America’s recent military withdrawal from Afghanistan “is a fantastic defeat for U.S. imperialism,” crowed Rutgers University professor of media studies Deepa Kumar during the Sept. 10 webinar “Twenty Years after 9/11: Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire.” With a penchant for impenetrable leftist jargon, she and her colleagues at New Jersey’s flagship public university engaged in an anti-American diatribe on the eve of 9/11’s 20th anniversary.
The anti-Semitic Rutgers University women’s and gender studies professor Jasbir Puar, a well-known extremist, opened the event, which highlighted a new edition of Kumar’s book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, with baseless, and sometimes bizarre, cant. Thus, America’s Afghanistan campaign was a “war that was deliberately designed through its preemptive targeting never to end,” she said. She condemned “near-universal feminist approval” of American military responses to Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks as expressing the “Orientalism of gender studies,” which “by and large institutionalized veiling as a trope of women’s oppression.”
Women in Afghanistan and other Muslim-majority countries might well agree with this “trope,” but Puar dismissed such concerns as part of the “rationalized psyche of American imperialism” and its “thoroughly overdetermined questions.” This entails “liberal savior rhetoric” of “white men saving brown women from brown men, and its homo-nationalist corollary, white queers saving brown queers from brown cis-gendered, straight people,” she said.
Deranged as that is, she was only warming up. “Homo-capitalist forces of a purported secular queerness” meanwhile “produces coming out as a technology of Christian theological confession” as part of a worldview that “hypercritically demands reconciliation of Islam and sexuality.” Such vacuity is what passes for intellectual sophistication in academe.
Having previously compared American armed forces to Islamic State jihadists, Kumar likewise denigrated concern for gays and women under Islamic law as “liberal Islamophobia.” America’s Afghanistan war was the “white man’s burden dressed-up and packaged to be palatable in the twenty-first century,” she said. “By no means were women liberated,” she stated, for warlords merely succeeded the American-led overthrow of the Taliban, an assessment that neglected real advantages for Afghan women freed from the Taliban’s “gender apartheid.” In a classic straw man fallacy, she asserted that Americans believe Muslims in Afghanistan or Iraq “are not prepared to enter the stage of democracy” and are therefore “uncivilized and barbaric.” Denying the validity of her own assertion as a “long-held Orientalist myth,” she simultaneously ignored the complicated reality of American-led efforts to promote democratization in Muslim lands.
As if Muslims had never been imperialistic, Kumar found fault only with Westerners, for through the centuries “Spanish, British, French and American imperialisms have all been important vehicles for the development of anti-Muslim racism.”
“Donald Trump’s presidency was the most Islamophobic in U.S. history,” she said, while American evangelicals are “extreme rabid racists”—an irredeemably racist generalization itself. Echoing traditional Islam’s denial of freedom of conscience, Kumar cast former Muslims in a “native informant role” who present Muslim countries as “terribly backward.” Similarly, free speech regarding Islam is nothing, she said, but a “cover to spout anti-Muslim racism, as we have seen in the various cartoon controversies in Europe.”
In this setting, Rutgers University assistant professor of Africana Studies Noura Erakat provoked no dissension with such vague statements as “racism better understood is racial capitalism.” She particularly gushed over “one of the most epic prison breaks of our time” recently in Israel, where imprisoned terrorists tunneled out of confinement. “Six prisoners overcame the only nuclear empire in the Middle East and global empire’s self-proclaimed unique ally with a set of spoons,” she rejoiced.
These killers are, for Erakat, perpetual victims, for “Israel has racialized Palestinians as always already guilty. Their crime is their existence and the threat they pose … to Zionist settler sovereignty.” In the face of Palestinian crimes, she equivocated that “terrorism has no juridical meaning in international law,” something she should tell the United Nations’ Office of Counterterrorism. Rather, she suggested that Israeli self-defense is the real terrorism, even as the Israeli military puts its own soldiers in mortal danger to protect Palestinian civilians. She snidely speculated “whether state actors can commit terrorism or instead if their casualties in combat are strictly collateral damage regardless of the carnage or the recklessness or the deliberate nature of their strikes.”
Erakat concluded falsely that terrorism “is restricted to a particular group of people rather than a set of behaviors.” Therefore, she said, “Palestinians remain the terrorists. This reflects a cornerstone of anti-Muslim racism in the context of imperial violence.” Meanwhile, “Arabs in the United States continue to benefit from probationary U.S. citizenship contingent on endless U.S. war-making in the Middle East,” she asserted incongruously, given her status as a Palestinian-American living peacefully in the land she loathes.
Such “Islamophobia” was decried by other panelists as part of a wider pattern of Western exploitation and racism throughout history. Among these was the feminist writer Naomi Klein, Rutgers’ inaugural Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies, who labeled as “agricultural violence” social transformations throughout history, such as the English enclosure movement, which privatized and settled communal lands. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a pro-LGBT African-American Studies professor from nearby Princeton University, described the 1992 Los Angeles riots, in which 63 people died, as the “LA rebellion.” She also fantasized that “police were deified as soldiers” in the 1990s.
Simple decency dictates that every anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 innocent Americans should be a time of mourning. Yet the panelists twisted the sacred memory of the terrorists’ victims to portray them, and by extension, all Americans as deserving of the attacks. For these privileged academics, “Islamophobia”—a word coined to silence critics of Islam—demonstrates how the capitalist West, as once represented by the World Trade Center’s twin towers, is a cancer upon a largely nonwhite global proletariat.
Little will change until America’s tax- and tuition-paying public demand that universities stop supporting such radical chic, anti-American drivel.
Andrew E. Harrod, a Middle East Forum Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher, and writer, is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter: @AEHarrod.
Be a part of our community
JNS serves as the central hub for a thriving community of readers who appreciate the invaluable context our coverage offers on Israel and their Jewish world.
Please join our community and help support our unique brand of Jewish journalism that makes sense.