Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Murtaza Hussain: Scientific racism, militarism, and the new atheists

Al Jazeera
April 2, 2012.
Viewed in proper context it can be seen that the crudest racism has often been cloaked in the guise of disinterested scientific inquiry. Those claiming this mantle have often felt licence to engage in overt bigotry using science as a smokescreen, and yet far from being a relic of history, many celebrity-scientists of today show startling parallels with their now-dishonoured predecessors.

In the present atmosphere, characterised by conflict with Muslim-majority nations, a new class of individuals have stepped in to give a veneer of scientific respectability to today's politically-useful bigotry.

At the forefront of this modern scientific racism have been those prominently known as the "new atheist" scientists and philosophers. While they attempt to couch their language in the terms of pure critique of religious thought, in practice they exhibit many of the same tendencies toward generalisation and ethno-racial condescension as did their predecessors - particularly in their descriptions of Muslims.

To be utterly clear, Islam itself does not denote a race, and Muslims themselves come from every racial and ethnic grouping in the world. However, in their ostensibly impartial critiques of "religion" - and through the impartation of ethno-cultural attributes onto members of a religious group - the most prominent new atheists slide with ease into the most virulent racism imaginable.

That this usefully dovetails with government policies promoting the military subjugation of Muslim-majority countries is telling with regard to what purpose these contemporary scientist-philosophers serve.

While one could cite Richard Dawkins' descriptions of "Islamic barbarians" and Christopher Hitchens' outright bloodlust towards Muslims - including lamentations of the ostensibly too-low death toll in the Battle of Fallujah and his satisfied account of cluster bombs tearing through the flesh of Iraqis - these have been widely discussed and are in any case not the most representative of this modern phenomena.

Indeed, the most illustrative demonstration of the new brand of scientific racism must be said to come from the popular author and neuroscientist Sam Harris. Among the most publicly visible of the new atheists, in the case of Muslims Harris has publicly stated his support for torture, pre-emptive nuclear weapons strikes, and the security profiling of not just Muslims themselves, but in his own words "anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim".
Read the entire article here.

Hat tip to DD for sending me a link to this article.

Comment: The advent of racism is squarely situated in the evolving character of the European church and its relationship to the myth of the nation or nationalism.

The uncoupling of church and state did very little to derail methodologies that seek to prove the superiority of whiteness and its 'dominion' over all things.

What this means is that atheism (which is an ideological construct of Europe/West) and science under these terms assume the centrality of whiteness and the superiority of being white.

Skin color and brain size was once used to measure a scale of intelligence alongside Hegel's assumption and Marx's confirmation that a dialectical materialism proved white/Western superiority.

In recent years IQ testing (see Hernstein and Murray's "The Bell Curve" for example) and standardized testing have merely duplicated the racist biases contained in these methodologies.

It is not surprising too that class analysis, even by black analysts (see William J. Wilson's "The Declining Significance of Race" as an influential example) focused on blacks with assumptions of race/cultural inferiority.

Class analysis is not alone in this entrenched view.  White feminists have been similarly guilty of ignoring the intersections of race and gender in their analysis (see Susan Brownmiller "Against our Will").

It is for this reason that an analytical gaze on whiteness is still very much needed if we are to understand the evolving character of racism and the content and character of what it means to be white.

Over the past weekend Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, argued rather mistakenly that a focus on whiteness is a waste of time and that it merely emboldens white victimization instead of breaking down race divisions for the purpose of nation-building (see "The Problem with Whiteness").

Haffajee is right that seating an analysis inside the power constructs that produce whiteness (academia for example) merely replicates its domination and gives credence to its self-involved myopia.

That said she is wrong to assume that any deconstruction of whiteness is merely stroking the relevance of what it means to be white in post-apartheid South Africa, including the real problem of white victimization.

Though there are a myriad of analytical strands to be picked up here I think the article above by Hussain shows how race conceptualizations and racism evolve despite it fallacies and inevitable incoherence.

