Judith Miller is a New York Times reporter much in evidence on talk shows and seminars on the Middle East. She trades in “the Islamic threat” — her particular mission has been to advance the millennial thesis that militant Islam is a danger to the West. The search for a post-Soviet foreign devil has come to rest, as it did beginning in the eighth century for European Christendom, on Islam, a religion whose physical proximity and unstilled challenge to the West seem as diabolical and violent now as they did then. Never mind that most Islamic countries today are too poverty-stricken, tyrannical and hopelessly inept militarily as well as scientifically to be much of a threat to anyone except their own citizens; and never mind that the most powerful of them — like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Pa kistan — are totally within the U.S. orbit. What matters to “experts” like Miller, Samuel Huntington, Martin Kramer, Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Barry Rubin, plus a whole battery of Israeli academics, is to make sure that the “threat” is kept before our eyes, the better to excoriate Islam for terror, despotism and violence, while assuring themselves profitable consultancies, frequent TV appearances and book contracts. The Islamic threat is made to seem disproportionately fearsome, lending support to the thesis (which is an interesting parallel to anti-Semitic paranoia) that there is a worldwide conspiracy behind every explosion.
Political Islam has generally been a failure wherever it has tried to take state power. Iran is a possible exception, but neither Sudan, already an Islamic state, nor Algeria, riven by the contest between Islamic groups and a brutal soldiery, has done anything but make itself poorer and more marginal on the world stage. Lurking beneath the discourse of Islamic peril in the West is, however, some measure of truth, which is that appeals to Islam among Muslims have fueled resistance (in the style of what Eric Hobsbawm has called primitive, pre-industrial rebellion) to the Pax Americana-Israelica throughout the Middle East. Yet neither Hezbollah nor Hamas has presented a serious obstacle to the ongoing steamroller of the anything-but-peace process. Most Arab Muslims today are too discouraged and humiliated, and also too anesthetized by uncertainty and their incompetent and crude dictatorships, to support anything like a vast Islamic campaign against the West. Besides, the elites are for the most part in cahoots with the regimes, supporting martial law and other extralegal measures against “extremists.” So why, then, the accents of alarm and fear in most discussions of Islam? Of course there have been suicide bombings and outrageous acts of terrorism, but have they accomplished anything except to strengthen the hand of Israel and the United States and their client regimes in the Muslim world?
The answer, I think, is that books like Miller’s are symptomatic because they are weapons in the contest to subordinate, beat down, compel and defeat any Arab or Muslim resistance to U.S.-Israeli dominance. Moreover, by surreptitiously justifying a policy of single-minded obduracy that links Islamism to a strategically important, oil-rich part of the world, the anti-Islam campaign virtually eliminates the possibility of equal dialogue between Islam and the Arabs, and the West or Israel. To demonize and dehumanize a whole culture on the ground that it is (in Lewis’s sneering phrase) enraged at modernity is to turn Muslims into the objects of a therapeutic, punitive attention. I do not want to be misunderstood here: The manipulation of Islam, or for that matter Christianity or Judaism, for retrograde political purposes is catastrophically bad and must be opposed, not just in Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Gaza, Pakistan, Sudan, Algeria and Tunisia but also in Israel, among the right-wing Christians in Lebanon (for whom Miller shows an unseemly sympathy) and wherever theocratic tendencies appear. And I do not at all believe that all the ills of Muslim countries are due to Zionism and imperialism. But this is very far from saying that Israel and the United States, and their intellectual flacks, have not played a combative, even incendiary role in stigmatizing and heaping invidious abuse on an abstraction called “Islam,” deliberately in order to stir up feelings of anger and fear about Islam among Americans and Europeans, who are also enjoined to see in Israel a secular, liberal alternative. Miller says unctuously at the beginning of her book that right-wing Judaism in Israel is “the subject of another book.” It is actually very much part of the book that she has written, except that she has willfully suppressed it in order to go after “Islam.”