Us versus Them: The United States, Radical Islam, and the Rise of the Green Threat

Us versus Them: The United States, Radical Islam, and the Rise of the Green Threat

Us versus Them: The United States, Radical Islam, and the Rise of the Green Threat

Us versus Them: The United States, Radical Islam, and the Rise of the Green Threat

Synopsis

In this important new book, Douglas Little explores the political and cultural turmoil that led U.S. policy makers to shift their attention from containing the “Red Threat” of international communism to combating the “Green Threat” of radical Islam after 1989. Little analyzes America’s confrontation with Islamic extremism through the traditional ideological framework of “us versus them” that has historically pitted the United States against Native Americans, Mexicans, Asian immigrants, Nazis, and the Soviets. The collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to signal that the doctrine of containment had served U.S. interests in the Middle East well, preserving Western access to Persian Gulf oil while protecting Israel and preventing communist subversion. Yet, although many Americans hoped that the end of the Cold War would enable the United States to redefine its diplomatic relationships in the Middle East and elsewhere, Little demonstrates that from Operation Desert Storm in 1991 to America’s battle against ISIS today, U.S. foreign policy has been governed by “us versus them” thinking, with Islamophobia supplanting the threats of yesteryear.

Excerpt

In March 2012, I found myself on the road in Jordan. Route 35, the Kings Highway, snakes north out of Amman through rolling hills and verdant meadows that reminded me a little of Minnesota and Wisconsin, where I grew up. Before long, my Jordanian driver, Arafat, who was named after someone most Americans regarded as a terrorist, pointed out Baqa’a, the Palestinian refugee camp to which his parents had fled following Israel’s victory in the June 1967 war. A few minutes later we pulled into Jerash, where Farid, a charming schemer in a keffiyeh who had once worked for a U.S. oil company, gave me a guided tour of the ancient ruins of one of the most important Roman trading centers along the Silk Road to China. Arafat and I briefly toyed with driving another fifty miles up Route 35 to the border with Syria, where a brutal civil war was raging, but we decided to head back to the Jordanian capital instead. Later that afternoon, I sat down for tea with Jawad and Rana, a Muslim couple who were hosting two Clark University undergraduates studying abroad in Amman.

As I checked my e-mail late that night in the lobby of the Hotel Geneva at the end of a long day, I glanced up at the obligatory portrait of Jordan’s King Abdullah, a man who preferred Savile Row suits and whose English was reportedly better than his Arabic, and reckoned that at least in this part of the Middle East, people did not seem all that different from Middle Westerners like me. To be sure, Arafat, Farid, Jawad, and Rana were all Muslims, but they had made their peace with America’s consumer culture, they hoped for secular democracy, and they were deeply worried by the surge of Islamic extremism enveloping the region. How was it, then, that so many of “us” had come to regard so many of “them” as a menace to our own security and well-being? This book seeks to provide some tentative answers.

Anthropologists and social psychologists analyzing the development of collective identity have long recognized that defining a “negative reference group” often makes for a crucial first step in building solidarity among one’s own kin, clan, or tribe. Throughout history, religion has proven an especially powerful marker for distinguishing ourselves from others and for separating us from them. The recent collision between United States and the Muslim world is no exception to this rule. In July 2014, the Pew Research . . .

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