Race and racism will not merely disappear even if various theories linked to its structural practice are disproved.  What is more likely to happen is that new theories will replace the old and reinforce the same thesis of white superiority and dominion over all things.

In South Africa we now have a new political party called Agang lead by a black woman, Mamphela Ramphele, who claims that the era of race as a critical point of policy evaluation and development has passed.  This she does even though no evidence exists to explain how in two post-apartheid decades the centrality/force of race as a structural reality has been replaced by what is essentially race-blindness (ironically her position is an inevitable version of the non-racial theorization of the party of Mandela).

Race-blindness for a lack of a better term is an evolving feature of racism.  It posits several notions of the warmed-over theories of black bootstrap theory, class analysis, and neo-liberal faith in capitalized and democratic institutions to argue that race is not the central reason why racism (racial divisions and racial advantage/disadvantage) exists.

It is a sorely misguided analysis and it raises several important questions about the longevity and evolving character of race - including the following pressing question:
Can whiteness survive, thrive, and evolve in the relative absence of white people?  Or alternatively/bluntly put: Is it necessary to be white to be white? 
This inquiry is not primarily about the common hypothesis of Uncle Toms like Obama or the sellout thesis that has been current as long as race has been the dominant decider of oppression and privilege.

The issue of concern is with the set of whiteness values - inclusive of its evolving nature - and the reality of whiteness as an ordering and normative scheme for living.

In South Africa, just like most white settler-states, the centrality of whiteness has not been structurally deconstructed to make being white irrelevant to status and substantive privilege.

In fact, a strong argument can be made that the neo-liberal policies of the ruling African National Congress is nothing more than the lifeblood of post-apartheid whiteness.

In other words, whiteness has not been dependent on white politicians and naked white power to keep it relevant and dominant in post-apartheid South Africa.

In large part, the reason for this is more a matter of the global structure of race and racism and the place of whiteness therein.

So, that Obama is a black man is inconsequential in domestic terms.  Obama is a product of whiteness.  He would have no relevance in a world not structured and ruled by whiteness.  Obama exists to exemplify whiteness and its evolving character.

The same is true in South Africa.  That the ruling party and the president are black is inconsequential to the survivability of whiteness.  

In other words, the central questions about the nature and praxis of whiteness has less to do with Obama/Zuma as black men than it has to do with Obama/Zuma as agents of whiteness.

And in just two short post-apartheid decades we have ample proof to suggest that the ANC is not in the business of contesting whiteness and its global values - even those that intersect with disfiguring the character of Muslim leaders and Islam in this the era hysterically defined by the so called 'war on terror'.

You will remember that South Africa under the leadership of Zuma joined the US and its usual henchmen to eradicate the Muslim 'terrorist' Gaddafi - it was a natural alliance born of ideological sameness.

It did not take too much to get Zuma and his misguided government to align their blackness and their Africanness  with the purpose of overthrowing a Muslim leader and a sovereign African nation-state.

Whatever happened to the African Renaissance you may be wondering - that mirrored myth born of a white gaze and misguided politics.

Nonetheless, even the African Union was quick to offer its praise for ridding Africa of a man who once led the very same institution.  And in later months the African Union would lavish praise on the French for invading Mali.

Incredulously post-colonial leaders in both instances rose to support the same kind of racist excesses that reduced Africans to colonial subjects for a century before independence.

Whose values are these?  And who are the agents who make these values a reality in Africa?

The answers to both these questions are patently clear.

Why then would anyone be surprised that atheists of the white world think that Muslims are barbarians, irrational, and the scourge that must be annihilated at all costs if even in more veiled and hidden terms?

And no-one should be shocked to find more than enough black and brown skins (including those who define themselves as moderate Muslims) supporting this racist dialect.

What we are witnessing is not the "declining significance of race" as Wilson wrongly theorized; we are merely witnessing the evolving character of race and racism - nothing new really.

Only now you don't have to be white to be white as long as your values are white and you support the ever dominant ordering of whiteness.

If there is to be a real revolution against race and racism the first step would be to make whiteness irrelevant.

And we are not free.


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