Book Review: Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire

Deepa Kumar’s book “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire” might just be the most important book I’ll read all year – and I strongly suggest that others pick it up and give it a read as well. The book is a few years dated, but it is so important, even moreso in today’s political climate in the United States under Trump. (Honestly, I can only hope Kumar will re-release it in a few years with chapters about what’s going on in the country today, and I can only hope that in a few years, we’ll be better off.)

It took me about two weeks to read this book, if only because I wanted to take my time and really digest it. There’s a lot of information here, starting with the historical context of Islamophobia – not just in the United States – and leading up to the times that casual Islamophobia ran free under President Obama.

The opening section of the book focuses on the history of Islamophobia, discussing the dominant images of Islam and Muslims in “the West.” This includes the cultivation of the so-called “Muslim enemy” that has been used historically worldwide to advance political ambitions and agendas. From the Crusades to the Enlightenment to a discussion on Orientalism and the development of an “us vs. them” society; to a frank discussion on the myths surrounding Islam and how to break down those myths – this chapter puts forth an important base on which to discuss the problem of Islamophobia in today’s society.

Kumar then dives into the United States’ policies and how these interweave with political Islam, discussing how the United States has, historically, allied itself with Muslim countries and/or Islamists when it’s convenient for them, only to turn them into “enemies” when it is not. Topics discussed here include the modernization of Islam, and how the US itself has played an active role in the rise of Islamism. This section also discuses the rise of the so-called “Islamic threat,” including sections of September 11, President Bush and President Obama.

Section three is perhaps the part of this book that captured my attention the most: a look into Islamophobia and domestic politics. This chapter discussed how the events of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks have been used as justification for attacks on Muslim citizens and residents, including physical attacks, laws and legislation. This includes the arrest of thousands who were unjustly held, and often send abroad, due to their supposed knowledge of “terrorist activity.” In reality, this is nothing more than blatant Islamophobia. From the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, to the media’s contribution to Islamophobia (including media propaganda), from the Christian Right to political influences to a discussion on systemic racism — this section covers a lot.

Naturally, the book comes to an end with a chapter about fighting Islamophobia, something we all must do – for the good of ourselves and others.

You can buy this book on Amazon here – but you can also look for it at your local library or (like I did) go for an interlibrary loan!

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