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Tomgram: John Feffer, Crusade 2.0

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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Almost two years and one disastrous election later, we're still waiting for the other Barack Obama to make an appearance, and from the gab coming out of Washington right now, it looks like we'll be twiddling our thumbs a bit longer (if not forever). Once again, the sweet talk of compromise and bipartisanship is on the lips of the president, but not, of course, on the lips of top Republicans. Talk about consistency!

Right now, all the news chatter is about domestic policy (health care, tax cuts, etc.), but count on the Republicans -- Rand Paul aside -- to light out after the president sooner or later at least as hawkishly on foreign policy as they have domestically. Already, Senator John McCain and others are preparing the ground to launch what's likely to become a jihad against Obama's civilization-busting "mistake" in announcing a vaguely "conditions-based" drawdown of vague numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan for July 2011. And that's just a start. On a whole host of issues from the Iraq and Afghan wars to Israel, Iran, and North Korea, buckle your seatbelts and hold onto your hats. The critical weather in Congress, especially in the House, is going to get fiercer, and a president with a most un-Harry-Truman-ish tendency to placate is unlikely to stake his fighting future on foreign policy.

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So expect war drums and alarums to the horizon (i.e. 2012) from congressional Republicans. And when it comes to the famous Republican urge to cut every budget in sight, be assured of one thing: our wars, the Pentagon budget, and the industrial part of the military-industrial complex -- in other words, our next generation weaponry, however ill-conceived -- will surely be removed from the "table" where "all options" are always placed.

According to Chris Nelson of the invaluable Washington insider newsletter, the Nelson Report, "The likely new chair of House Armed Services, "Buck' McKeon (R-Ca.), is a big supporter of Missile Defense and the Navy, while the Armed Services appropriations subcommittee will likely be chaired by Bill Young (R-Fla.), and between his and McKeon's districts, there are very few "missing' major space and defense contractors." McKeon has already made it crystal clear that he's in favor of "boosting" the already bloated Pentagon budget.

Oh, and to complete the trifecta, the likely new head of the House Foreign Affairs committee is Cuban refugee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. (She once said: "I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people.") She's guaranteed to push for an ever fiercer policy on Iran, while offering total support to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Israeli government against the Obama administration. She's already called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to expel all Palestinian diplomats from the U.S., and to cease sending American Muslim religious leader Feisal Abdul Rauf, creator of "the mosque at Ground Zero," abroad to represent the country.

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None of this should surprise anyone. Starting in January, it will evidently be morning in America again for Islamophobes. As co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus and TomDispatch regular John Feffer points out, there's a little bit of history going back a mere thousand years or so that, when it comes to Islamophobia, we ignore at our peril. Tom

The Lies of Islamophobia
The Three Unfinished Wars of the West against the Rest

By John Feffer

The Muslims were bloodthirsty and treacherous. They conducted a sneak attack against the French army and slaughtered every single soldier, 20,000 in all. More than 1,000 years ago, in the mountain passes of Spain, the Muslim horde cut down the finest soldiers in Charlemagne's command, including his brave nephew Roland. Then, according to the famous poem that immortalized the tragedy, Charlemagne exacted his revenge by routing the entire Muslim army.

The Song of Roland, an eleventh century rendering in verse of an eighth century battle, is a staple of Western Civilization classes at colleges around the country. A "masterpiece of epic drama," in the words of its renowned translator Dorothy Sayers, it provides a handy preface for students before they delve into readings on the Crusades that began in 1095. More ominously, the poem has schooled generations of Judeo-Christians to view Muslims as perfidious enemies who once threatened the very foundations of Western civilization.

The problem, however, is that the whole epic is built on a curious falsehood. The army that fell upon Roland and his Frankish soldiers was not Muslim at all. In the real battle of 778, the slayers of the Franks were Christian Basques furious at Charlemagne for pillaging their city of Pamplona. Not epic at all, the battle emerged from a parochial dispute in the complex wars of medieval Spain. Only later, as kings and popes and knights prepared to do battle in the First Crusade, did an anonymous bard repurpose the text to serve the needs of an emerging cross-against-crescent holy war.

Similarly, we think of the Crusades as the archetypal "clash of civilizations" between the followers of Jesus and the followers of Mohammed. In the popular version of those Crusades, the Muslim adversary has, in fact, replaced a remarkable range of peoples the Crusaders dealt with as enemies, including Jews killed in pogroms on the way to the Holy Land, rival Catholics slaughtered in the Balkans and in Constantinople, and Christian heretics hunted down in southern France.

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Much later, during the Cold War, mythmakers in Washington performed a similar act, substituting a monolithic crew labeled "godless communists" for a disparate group of anti-imperial nationalists in an attempt to transform conflicts in remote locations like Vietnam, Guatemala, and Iran into epic struggles between the forces of the Free World and the forces of evil. In recent years, the Bush administration did it all over again by portraying Arab nationalists as fiendish Islamic fundamentalists when we invaded Iraq and prepared to topple the regime in Syria.

Similar mythmaking continues today. The recent surge of Islamophobia in the United States has drawn strength from several extraordinary substitutions. A clearly Christian president has become Muslim in the minds of a significant number of Americans. The thoughtful Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan has become a closet fundamentalist in the writings of Paul Berman and others. And an Islamic center in lower Manhattan, organized by proponents of interfaith dialogue, has become an extremist "mosque at Ground Zero" in the TV appearances, political speeches, and Internet sputterings of a determined clique of right-wing activists.

This transformation of Islam into a violent caricature of itself -- as if Ann Coulter had suddenly morphed into the face of Christianity -- comes at a somewhat strange juncture in the United States. Anti-Islamic rhetoric and hate crimes, which spiked immediately after September 11, 2001, had been on the wane. No major terrorist attack had taken place in the U.S. or Europe since the London bombings in 2005. The current American president had reached out to the Muslim world and retired the controversial acronym GWOT, or "Global War on Terror."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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