July 30, 2010

Response to George

Would reducing or eliminating America's dependence on foreign oil undercut the economic basis of Islamophobia?

It might to a degree, but not nearly to the extent that it might have if this was the mid 70s. Although I was only a teenager at the time, the mid 70s seemed to be the main era when Islamophobia was based largely on economics. The trigger event was the oil crisis of '73-'74, which awakened the Western public to both their oil dependence and the fact that Middle Eastern society (in particular) was being built upon petrodollars. This awakening brought about a number of articles that I remember reading which tended to be anti-Arab, anti-Islam. One cartoon I remember from that era showed an Arab sheikh in his thobe and kaffiyah standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon and being told by a man in a business suit behind him that "It's not for sale." (This reminds me of the late 80s, when Japanese businesses began buying up a lot of American businesses and properties, with a resultant backlash against the Japanese at that time; Michael Crichton cashed in on that xenophobia with his book (and movie), Rising Sun.)

But since the mid 70s I'd say that the economic basis for Islamophobia has dwindled fairly dramatically. American Islamophobia today tends to be rooted in a lot of other, non-economic factors (e.g., terrorist acts committed by Muslims, American military misadventures in the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq) and Central Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan), the Iranian hostage crisis and the dysfunctional diplomatic relationship between the US and Iran ever since, America's blind support for Israel, and the rise of a more visible, more active Muslim community, both in the U.S. and worldwide, that scares American non-Muslims both politically and religiously).

As for foreign oil, as of two years ago (June 2008, when I last wrote about this), five of the top ten countries the U.S. imported oil from were non-Muslim: Canada (who was the #1 seller of crude oil to the US at the time), Mexico, Venezuela, Angola and Ecuador). The first three of those countries provided over 44% of all the U.S.'s imported crude oil. So the U.S. is not quite as dependent upon oil from Muslim countries as perhaps they were in the past.

Personally, I don't think that, even if the U.S. didn't buy a single drop of crude oil from a Muslim country, that would stop all the Islamophobia in the U.S. Many Americans simply can't live without having someone else to hate. Some Muslims haven't helped the American (and worldwide) Muslim community with their actions, but Muslims aren't the only group currently being vilified in the U.S. at the moment. The Hispanics can attest to that.


George Carty said...

Many Americans simply can't live without having someone else to hate.

Why do you think this is?

JDsg said...

Oh, that's easy: because it's "good business." Seriously, the American mindset prior to WW2 was one of isolationism, with two very wide oceans to buffer them from most of Europe's troubles (not that that always worked, of course). But WW2 changed the mindset of most Americans toward relations between the US and the rest of the world. More importantly, the military-industrial complex found having a major enemy (first in the Nazis, then in the communists) to be extremely profitable. So much so that President Eisenhower warned the country of the rise of the M-I complex in his farewell address. (That speech is still referred to occasionally in America, but Eisenhower's warning was much too little too late.)

The fact that America needed an enemy was strongly brought into focus with the collapse of communism. Americans started talking about a "peace dividend," the savings in the Congressional budget that would happen because such a large military budget wasn't as necessary. But that talk disappeared with the First Gulf War. Of course, since 9/11, the meme has been pushed among the right that Islam is the enemy that needs to be brought to heel, which helps to perpetuate the "need" for a large military budget.

JDsg said...

BTW, George, on a different topic, you had once asked if I thought certain parts of British common law had a Muslim ancestry, so to speak. Singapore's National Library had a recent sale where I picked up a book called "Medieval Britain: The Age of Chivalry," by Lloyd and Jennifer Laing (1996). (It's not an academic book - it lacks even an index - but it's a broad survey of different aspects about medieval society in Britain, from William the Conqueror to Richard III.) Anyway, one of the interesting things in the book is that the authors have referred to a number of different aspects of British culture having been influenced by Muslim society, after the Crusaders began returning home. For example, the origin of the wimple, worn by married women and nuns in the 13th century, was from Crusaders having come across Muslim women wearing the hijab. Apparently, even the notion of chivalry itself came from the Muslims (which is called adab). So, after reading all these various examples, I suspect that the common law you asked about once upon a time may indeed have its roots in Islamic jurisprudence.

George Carty said...

Oh, that's easy: because it's "good business."

That explains the hawkishness of the MIC itself, of politicians (seeking campaign contributions from the MIC) and from some ordinary people (those who are employed by the MIC), but what about the rest of the population?

Military Keynesianism is damn stupid anyway, because it is extremely inefficient as a way of converting public expenditure into jobs. I wonder if Americans have a false idea of the ability of military spending to create jobs, based on WWII?

Modern weapons aren't mass-produced on assembly lines as WWII weapons were, but are made by hand by highly specialized engineers. Even at the height of Reagan's arms buildup, only 15 F-15s were produced per month.

JDsg said...

...but what about the rest of the population?

They buy into it because it affects them as well. The multiplier effect of new money coming into a community ripples out through the local economy, which affects other businesses and individuals. What you say in the last paragraph about who builds certain military products that require highly specialized personnel (engineers and technicians) and the speed of their manufacture is very true. But that's only one part of the system. For example, US military bases frequently have a lot of personnel, both military and civilian, who don't have that high level of technical training, but are employed and pulling in an income nonetheless. This is why, when the Department of Defense goes through the occasional base closing process (as it has done several times in the past), there is a strong local resistance to bases being closed. It strongly affects the economy of that area. So, many citizens have a vested interest in having some aspect of the MIC within their local economy because of the money that it brings to their community.

I wonder if Americans have a false idea of the ability of military spending to create jobs, based on WWII?

Based on WW2? No, based on the realistic ability of military spending to create jobs through continuous training, peacekeeping efforts and the occasional hot war to use up current stocks of military matériel and to test new design features of future weapon systems.

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