The American Empire’s 20 Year War On Terror

Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire; 20 Years After 9/11 Deepa Kumar, 2021

Twenty years since the launch of the global war on terror, the human toll has been nothing short of devastating. The Cost of War project at Brown University estimated in 2020 that between 37 and 39 million people were displaced as a result of US wars in eight countries and that about 800,000 have been killed due to direct war violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Those advancing the proposition that the United States should “bring democracy” were committed activists who didn’t understand that they were using colonial and Eurocentric (or US-centric) frameworks, which work by naturalizing power dynamics and concealing imperial prerogatives.

When racism is formed in terms of “free speech” and democratic rights it becomes a covert liberal form of racism, which erases the humanity of those being subjected to what is in reality hate speech.

The attacks of 9/11 produced a convergence (of conservative and liberal political classes) and a commitment to take a confrontational approach, launching the war on terror as an endless and boundless project of war making and race making. US imperialism was greatly strengthened after 2001.

Economist Samir Amin “Enlightenment (eighteenth century) thought offer[ed] us a concept of reason that is inextricably associated with that of emancipation. Yet the emancipation in question is defined and limited by what capitalism requires and allows.”

Ella Shohat and Robert Stam “Racism is above all a social relation…anchored in material structures and embedded in historical configurations of power.”

The dominant definers of the “problem of Islam” after 9/11 created a framework. “These frames are not new but often have a longer history rooted in Orientalist world views even if they are repackaged in new ways.” Kumar lists the dominant narratives and ideological frames employed to represent Arabs, Iranians, South Asians, and the Muslim world:
1. Islam is a monolithic religion.
2. Islam is uniquely sexist and Muslim women need to be liberated by the West.
3. Islam is anti-modern and does not separate religion and politics.
4. The “Muslim mind” is incapable of rationality and science.
5. Islam is inherently violent.
6. The West spreads democracy because Muslims are incapable of democratic self-rule.

Kumar debunks each frame.

Former President Bill Clinton stands with former U.S. President George H.W. Bush during the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) September 24, 2008 in New York City. President Clinton is hosting the fourth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a gathering of politicians celebrities, philanthropists and business leaders grouped together to discuss pressing global issues.

In the 1990s, the central goal shared by the (first) Bush and Clinton administrations was to expand US power and prevent the rise of any potential rival. Like their Cold War counterparts, these leaders sought to integrate the world into a capitalist order under their control. This time, instead of modernization, the model was neoliberalism with an emphasis on privatization, deregulation, a move away from public and social welfare policies, and the adoption of other free market principals. To realize what Bush described as the “New World Order”, the United States militated against “rogue regimes” that refused to play by American rules and attempted to control regions whose instability could undo the smooth functions of the capitalist system. Non-state actors outside the US control had to be contained or removed.

Arun Kundnani agues the “War on terror paradigm…makes ideology the root cause of political violence [and] derives from the cold war theory of totalitarianism, which presumed a similar direct causal connection between ideology and the repressive practices of political control.”

Counterterrorism policy and practices of surveillance, indefinite detention, and arbitrary deportation flow from this logic.

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