As a White Person I Could be Anything Ideologically—Even a Muslim

Op-eds about rampant Islamophobia are piling up and on in the wake of the Christchurch massacres in New Zealand. Yesterday, I commented on three of them published in just two papers—The Guardian and The New York Times. One op-ed was not enough for The Guardian. Not to be outdone, The New York Times commissioned a second op-ed for today’s Sunday edition of “The Gray Lady”: Omer Aziz’s “Our Brother, Our Executioner.” The tag—“Racism begins with ideas”—continues the category error of conflating religion with race.

Aziz, a law student at Yale (and hypocrite), writes “Islamophobia is not a fringe problem: It is embedded in much of Western society. For over two decades now—the span of an entire generation—the whole Muslim community has been forced to accept collective guilt and punishment for every act of terror or violence committed by one of its members.” 

Quite the contrary, politicians and pundits go out of their way to distinguish between persons who perpetrate violence in the name of Islam and Muslims who practice their religion in relative peace. How many times have we been told that Islamic terrorism is a “perversion” of that faith, that Islam is “a religion of peace”? Indeed, the tenor of the coverage of the Christchurch massacres testifies to the willingness of mainstream media to accept and even advance the Islamist line on the cause of the killings (while, as noted in my last blog entry, obscuring the motives of Muslim terrorists such as Omar Mateen). The truth is that the West has been extremely welcoming and more than accommodating to individuals clinging to an ideological system that is not only out of step with modernity but resistant to assimilation with western culture. Just about everyone around me applies and insists others apply a double standard with respect to Islam: unlike other ideologies, we’re expected to treat Islam as if it is an essential thing, as if opposition to a religious ideology were akin to race prejudice.

The balance of Aziz’s op-ed is absurd not only in light of the systematic conflation race with religion, but in its obfuscation of agency and motive. He means to hold all non-Muslims accountable for the Christchurch massacres, and he goes about it by bizarrely defining all of them as “white.” “Never would, or should, this standard [collective guilt and punishment for every act of terror or violence committed by one of its member] be applied to white people, who seem to have kept the privilege of individual differentiation for themselves,” he writes, assigning collective guilt for a privilege enjoyed by whites to define themselves as individuals! Presumably he is not writing about those whites who are Muslim. Or is the promise here that becoming Muslim liberates a person from whiteness? What about black non-Muslims? Etcetera.

Viewed charitably, Aziz’s argument is hopelessly confused. “White” is an ideological imposition created by a racist ideology, a strategy developed by capitalists to dissimulate class oppression by substituting for the worker’s right to struggle for equality with a politics of aesthetics. This lumping, which includes Arabs, not all of whom are Muslim, is used by Aziz to claim all people so lumped enjoy a collective privilege. In his ignorance (or dissembling) he leaves hidden in history the fact that mulattos in the United States often legally passed as white by inventing for their lineage a North African heritage. He leaves out the fact that, in both the US and British census, Arabs are racially cataloged as white and have been for decades. Also so classified are those who identify as Persian. (Note: In the US, there is a movement to create the so-called MENA designation, a census category that would treat Middle Easterners and North Africans as a racial designation.)

The fallacy committed here should not be that difficult to see. I’m an atheist. So, how am I like a Muslim? Muslims subscribe to an irrational belief system, one in which they see themselves as part of a collective, the Umma (or “community”). I don’t subscribe to a belief system like that. I belong to two collectives: the human family (I am a member of the species Homo sapiens) and the proletariat (I add value to human commodities in the production of college degrees). These are material and objective realities, not imagined communities. Moreover, only the class category is exclusive because I really am not a member of the capitalist class. I can imagine that God is my master. But the capitalist really is. the sociology of this is clear: Religion is sustained as long as people believe in the reality of unreal things. To be sure, the Thomas Theorem applies; imagination is a very powerful thing. But false consciousness is still a subjectivity.

Let’s keep the logic flowing. I’m an atheist. Does that make me raceless? I was born with a skin color and other superficial physical features that mark me as a white person. What are the physical features that mark a man as a Muslim (aside from the post-birth removal of his foreskin)? The same features that mark him as a Christian at birth: nothing. We are all infidels at birth. And a free society would allow and encourage human beings corrupted by their parents religion to be born again to that enlightened state (which is why circumcision should be a criminal offense).

Reasonable persons don’t blame whites for violence committed by white persons because there is no ideology at work in that designation. Rather the designation “white” is itself the work of an ideology. If the person is a neo-Nazi, do we not blame fascism? If we don’t, we should. After all, fascism and mental illness are not mutually-exclusive. Ah! There’s the metaphor people can’t see: Islam is not analogous to race; it’s analogous to fascism, racism, and the myriad of other “isms” that divide humanity in order to justify their mistreatment.

Let me put a fine point on this: Whiteness is a caste designation. A white person cannot shed her race (ask Rachel Dolezal). Religion is a choice. It is escapable. I escaped it—more accurately, I avoided it. Not entirely, of course; those who have yet to abandon faith-belief routinely disturb my existence with their hatred and violence and incessant whining about being oppressed. And for all my religious suffering I am to pay back my tormentors with tolerance, if not love, and accept the blame for the actions of those with whom I share no common belief system. It’s as if I am mistaken for the member of a flock of sheep. But I am an individual. Not by privilege. By choice.

What lies behind this category error of Aziz and others? It’s simple. Activists want to define Islam not as an ideology but as a race because they see advantage is claiming minority status; they hope that one day they will be able to claim with the US government at their backs that criticism of Islam is racism and they are a persecuted minority and can thus make demands on society. This desire exists in the plain fact that Muslims come in a myriad of ethnicities and races. In addition to Muslims in the US who are white (a category that includes European, Middle Eastern/North African, and Persian), a large share of foreign-born Muslims are Asian, and many US-born Muslims are black or Hispanic.

Without shame, Islamists agitate to piggyback on the real suffering of African-Americans or American Indians in order to make their ideology inviolate. Make no mistake about it, participation in this project marks a person as an Islamist or a fellow traveler. Just as the Christianist seeks to use his religious identity to extract privileges and immunities from the society in which he desires to spread out, wishing he could decry “Christophobia” in the face of resistance, the Islamist invented the propaganda term “Islamophobia” and pushed it—with the assistance of the capitalist establishment and its cultural managers—into the mainstream of western consciousness where it is now reflexively called to mind whenever a criticism of Islam or a Muslim is made.

As is plainly obvious from everything I have ever said and written, I don’t subscribe to Christian nationalism—or even to Christianity. I draw attention to this fact to make the point that, as a white person, I can be anything ideologically. I could even be a Muslim. This fact alone exposes the false conflation of religion with race.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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