Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

If Islam Is Our Other, Who Are 'We'?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

If Islam Is Our Other, Who Are 'We'?

Article excerpt

"[T]he global jihad has touched down in the Lucky Country". Or so the lead article in the weekend edition of one of Australia's 'reputable' broadsheets announced in November 2005. Situating jihad's arrival in the neighborhood against the background of Bin Laden's declaration of war against the West, and 'his successful strike on US soil', the article proceeded to warn us that danger was no longer remote. It was now living 'among us, in the suburbs ... an electrician, a butcher, a spray painter ... raising their children in the same brick veneers, yet so full of hate that they are allegedly prepared to wreak wanton death and mayhem on us, on their own country." (Sydney Morning Herald, 2005).

The synthesis of demonic essentialist identity, and intimate, invisible proximity is a familiar trope in the history of constructed enemies during times of war, where previously innocuous differences are overlaid with new deadly significance, often linked back to ancient rivalries (Stein 2003). Until unmasked, they could almost pose as one of us, but in their essence they are different. In this case, those differences are organized around a series of linked oppositions: freedom and fundamentalism; individualism and collectivism; toleration and absolutism; enlightenment values and pre, modern primitivism. It is thus something of an irony that one can track the systematic process of inculcation into this dichotomy of our freedom and their fundamentalism to the institutions touted as the representatives and guardians of core liberal principles--parliament and the press. Working in mutually reinforcing concert, the pages of our newspapers and our television screens are now crowded with stories of remote and intimate threat (Kabir 2006, Manning 2006), just as the statue books are increasingly populated by draconian anti-terrorism and immigration legislation, realizing the Government's promise to fortify our internal and external borders (Michaelson 2005, Crock et al. 2006). Importantly, neither the metaphoric framing, nor the legislative responses, are unique to Australia. Linking them, indeed, with compatible trends, we can begin to recognize an international narrative in which they partake.

My core concern in this article is to understand what this contemporary construction of 'political Islam', as the Other to the West, tells us about the project of constructing a contemporary Western political identity. In the first section, I shall trace the escalation of political discourses that vilify not only Islam, but also the multicultural project and the liberal politics of value and identity diversity. In the second part, I shall draw on the work of Carl Schmitt to highlight the distinct dangers raised when one side in a substantive conflict assumes humanity's interests and the language of humanity's truth and good, linking this with the war against terror and its self-construction as the defender of progress and freedom. I then turn to the project of interrogating those universalist claims, first by tracing two strands in recent work on the development of secularism, arguing that beneath secularism's language of rational progress lies either a dogmatic rejection of religion (in general), or an intrinsic link with a Protestant form of Christianity. Turning then to a close reading of contemporary political discourses, I ask which of these secularisms motivates the contemporary radical othering of Islam. Is the root of the hostility to Islam the claim that it threatens the sacred boundary, between religion and the State, demanding that public law reflect religious commitments? Or is it that Islam threatens the sanctity of our intrinsically Christian political communities?

Multiculturalism as the garden where weeds are free to grow.

The US Patriot Act and President George W. Bush's more colourful rhetoric around the free world and terror has been the subject of extensive commentary (Bovard 2006, Etzioni 2004). …

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