For many months now I’ve been slowly but surely making my way through The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I’ve reached the chapter titled “Black Muslims” where Malcolm is describing the public reaction to the Nation of Islam, and his response to the documentary, “The Hate that Hate produced”. What’s been striking for a long while in this book is how the scripting of dissent is framed not just in racial but in religious terms.
This leads me to the most recent book purchase of mine: Will McCant’s The ISIS Apocalypse. I’ve followed him for a while on the Twitter, and he knows of what he speaks. But really that’s just a segue for this point that’s been at the back of my mind for a while: the American anxiety over terror hits on a deep rooted identity crisis at the heart of the self-image of the republic. But as it seems to me the special anxiety that’s gripped American for the last 15 years, and the narrative of the War on Terror, didn’t end with the killing of Osama bin Laden because it touches a special nerve in American identity politics. So we have the spectacle of adherents of the same religion scripting dissent from within, and security threats from without.** To use Foucault’s phrase, society must be defended. (Malcolm X – Martin Luther King is as good a stand in for the Foucault – Habermas debate that never was).
My thoughts here are admittedly crude and unrefined, and I would be very grateful to be put in the direction of good work and commentary that concentrates on this theme.
**I leave aside the doctrinal details here, somewhat unjustly, as I’m thinking mostly of the reaction that the average citizen with only a superficial understanding of these things might have. Doubtful that such a person would make it past the world how both groups self-identify, despite the obvious murderous messianism of ISIS versus the legitimate protest of Malcolm X.