Trending Topics:

Maher lumps Islam with ISIS, and CNN’s Cuomo says Aslan’s ‘primitive’ tone proves Maher’s point

on 47 Comments

This shocking story has been circulating for days now. The Islamophobic attitudes of the mainstream media: “Is violence inherent in Islam?” has become a real question. Really? The original incident involving Reza Aslan, an Iranian American who studied at Harvard Divinity School, took place on Sept. 29. CNN got hammered for its blanket assertions about Islam during that segment, and so the network resumed the conversation (sans Aslan) on Oct. 3. Clips are below; here’s the transcript. The two CNN hosts are Alisyn Camerota and Don Lemon. And they bring in Chris Cuomo of CNN’s show “New Day.” Media Matters has picked up this fracas, critically— noting Cuomo’s disgraceful charge that Aslan’s angry tone– “His tone was very angry. So he wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it.” Aslan is a Muslim.

CAMEROTA: OK. We had a very heated, controversial conversation here this week. So here’s how the conversation started.

We were talking about Bill Maher’s show. And Bill Maher made comments about the Muslim world.

LEMON: He talked about Islam. And he — and about whether or not it was more violent. Shall we just listen to him?

CAMEROTA: Let’s listen.


BILL MAHER, HOST, HBO’S “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”: If vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe, and they do, that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea, or drawing a cartoon, or writing a book, or eloping with the wrong person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS.


CAMEROTA: ok. So then we posed those issues to Reza Aslan, who is a Middle East scholar, and asked whether there is something about Muslim countries’ form of justice and human rights that is somehow more primitive than other countries.

LEMON: It got heated.


CUOMO: It got primitive.


REZA ASLAN, MIDDLE EAST SCHOLAR: Did you hear what you just said? You said in Muslim countries. I just told you that Indonesia, women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men. In Turkey, they have had more female representatives, more female heads of state in Turkey than we have in the United States.

CAMEROTA: Yes, in Pakistan. In Pakistan, women are still being stoned.

ASLAN: And that’s a problem for Pakistan. You’re right. So let’s criticize Pakistan.


CUOMO: He was, in a way, you know, playing off the last story we did. He was playing a little bit of the race/religion card on you guys. He was saying you’re calling everybody the same. You’re calling them all bad, and you shouldn’t do that.

CAMEROTA: And by the way, that was a great point. But I thought that what…

LEMON: That’s what he was saying.

CAMEROTA: I think that the point that he made when he said, “Listen to yourselves.” We were talking about female genital mutilation where, in Somalia, and Egypt, more than 90 percent of the women are subjected to it. And he said that’s an African problem. That’s an African continent problem. That’s not a Muslim problem. Well, that was an interesting point that he made. That’s educational.

And but the funny thing is…

CUOMO: You’re obviously agitated. Why?

CAMEROTA: I want to tell you about it. People on Twitter are angry that we even asked the question. If you don’t ask the question, you can’t have the conversation.

LEMON: I agree with that. But that wasn’t my beef. The country thing, that wasn’t my thing. I was simply asking the question in order to get an answer.

CUOMO: Why are people upset? Let’s look at it. Either it’s just PC gone awry. OK? And you can just dismiss it as that. I wouldn’t. And here’s why.

Do — does it promote violence? No. One, Islam is the culture. Being a Muslim, the faith, is that more violent inherently than Judaism or Christianity? No, not if you examine the text. Most experts will tell you exactly that. How it’s applied culturally. You now get into a big problem.

LEMON: That is a great answer. But I also think, that, you know, Reza, he apologized on Twitter.

CAMEROTA: Well, he apologized because during the course of it, he said that the question was stupid, and it implied that I was stupid. And he immediately apologized. And I don’t actually need an apology. I think that we need to be able to ask the questions, even controversial questions, even questions that you might deem as stupid. Because then it allows for the conversation. And you have to be able to have the conversation.

CUOMO: A lot of Americans think Muslims are inherently violent.

CAMEROTA: I don’t know who that is.

CUOMO: They think it’s a faith that encourages jihad, which they take as war against other faiths, and they happen to be wrong.

CAMEROTA: But I also want to say that it was interesting that Reza used the example of Indonesia, where he was saying they have — they treat women, you know, fairly. Because it was just last weekend that one province in Indonesia, Ache (ph), allowed legally caning of homosexuals. So I don’t know that that’s the paragon of human rights.

LEMON: I think, listen, I think he realized the moment you call someone a name you lose the argument. And that’s why — that’s why he apologized.


CUOMO: His tone was very angry. So he wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it.

Look, here’s what you guys are exposing yourselves to. This is the state of play in journalism today. The Muslim world is responsible for a really big part of religious extremism right now. And they are unusually violent. They’re unusually barbaric in the places where it’s happening. And it’s happening there more than it is in other places. Do you therefore want to generalize? Of course not. But you do want to call a situation what it is.

It’s not a coincidence that ISIS begins with an “I”. I mean, that’s what’s going on in that part of the world. Doesn’t mean that other faiths can’t be violent and other cultures can’t be violent. But you shouldn’t be afraid of the question.

LEMON: Thank you, sir.

