Civil Rights In Peril: The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims

Reviewed by Mark

Elaine C. Hagopian, ed., Civil Rights In Peril: The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims. Chicago & London: Haymarket Books & Pluto Press, 2004.

With contributions from a distinguished group of scholars and activists, Civil Rights In Peril lays out the record of pervasive threats to the liberties of all in the United States threats manifested in widespread harassment, surveillance, arrests, and illegal detention of Arabs and Muslims, especially in the wake of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. The book' s contributors correctly trace this assault on constitutional rights to the principal strategic and political aims of US policy in the Middle East and South Asia, thus making critical connections between that policy and growing domestic repression.

The first section of Civil Rights In Peril chronicles the undermining of civil liberties before and after 9/11 taking the reader back to the mid-'90s when radical changes in immigration law laid the basis for ideological exclusion and deportation through secret proceedings. After 9/11, repression was intensified by large roundups of students and immigrants, by hundreds of arbitrary arrests and open-ended detentions,by the Attorney General' s stigmatization of Muslim charities as sources of 'terrorist blood money,' by incidents such as the solitary confinement of an Arab professor jailed for 'material support' to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, by reckless charges against groups of young Arabs accusing them of membership in 'sleeper terrorist cells,' and by the murky category of 'enemy combatant' with all the brutalities and loss of constitutional rights embodied in that ominous designation. Such pursuits inevitably embrace growing surveillance, 'sneak and peek' searches, roving wiretaps, snooping into libraries, airport 'no fly' passenger lists, 'guilty until proven innocent' processes, and other infringements on basic rights which extend to the broader public and have nothing to do with concrete, effective efforts to counter terrorism.

A second section details the ideological campaign aimed at demonizing Arabs and Muslims. The emergence of the 'Islamic Threat' and the concept of a cultural and religious 'clash of civilizations' (fomented largely by Near East historian Bernard Lewis) have been played up by well funded interlocking right-wing think tanks, foundations and media. Leading this campaign are such rightist think-tank regulars as Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson, who promote the view that the war in Iraq is essential to Israel' s survival; that resistance to Israeli occupation of the West Bank is terrorism; that the scale of the alleged Islamist threat is akin to the expired communist threat; that terrorists, largely Islamist and Arab, 'hate our way of life' and have no valid political grievances; that there is little difference between Arab militants and moderates; that the terrorist threat justifies the erosion of civil liberties and the fanning of anti-Arab racism. (Significantly, Pipes is the guiding light of 'Campus Watch,' which seeks to intimidate and silence faculty and student voices critical of US and Israeli Mid East policies.)

The institutions promulgating the 'Arab and Islamist Threat' are populated in part by an old far left of a new far right with roots in Trotskyism, right-wing social democracy, Zionism, and traditional Cold War anti-communism. Such practitioners now occupy influential posts in various branches of the Bush government, especially the Pentagon. Their worldview is imperial; it is driven by an 'end of history' belief in US hegemony over an integrated global economic system. Perceiving a power vacuum with the Eastern European collapse, this neo-conservative current has vigorously sought to fill the vacuum with US unilateral and preemptive use of military might aiming to impose aggressive neoliberal economic policies with lofty assertions that Washington must spread 'democratic values' through 'humanitarian interventions' in 'rogue states' and 'failed states.'

The Middle East is a virtual obsession for this now dominant force in shaping US policy; a force embedded in the military/industrial, global construction, and energy sectors of the economy as well as in the immensely powerful pro-Israeli lobby. It coalesces with those seeking control of Middle East oil as an increasingly crucial commodity and as a means of leverage over the political behavior of oil-poor European and Asian allies. It assists those wanting to assure the continuing payment for oil in dollars, thus defending the dollar against the Euro. Its strategic and geopolitical interests also lie in assuring the relative stability of client regimes such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states; assuring the 'security of Israel' while forcing the Palestinians to accept whatever the US and Israel ultimately determine; threatening Syria and Iran (deemed the most serious regional dangers) with 'regime change' ; and centrally, reconfiguring power in the region to reflect US-Israeli hegemony. The conquest of Iraq and the plan to project US military power in perpetuity into the region through the establishment of permanent bases on Iraqi soil are centerpieces of such strategic and geopolitical plans.

