Thursday, December 23, 2010

Max Blumenthal - The Great Fear

Last Sunday, author, journalist, lecturer, videographer and blogger Max Blumenthal published his most important article since the publication of his book, Republican Gomorrah, in the summer of 2009. Initially published at, The Great Fear has been reprinted at Max's own site, Mondoweiss,, Counterpunch, War in Context and other places.

Max Blumenthal’s article begins with these three paragraphs:

Nine years after 9/11, hysteria about Muslims in American life has gripped the country. With it has gone an outburst of arson attacks on mosques, campaigns to stop their construction, and the branding of the Muslim-American community, overwhelmingly moderate, as a hotbed of potential terrorist recruits. The frenzy has raged from rural Tennessee to New York City, while in Oklahoma, voters even overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning the implementation of Sharia law in American courts (not that such a prospect existed). This campaign of Islamophobia wounded President Obama politically, as one out of five Americans have bought into a sustained chorus of false rumors about his secret Muslim faith. And it may have tainted views of Muslims in general; an August 2010 Pew Research Center poll revealed that, among Americans, the favorability rating of Muslims had dropped by 11 points since 2005.

Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous. But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era. It was then that embittered conservative forces, voted out of power in 2008, sought with remarkable success to leverage cultural resentment into political and partisan gain.

This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America. Its apparatus spans continents, extending from Tea Party activists here to the European far right. It brings together in common cause right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and racist British soccer hooligans. It reflects an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility, with its key figures venerating the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urging the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods.

He goes on to describe “the network” in detail. The sections of the essay are almost the size of chapters of a book:

The Birth of a Network

The Network Expands

From Scam to Publicity Coup

Inspiration from Israel

Blumenthal has been very busy, both in the U.S. and in Israel. Max's coverage of last month's Mt. Carmel forest wildfire, The Carmel Wildfire is burning all illusions in Israel, was reprinted widely. Here's a brief excerpt:

Four days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to place thousands of migrant workers from Africa and Southeast Asia in a prison camp deep in the Negev Desert because, as he claimed, they pose a “threat to the character of [the] country,” a burning tree trunk fell into a bus full of Israeli Prison Service cadets, killing forty passengers. The tree was among hundreds of thousands turned to ash by the forest fire pouring across northern Israel, and which now threatens to engulf outskirts of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Over the last four days, more than 12,300 acres have burned in the Mount Carmel area, a devastating swath of destruction in a country the size of New Jersey. While the cause of the fire has not been established, it has laid bare the myths of Israel’s foundation.

Israelis are treating the fire as one of their greatest tragedies in recent years. A friend who grew up in the Haifa area told me over the weekend that he was devastated by the images of destruction he saw on TV. His friend’s brother was among those who perished in the bus accident. Though he is a dedicated Zionist who supported Netanyahu’s election bid in 2008, like so many Israelis, he was furious at the response — or lack of one — by the government. “Our leaders are complete idiots, but you already know that,” he told me. “They invested so much to prepare for all kinds of crazy war scenarios but didn’t do anything to protect civilians from the basic things you are supposed to take for granted.”

On 3 December, Netanyahu informed the country, “We do not have what it takes to put out the fire, but help is on the way.” To beat back the blaze, Bibi has had to beg for assistance from his counterpart in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Israel’s American and British patrons. Israel is a wealthy country which boasts to the world about its innovative spirit — its US-based lobbyists market it as a “Start-Up Nation” — but its performance during the forest fire revealed the sad truth: its government has prioritized offensive military capacity and occupation maintenance so extensively that it has completely neglected the country’s infrastructure, emergency preparedness and most of all, the general welfare of its citizens.

Last week, Max participated "in a debate at Princeton University on the “ethics and efficacy” of BDS."
The debate was held as a bookend to the battle over a resolution calling for adding an alternative in the campus cafeteria to Sabra Hummus, an Israeli brand produced by a company which has sponsored the IDF’s Givati and Golani brigades (the resolution was defeated). In my opinion, though the students from the Princeton Committee for Palestine who initiated the effort to sideline Sabra were not successful, they won anyway by forcing an open and honest discussion about Israeli war crimes, occupation and discrimination. And the students who voted against the alternative hummus resolution were simply stupid, not necessarily because they obstructed a campaign targeting a military unit that has been implicated in hideous crimes, but because they resigned themselves to a brand of hummus that contains the preservative known as sodium benzoate, which has been directly linked to everything from cancer to Parkinson’s to a variety of degenerative diseases.
Youtubes of Max's opening statement, his debate partner Rebecca Wilkomerson's opening statement (Wilkomerson is Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace), and a set of excerpts from the debate are available at Max's description of it at his blog. A very interesting critique of the debate has been posted at Mondoweiss.

All this is important work. Max's long article, The Great Fear, though, is one of the most notable articles on the nature and architecture of American Islamophobia and its relationship to militant expansionist Zionism to yet appear. As I noted in a comment at a discussion on Blumenthal's article:
It appears, from the depth of research in Max’s newest article, The Great [Fear], that he is in the process of looking into this problem similarly to the way he dissected the fundamentalist Christian right in his 2009 book.

At the time Max’s book was reviewed at firedoglake, I wrote an appreciation of the quality of his writing and the originality of his approach. The essay concluded with the question that I asked myself after reading Republican Gomorrah, “How did we let these dangerous people gain so much control over our lives?”

The same question should be asked regarding the people and organizations Max describes in this solid article. Blumenthal, more than anyone else writing now, has best described how these two groups – the makers of our GOP right-wing paradigm, and the backers or the creepiest aspects of the Zionist right-wing mindset – intersect: Islamophobia.
I went on to observe "I doubt Max will get the coverage this excellent article certainly deserves. "

He is beginning to get some coverage, though. Not by Joe Scarborough, who was bested twice by Blumenthal on Morning Joe, back in 2009. Not by Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann. He was interviewed Wednesday by RT TV:

Go read Max's article.

Bonus for Alaska readers of this article: The late Roger Ranch with a group of us, after Max's talk at the Anchorage Unitarian Fellowship in September, 2009:
images: top - Steve Aufrecht; bottom - Reesh Man

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