The Aslan show:

The followup, which is worse:

Donald Johnson writes that describing these network anchors as moronic is not name-calling, it’s accurate:

Do these people truly not understand how widespread violence is in the world?   Yes, Islamic extremists are a huge problem now, but they weren’t a huge problem just a few decades back and to the extent they are a huge problem the US helped start it in Afghanistan.  (Again, not that I’m saying it’s all our fault. And Israel initially saw Hamas as a counterweight to the secular PLO.)  I saw “Digby” commenting on this at her blog and she pointed out that it just demonstrates that utter vacuity of most of the people on cable news. They’re incredibly shallow and stupid and ignorant on the subjects they comment on.  It’s like “man on the street” interviews at their worst, with the man on the street having a TV show.

Thanks to Annie Robbins.

P.S. Count me among those who believe that traditional religious teachings are responsible for violence. Islam, Judaism, Christianity are all in the dock. Globalization is making these traditional tribalist understandings more and more problematic/wrong. But the mote in your eye is always bigger than the beam in my own. I.e., Americans have a responsibility to consider our violence, and Jews have a responsibility to meditate on Zionism.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

Other posts by .

Posted In:

47 Responses

  1. pjdude on October 6, 2014, 12:14 pm

    wow really primitive talking about a non white person that’s not racist at all. and i still find it weird that people say islam is inherently violent. ok first for starters all 3 of the abrahamic faiths aren’t overly scripturely against violence. out of the 3 three I’d say judiasm is the most condoning of it does thast mean jews are inherently violent no. violence is based on many factors which sadly the muslim world has at a higher rate than most. i bet if you controlled for all the factors of violence most of the worlds populations would be pretty even.

    • Krauss on October 7, 2014, 2:16 am

      Okay, okay, let’s begin from the start:

      1. Islam/muslim is not a race. There are plenty of white folks who are muslim, whether in Europe(former Yugoslavia) or in Russia.


      i bet if you controlled for all the factors of violence most of the worlds populations would be pretty even.

      It’s an interesting question, but all the anecdotal evidence supports the “Islam = violent” hypothesis. NOW, you might be saying “but that’s because the media blows muslim violence up a lot more!”, and you’d be right. But the media goes where the blood is (“if it bleeds, it leads”), and the reality is that if you want to see blood, you go into muslim countries.

      3. This is a point less to you and more to Phil. I do appreciate that Phil isn’t backing this discussion down completely by backing Aslan, but rather shifting it towards the fact that we are more responsible for the violence that we ourselves are responsible for. I agree with that. But that isn’t really the discussion, Phil, the discussion is whether Islam is more violent or not.

      I don’t think there’s any evidence to say that Islam is “inherently” more violent. Christianity has been more violent, historically, but today the vast bulk of religious (violent) extremism is coming from Islam. I’m talking about people who talk about justifying their violence through Islam, not people who happen to be Christian but never cloak their violence in religious terms.

      Say what you will, but I doubt Obama is thinking about himself as a crusader as he approves drone strikes. It’s about the intention as much as about the act.

      • on October 7, 2014, 7:42 am

        Actually, the vast bulk of religious violent extremism is coming from Tel Aviv and Washington DC. Oddly, the people in majority Muslim nations sometimes push back when attacked and occupied

      • Mooser on October 7, 2014, 3:24 pm

        “It’s an interesting question, but all the anecdotal evidence supports the “Islam = violent” hypothesis. “

        Yeah, pjdude! Who are you going to believe? Krauss, or your lying eyes?

        Krauss, this has gone through several threads. Why is an acceptance Muslim inferiority and violence so important to you? What the hell is in it for you, if you aren’t a Zionist?

      • seafoid on October 7, 2014, 3:33 pm

        ““Islam = violent” hypothesis”

        Take these stats and stick them up your ***, Krauss

        you can listen to this while you are at it

      • pjdude on October 9, 2014, 1:32 am

        ok lets answer your points in order

        1. completely irrelevent and only goes to show your own biases. at no point did i mention religion in reference to racism(even though to certain extent racism and bigotry are used interchangably so the to use that as an argument is rather disingenious but i digress) I specifical mention his race ie non white and calling a non white person primative for their beliefs is racist.
        2. um actually the ancedotal evidence doesn’t suggest that because a. ancedotal evidence in its inherent nature doesn’t correct for other factors and B ancedotal evidence is meaningless for the previously stated reason so again your only socasing your own pro white pro zionist biases.
        3. again your comparing absolutes rather than rates. by rate judiasm has the highest rate of support for extremism out of the abrahamic faiths.

        all you did here is show your biases and can’t handle information contrary to the propaganda you believe in.

    • seafoid on October 7, 2014, 3:46 pm

      Krauss seems to be channeling Billy Joel

      nothing to do with American empire.

  2. eljay on October 6, 2014, 12:25 pm

    >> It’s not a coincidence that ISIS begins with an “I”. I mean, that’s what’s going on in that part of the world.

    Israel starts with an “I”. That can’t be a coincidence.

    • Kay24 on October 6, 2014, 2:12 pm

      Lol good point Eljay.

