have transitioned from rhetoric to violence because civil society has been assaulted by bullies and fascists.
Islamophobia and the Three Evils of Society: Racism, Materialism and War.
MLK’s words on militarism and war are haunting, blunt, and exact:
This war has played havoc with the destiny of the entire world. It has torn up the Geneva Agreement, it has seriously impaired the United Nations, it has exacerbated the hatred between continents, and worse still between races. It has frustrated our development at home, telling our own underprivileged citizens that we place insatiable military demands above their critical needs. It has greatly contributed to the forces of reaction in America and strengthened the military industrial complex . . . This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields, physically handicapped and psychologically deranged cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.[v]
Islamophobia, as a contemporary problem, is incorrectly approached and symptoms are taken for the real causes, which then are used in constructing faulty responses that waste time and much-needed resources. Pointing out this obvious shortcoming in analyzing the problem does not mean that the symptoms are unimportant or insignificant on their own; they are indeed important and significant, but one has to make a distinction when approaching the work on Islamophobia as a specific phenomena and what is needed to remedy it.
Let us first dispense with the notion that the problem of Islamophobia is one driven by the media’s negative representation of Islam and Muslims. Although I concur that media coverage intensifies the problem, the press’ role, as Chomsky aptly argues, is to manufacture consent of the governed, but the creation of a Muslim boogeyman is far too sophisticated to be framed for people by anchormen and anchorwomen, who need constant image control themselves, and their noses, cheeks and foreheads constantly brushed with Whiteness.
When we narrow the scope of the problem to media representation of Islam and Muslims, then it makes the issue one of image, with community responses focusing on image control, public relations efforts, and politics of respectability discourses. Although one can argue that such responses are needed at one level, in reality, those responses end up actually addressing the symptoms of the disease and not its epistemic and ideological foundations. Furthermore, addressing the symptoms leads to affirmation of the otherization paradigm because the image and public relations approach must take, as a point of departure, the market conditions as they are, and then work to improve or shift the perceptions about the subject matter without addressing the root causes.
Economic and political elites have the power and ability to label individuals and groups as “enemies of society,” and the media carries out the mission of maligning these targeted individuals and groups. The corporate media is an economic enterprise owned by elites in the Global North, and the scope of coverage is shaped by those who own and operate these companies. The media pursue the agenda that reflects elites’ priorities, and journalists are under tight reign as to when, who, and what is to be covered, with the final content subject to editorial control.
At one time or another, the political and economic elites have identified African Americans, Native Americans, Jews, Chinese, Latinos, Japanese, Irish, Italians, Mormons, Catholics, and Vietnamese as “enemy number one,” and media coverage reflected their set priorities in each era. It was not a question of what came first, the chicken or the egg, but, the political and economic elites gave birth to the racist eggs that ended up creating the conditions for cooking a fascist omelet.
Indeed, Muslims in civil society are being figuratively punched in the face, and the response has been to rush to get a facelift and plastic surgery or inject Botox, so as to make ourselves look beautiful. The media, Fox in particular, would report the punch this way:
A Muslim face viciously attacked an innocent Western fist in midair, causing serious laceration to the White, peaceful hand. Police and the FBI are investigating if the face is connected to terrorism, was reading the Qur’an, or said, “Allah Akbar” when barbarically attacking the poor fist. Some blood from the face was found on the fist, and medics were careful in handling it as it might be carrying the infectious Islam virus.
The scenario above illustrates the problem of how the media twists the truth. The root cause of this faulty reporting is that elites in civil society have prepared and stoked the conditions that embolden persons to take their fists to Muslim faces in the first place.
Let us, likewise, reject the idea that Islamophobia is driven by people who are un-informed about Islam and Muslims. We can make the case for sincere individuals who are incited into hating Muslims and Islam, but the Islamophobia is produced by a set of groups that, and individuals who, have strategic goals and operate from a calculated set of plans.
Here, Islam and Muslims are part of what Edward Said identified as imagined geographies. Islam is constituted as an imagined geography, that is ideologically constructed in
Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilization, which begins to inform and regulate how the subject is approached.