The book's third section explores a crucial domestic political realignment underlying the identification of US hegemonic interests with firm support for Israel.This realignment has forged the internal political dynamics which fueled the 'war on terrorism,' the USA PATRIOT Act, and the fanning of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria. Its essence is the convergence of a massive fundamentalist Christian Right with secular right-wing zealots and Zionist intellectuals and organizations. The fundamentalists, propelled by messianic belief in Israel as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy in which all Jews will be converted to Christianity as a necessary prelude to the Millennium ('anti-Semites for Israel,' in the piquant words of Congressman Barney Frank), are thus strangely joined with the Zionist vision of a perennial Jewish state, in an alliance that has influenced a shift to the right in US politics and has put 'religious values' at or near the center of political discourse.

The contributors to Civil Rights In Peril locate a linchpin of US Middle East policy: the virtual convergence of the vision of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Likud Party with the agenda of the neo-conservatives and the Zionist-fundamentalist alliance producing the 'Likudization of American policy in the Middle East.' While it is hardly possible to underestimate the power of the Israeli lobby over the shaping of US Middle East and global policies, a question arises: does the tail wag the dog as 'Likudization' suggests? Israel' s clout with Washington ultimately depends upon its being a useful tool of US regional interests and not the reverse. It is doubtful that when push comes to shove on basic strategic choices, Israel can force Washington to act against its own interests which in a complex world have not always been, and will not always be, consonant with Israeli designs.

This is not an abstract question. The seeming stranglehold of the Israeli lobby over US Middle East policy (in the face of overwhelming worldwide opposition) perhaps implies an immovability that is impervious to change. Certainly, the legislative branch of government appears to be intractably in the grip of the fundamentalist-Zionist alliance. But voices are emerging both within and without the Establishment arguing that terrorism cannot be defeated without addressing the core issue, namely, Washington' s unbending support for Israel' s occupation of Arab territories and attendant oppression of Palestinians. For some policy circles, the Israeli contention that merciless attacks on Palestinian communities are wiping out 'terror networks' is wearing thin. Political scientist Naseer Aruri underscores these points, concluding his penetrating essay on George W. Bush' s 'anti-terrorism crusade' by reviewing the voices across the US political spectrum that are rising to challenge Bush' s unilateral imperium and widening threats to civil liberties.

Significant signs of division within power circles, joined to growing disquiet among the public over danger to its own political rights and material needs, can generate unexpected change. Political upheaval in India is a prime example. Washington' s desire to create an 'arc of control' over the Middle East and Central Asia, with Israel and India as anchors, is shrewdly analyzed in Civil Rights In Peril. But since the book' s publication in mid-2004, India' s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party was unexpectedly replaced in national elections by a left-wing alliance led by the Congress Party, throwing Washington' s plan into disarray.  Things do change, sometimes rapidly.

Sociologist Elaine Hagopian' s concluding essay offers a luminous analysis of the intent of US Middle East policies on a state-by-state basis surveying US efforts to achieve strategic control of those states. At the same time, she does not spare those regional states from searching criticism, noting that democratic reforms are urgently needed to unlock mass resistance to the neocolonialism inherent in the policies of the US-Israeli alliance. She also raises serious and important questions about the heretofore successful efforts of the fundamentalist-Zionist alliance to undermine attempts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and challenges the reader to examine the viability of a two-state solution in the wake of systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure. Hagopian' s essay summarizes the welding of right-wing influenced US Middle East policy to the intensifying demonization of domestic Arab and Muslim communities detailing the ways in which Washington' s attempts to foster regime change in regional states by defining them as terrorist ultimately extend to threats against Arabs, Muslims and all communities within US borders.

The present rising drumbeat over terrorist threats within the United States is increasingly accompanied by undisguised declarations that civil liberties must take a back seat to the war on terrorism. The horrific consequences of subordinating constitutional rights to claims of national security are illustrated with unrelenting clarity in this book. That alone makes Civil Rights In Peril vital reading for all who wish to learn and to act in defense of constitutional rights and in support of a peaceful and just world.

Reviewed by Mark Solomon
Simmons College