Rowman & Littlefield ($32)
by Spencer Dew
The central focus of Nazia Kazi’s new book is white supremacy and the state-sanctioned violence that both emerges from and supports it. She opens with the murder of Philando Castile, and, explaining how her rage over such slaughter fueled her writing, begins to unravel the links between white supremacy and the “more than a million Iraqis dead at the hands of US-imposed violence, just as it was white supremacy that allowed Mexican Americans to be lynched in the American Southwest for such ‘crimes’ as speaking Spanish.” Islamophobia—the name itself a misnomer, as, in Steven Salaita’s words, it “doesn’t actually arise from the subject but squarely implicates the purveyor”—is examined here as one manifestation of America’s white supremacist power structure. Close reading of anti-Muslim racism allows Kazi to “better understand American race politics at large.”
Not surprisingly, Kazi’s desire to understand such race politics is rooted in a desire to respond to them, to change them. Kazi is committed to a stance of “principled antiracism,” to “seeking to abolish the very roots of imperialism and racism.” As she says in her final line, citing an anti-racist and anti-capitalist Martin Luther King Jr. in his call for America to “be born again,” “America cannot be reborn if we keep the faintest skeleton of white supremacy intact.”
Her analysis of Islamophobia is in service of that aim. Kazi details the placations and distractions that seek to integrate the right sort of Muslim, or to celebrate American Muslim fidelity to imperialism through military intervention and capitalism. “The goal of principled antiracism,” she writes, “is never to incorporate ‘minorities’ into an existing power structure. Asking to be integrated into the top of a racial hierarchy doesn’t dismantle the racial hierarchy”; rather, it allows for those persons thus integrated (and their allies) to “be satisfied when arms dealers like Lockheed Martin set up Friday prayer spaces for their employees rather than thinking about the troubling role of the arms industry in the American economy.” Again and again, Kazi cautions about the ways that integration serves as placation. “If we’re not careful,” she writes—in reference to Muslims in the military but equally applicable to immigrants, transgendered citizens, blacks, women, homosexuals, Sikhs, or indigenous peoples—“US empire will have us celebrating the inclusion of all races, gender identities, and religions in its sinister project of global power.”
Kazi’s examinations of “Islamophilia,” of how “the ‘good Muslim’ trope . . . leaves intact the very foundation of anti-Muslim sentiment” is useful, and her analysis of “terrorism” as a racist dog-whistle is a concise and accessible articulation of a reality many who think about Islam and Muslims in America know all too well. Kazi notes the invisibility, in public discourse, of white supremacist terrorism, regardless of how frequent such acts might be, and leaves readers to ponder the dubious nature of how U.S. military violence against civilians for a political end is always categorized, in official and popular discourse, as something other than “terrorism.”
But Kazi is at her most tonic when she indicts the moderate and left-leaning sentiment, so popular these days, that sees in the Trump administration “something un-American,” in the sense of “an interruption in the steady march of progress with regard to immigrants, black people, the queer community, and religious minorities.” Kazi insists that Trump’s election, rather “was the culmination of America. It was the perfect, most logical next step for anyone who’s been paying close attention to American politics.” As part of this argument, and as a way of shaking her readers awake from the stupor of self-satisfaction and the easy Manicheism of anti-Trumpism, Kazi devotes a great deal of attention to the wall between the U.S. and Mexico, both the imagined wall invoked in Trump’s explicitly racist rhetoric and the very real wall that already exists at the border. As Kazi writes,
It was under President Bill Clinton that construction of the physical barrier began. In 2006, Hillary Clinton, as a senator, voted in support of the Secure Fence Act. Where were the liberal protest signs reading ‘Walls Must Fall’ when these initial steps toward securing the border were taken? Why did it take a politician boldly campaigning on the explicit promise to build a wall to generate such widespread opposition?
It is passages like this that make Kazi’s book necessary reading for any American invested in real transformation of this country. “If we don’t recognize the continuities, the overlaps, and the similarities between the Trump administration and what came before,” she writes, “we risk keeping intact the very conditions that gave rise to it in the first place. If we topple the white nationalists’ racist ‘megaphone’ only to restore the older dog whistle, we haven’t actually toppled anything. We’ve just restored to racism the camouflage that allowed it to blare its message all along.”
This is a book to read, to study, to share, and to take to heart in our current moment and the months to come—months sure to be dominated by a flurry of placating and distracting rhetoric, from all points of the political spectrum, promising to topple certain megaphones and change certain tones of public discourse. Kazi reminds us to think historically, situating the current moment within a deeper trajectory and always keeping in mind how today’s taken for granted categories and inequalities came to be produced. She also urges us to “ask the most ‘impractical’ of questions” regarding the society we want to create and in which we want to live:
What if prisons and policing weren’t solutions to the things we call ‘crime’? What would the world look like if the US military budget didn’t tower over those of the several largest world militaries combined? What are ways to prevent terrorism that don’t involve surveillance, racial profiling, detention, or torture? What if wealth weren’t concentrated in increasingly fewer hands? What if debt weren’t part of the American way of life?
Questions like these, Kazi suggests, can help us shape a society built on “principled antiracism” and extending that principle of equality to its logical—and just—conclusions.