Islamophobia is funded, produced, promoted, and acted upon by imagined geography and Clash of Civilization “warriors” who have a vested interest in the three evils of society: racism, obscene materialism, and militarism.
Likewise, the third notion to reject is that Islamophobia is a by-product of, or a response to, extremism and terrorism emerging from the Muslim world.
I am completely aware and sympathetic to all the challenges confronting Muslims around the globe: we have divisions, conflicts, arguments, Fiqh issues, sectarian violence, and crises, but, in my humble opinion, the compounded challenge is when we approach our internal problems and challenges from an Islamophobic lens.
In Europe, violence committed by Muslims accounts for 2% of all such incidents across the continent, while 98% is the result of in neo-Nazi, nationalist, separatist, and ethnic oriented violence.[vi] Similarly, across the US, 94%[vii] of committed terrorism violence occurred outside the confines of the Muslim community, and, since 9/11 some 406,496[viii] individuals lost their lives as a result of domestic inspired violence, while only 37 such cases were attributed to Muslims (not including the recent San Bernardino killings).[ix]
Media coverage plays a major role here, and makes the fringe the norm, problematizes the majority, and criminalizes their existence.
When we begin to rationalize racist circumstances by pointing to whatever ails us locally or globally as the reason why it is occurring, then we move from individual responsibility to a collective guilt-by-association construct.
The same applies to the internal argument, which is a more refined notion, and is grounded in tradition by assigning what is taking place to the realm of faith, thus it is the will of God.
I do believe that everything in this world and the universe is the will of God because His knowledge and power encompass everything. We know not what God decided or has not decided on specific matters, and often, we reflect our own pre-conceived notions of how to respond and assign to ourselves God’s voice.
Our own actions do bring God’s punishment, but we know not who, when, how, or the methods of God’s punishment. Thus, we have a major problem as to how we frame Islamophobia and racism in general.
To be clear, the God who permitted racism, obscene materialism, and militarism does not consent or favor their use. God ordered all of us to uphold justice, even if it is against our own selves. If it is the will of God to permit the three evils to exist, it is the same God who commanded us to establish justice.
God commands us to justice, to ihsan , and to attend to the next of kin, while prohibiting transgression. I know that absolute justice is not possible, but at least we should stop rationalizing racism as being a response to our individual or collective wrongs, for we have no knowledge of God’s will or action in these matters because the Qur’an and Hadith provide the counter to such arguments.
At this point, it is important to define what I mean when using the term “Islamophobia,” which is the basis of my research project underway:
Islamophobia is a structural organizing principle that sits at the present global crossroads, and is employed to rationalize and extend the dominant global power alignment while embarking on a project for silencing the collective global other.
The basic term “Islamophobia,” can be defined as “fear,” “anxiety,” or “phobia” of Muslims, but, at the same time, it is a far more encompassing process that impacts law, economy, and society.
At one level its “ideologues” attempt to classify who belongs to the “civilized world” and the criterion for membership, and who is the demonized and ostracized global other. But, at a deeper level, it is a rationalization of the existing domestic and global racial stratification, economic power hierarchies, and open-ended militarism.
Islamophobia constructs a singular and homogenous undifferentiated image of Muslim men and women that presents all as religious fanatics who are violent and antithetical to civilization itself.
Muslims today are an instrument that shapes and reshapes power disparities at a time when all existing modalities have failed.[x]
By positing Muslims as a threat, the forces of racism, obscene materialism, and militarism can continue to be dominant in our society. Muslims, indeed, are the present global patsies, propped up for all to look at in fear, while the elite, who comprise the 1% laugh all the way to the bank many times over.
“Islamophobia” is not an expression of fear of terrorism or “violent jihad” but instead, it is an expression of:
- The general alienation, from the political establishment, of a large segment of the middle class and the poor; the loss of economic power brought on by the advance of a self-serving oligarchy in the country, which manifested itself in a steady decline in standard of living for the population.
- A sense of identity crisis in the US, resulting from the above, which becomes intensified by the rapid demographic changes occurring in the country. White, middle, and working class populations are mobilized against a perceived other that is believed to be causing this change.
- A constructed theological threat, not a terrorist one, that the growing visibility of Islam poses to the US and Western culture in the midst of current identity and economic crises.
The “Muslim question” in the US is simply the manifestation of these crises – what “Islam” is, is a kind of proxy cultural and political conflict through which US ruling elites fight among themselves over what the US is and what it should be in the future. Elites in Western society are fighting among themselves, and Muslims are identified as “enemy number one,” so as to make it possible to fight a proxy cultural, ideological, economic, and religious war, and to gain the upper hand. One can date this proxy war to the end of the Vietnam War, but its current intensification goes directly to Reagan’s presidency and Margaret Thatcher’s terms as Prime Minister in the UK.
The evidence that the elites are using Muslims as a signpost for their “vision” of what the US and the West ought to be include:
- Expanding military expenditures and militarism
- De-regulating the economy and financial sector with massive privatization
- Countering environmental policies
- Expanding public debt to force reduction of government
- Welfare reforms (war on the poor)
- Removing funding from public health and mental institutions (dumping people on the streets)
- Education as a commodity (reducing student aid and shifting funding from grants to loans)
- Expanding the prison industrial complex as a counter to civil rights gains (1984 reforms, 3 strikes you are out)
- Attacks on affirmative action
- Attacks on the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts
- Immigration to prevent demographic shifts or impacting the status of Whites in US and Western societies
The racial stereotyping and hatred associated with Islamophonbia, as displayed by Donald Trump, have been seen before, in the Workingman’s Party and Know-Nothing Party, when anti-Chinese sentiments lead to an exclusionary act in 1882, wherein the Chinese were subject to demonization and violence. In 1871, the single largest day of lynching in the history of the US was directed at Chinese Americans, when 500 White men entered Chinatown in Los Angeles and killed or maimed 18 men.[xi] This was followed by another massacre in 1885, when 25 Chinese men were killed by a man in Wyoming.[xii]
During the same time period, (from 1877 to 1950) 3,959 African Americans were lynched in the twelve Southern states. “Many of these lynching were not executing people for crimes but executing people for violating the racial hierarchy.”[xiii] Violence against, and lynching of, Chinese and African Americans was about economic, political, social, and religious power, and defining the boundaries of society. In each of these and other cases, it was White backlash or anger about supposed loss of opportunities, position in the racial hierarchy, challenges to manifest destiny, and perceived, or real, shifts in power due to demographics and immigration.
At the time of the Three Evils of Society speech, MLK was facing increasing White opposition to Black empowerment and equality; there was an expansion of crony capitalism and an open-ended commitment to military expenditures for the Vietnam war that, all together, led to deepening poverty and rising discontent in the African American community. The conditions in today’s US, and the world, resemble what MLK described in the speech in 1967.
MLK spoke of the United States’ “schizophrenic personality on the question of race.” He described the two conflicting personalities as: one that professes “the great principles of democracy,” and the other that practices the antithesis of democracy. Every step forward in confronting racism in the US has an equal step backward, which MLK perceptively identified to be White backlash-the “old prejudices, hostilities, and ambivalences that have always been there … the [W]hite backlash of today is rooted in the same problem that has characterized America [the US] ever since the [B]lack man landed in chains on the shores of this nation.” Racism, for MLK, was that “corrosive evil that will bring down [W]estern civilization” and White backlash[xiv] was nothing more than good old White Supremacy, which is never content with equality.
In confronting materialism, MLK forthrightly described the internal conditions of “the ghetto,” where African Americans are locked up in perpetual misery as “a domestic colony.” The link between poverty and lack of political statesmanship was addressed. MLK spoke of the readiness of Congress to grant subsidies to the oil industry, and to six cotton plantations that were given more than one million dollars each “not to plant cotton, but no provision is made to feed the tenant farmer who is put out of work by the government subsidy.” In discussing these government subsidies, MLK stated, “What they truly advocate is Socialism for the rich and Capitalism [sic] for the poor.”
By utilizing the “old boys’” network political machinery, Congress, state, and city leadership all worked to disrupt programs intended to uplift African American communities. The constant cry against welfare programs was used as a cover to punish the poor, while extending subsidies to the rich in society. MLK pointed out that American society is deluded “into believing the myth that Capitalism [sic] grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice; the fact is, Capitalism [sic] was built on the exploitation and suffering of [B]lack slaves, and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor.” The system is founded upon exploitation and driving unjust wealth to those on top. According to MLK, “The way to end poverty, is to end the exploitation of the poor, ensure them a fair share of government services, and the nation’s resources.” In order to end poverty, a redistribution of political and economic power must take place, which has yet to be seriously attempted or promoted. Contemporary religious leadership has bought into capitalism and is preaching “success theology” where God’s purpose is erroneously shaped by materialism and devouring the world.
What is needed is a human-centric economy, a sustainable economy, an economy that works for all and not for just a few, and one that truly leaves no one behind. If we are our brother’s keeper, then why do we exploit him and derive obscene amounts of profits while cloaking this behavior in divine purpose?[xv]
Faith calls upon us to recognize and accept society’s stratification as having divine purpose, to make us dependent on one another, to cause some to be the avenue for good deeds for another, and to teach humility and generosity; however, this works only when ethical and moral people apply these principles in society, and are driven by such values.
Corporations, banks, and multi-national corporations are the furthest from being an expression of divine purpose; when religious people tag along for “Capitalism on Steroids,” the results are visible to all.
Today, one cannot sit idly and speak of an Islamic economy that mimics, in small and large ways, the obscene and pernicious parts of capitalism and the open market economy. We cannot sit idly and be content to join exploitative globalization and privatization, which have created a wealth gap deeper than the Grand Canyon and higher than Mount Everest.[xvi]
Indeed, the “haves” are seeking to have more, and the “have-nots” have nothing at all except their commodified selves, who are marketed as mere “things” to the highest bidder, or as a series of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook’s daily “parade of insignificance.”
To address the tripartite problem of racism, materialism, and militarism, MLK called for “a radical revolution of values” and a need for people to be maladjusted to injustice. The revolution of values is centered on challenging the destructive status quo.
MLK concluded the speech by stating that the question we ought to ask ourselves when determining what to do is, “Is it right,” and to not act for reasons of politics or because popular sentiments demand it. “And on some positions, it is necessary for the moral individual to take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but he must do it because it is right.” The time is right to ask the question, “Are the current wars ravaging the world, the obscene open-ended militarism, racism, and Islamophobia reflective of the highest human values?” If the answer is “no,” then why are we silent?
What works in the face of civil society’s bullies[xvii] are well-organized, politically assertive, and empowered communities that are serious about defending democracy, as well as defending collective constitutional, civil, and human rights.
As the US faces an emboldened crop of bullies, the immediate response should be to develop a broad civil and human rights coalition that includes all affected communities that will work diligently and boldly to deter and counter the rising tide of racism and fascism. A comprehensive solution can be achieved with coordinated action from civil society leaders and policymakers in a cultural environment where media are held responsible for magnifying violent, extremist rhetoric.
Defeating the Islamophobes can be done with a greater commitment to democracy, free speech, religious inclusiveness, dignity for all, and a readiness to build a great society founded on ethics.
Approaching Islamophobia from this lens provides a better understanding of what we are facing, rather than the simple conceptualization of focusing on the irrational fear of hostilities directed at Muslims. What we are facing is a deep ideological divide in US and European societies, which is being played out at the expense of the image and status of the Muslim subject in civil society.
[v] See military spending: https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/military-spending-united-states/; also http://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-us-military-spends-its-billions-2015-8 and for a comparative data between US other countries http://www.pgpf.org/chart-archive/0053_defense-comparison
[vi] http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/01/08/3609796/islamist-terrorism-europe/; also see the more extensive report at https://www.europol.europa.eu/latest_publications/37
[xv] Read http://www.hatembazian.com/content/immigration-crisis-the-collapse-of-the-post-colonial-state-part-3/ and http://www.hatembazian.com/content/immigration-crisis-the-collapse-of-the-post-colonial-state-part-4/
[xvi] See Oxfam full reports: http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/wealth-having-it-all-and-wanting-more-338125 and http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/even-it-up-time-to-end-extreme-inequality-333012