      “I” also stands for Illegal settlements, which Islamaphobe Maher never seems to mention.

    • Anonymous on October 6, 2014, 2:35 pm

      Good one. :-D

  3. Edward Q on October 6, 2014, 12:56 pm

    I am angry about what is happening in the Middle East and I am an atheist. Does that mean atheists are angry people bent on violence?

  4. Philip Munger on October 6, 2014, 1:20 pm

    The anti-Islamic venom spewed on major broadcasting outlets nationwide seems almost to be getting worse by the day.

    • Karl Dubhe on October 6, 2014, 3:02 pm

      How else are we supposed to go along with a religious war? Unless the media drives the hate towards the right targets, then the wars might not happen.

  5. a blah chick on October 6, 2014, 1:27 pm

    ““His tone was very angry. So he wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it.”

    This is a classic tactic of the media elites; when women or any racial minority bitches about their treatment they shake their heads and solemnly intone “why are you so angry?” It’s just a polite way of saying “I’m going to ignore you until you show me due deference.”

    Here’s the latest statistics (From the UN) on the countries with the highest rates of murder:
    Honduras: 90.4 (per 100,000)
    Venezuela: 53.7
    Belize: 44.7
    El Salvador: 41.2
    Guatemala: 39.9
    Jamaica: 39.3
    Swaziland: 33.8
    Saint Kitts and Nevis: 33.6
    South Africa: 31.0
    Colombia: 30.8

    With the exceptions of South Africa and Swazliland they are all in the Americas. None are in the Middle East and none have majority Muslim populations.

    I’d email this information to the cretins above but I’m too angry right now.

  6. just on October 6, 2014, 1:37 pm

    Reza was the least “primitive” of the bunch.

    “I saw “Digby” commenting on this at her blog and she pointed out that it just demonstrates that utter vacuity of most of the people on cable news. They’re incredibly shallow and stupid and ignorant on the subjects they comment on. It’s like “man on the street” interviews at their worst, with the man on the street having a TV show.”

    Some are utterly vacuous and ignorant, indeed. Others have an agenda.

    The both stink.

  7. Kay24 on October 6, 2014, 2:19 pm

    For those who may have missed this. Watch this video of Maher interview Michael Scheuer, and watch Maher’s face change visibly not knowing how to respond for a minute when Michael Scheuer says that Israel is not worth American lives or our dollars. Hear Maher claim that he is a strong supporter of Israel….it would explain his anti Islam, anti Muslim, diatribe.

    It is funny to see the Maher being taken aback and unable to comprehend what was just said.
    Unintentional comedy by Maher.

    • Anonymous on October 6, 2014, 2:45 pm

      Maher was taken to task by Greenwald last year as well, and rather impressively too.

      • a blah chick on October 6, 2014, 3:51 pm

        Saw the clip of Greenwald some time ago. What jumped out at me was how Maher reacted to Greenwald’s perfectly reasonable criticisms. It was as if he couldn’t believe someone wasn’t accepting his ill informed opinions as gospel. And then when he can’t refute anything he just waves his hands and demands they move on to another topic. He is such a dick.

      • Kay24 on October 6, 2014, 4:30 pm

        Thanks for that link. That was great. I love watching Bill Maher getting smacked down, like this.
        He is totally ignorant when it comes to facts and seems to be regurgitating the anti Islamic propaganda, which we may hear from bigots like Pamela Geller. Maher seems to lose his intelligence when it comes to these facts. Reza Aslan and Glen Greenwald speak facts, and he is unable to respond to that. Maher looks a fool every time.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius on October 7, 2014, 10:47 am

        That is CLASSIC! Maher’s face is priceless.

        If he had been interviewing a Muslim or Arab, he’d have been all prepared for someone to be ‘anti-Israel’ and would have had his little soundbites prepared. But because Scheuer is a white, Christian, right-wing conservative, he probably assumed he would be on message. What a shock to find out he was wrong, and for the audience to applaud Scheuer as well. Ouch!

        BTW from what I know, most people within the US military/intelligence establishment are not pro-Israel at all. Just like Scheuer, they believe they should be looking after American interests only, and that Israel is a massive burden, not an asset in that regard. They couldn’t give a toss about ‘democracy’ or ”Israel’s right to exist” – they only care about American interests, which is, after all, their job. Of course, they cannot say so in public – they know what happened to Chuck Hagel.

    • Marnie on October 7, 2014, 10:43 am

      That was priceless! Bill had quite a few “duh” expressions on his face and didn’t make a dent in Mr. Scheuer. I loved the exchange where Maher does the israel is the only democracy in the middle east and Mr. Scheuer’s response being “so what..”, leading to america “fight wars that are not ours to fight”. Absolutely.

    • Kathleen on October 7, 2014, 11:49 am

      Great to link again Kay. Linked to that exchange on many websites as soon as it happened. Maher goes blind when it comes to Israel and their actions. You could see it in his lopsided coverage of violence in religions in his movie. He raked the violence in Christianity, Islam over the coals but did not do the same for Judaism on an equal scale. The exchange between Affleck , Sam Harris and Maher defines the line between so called liberals ability to look at the cultivation of Islamophobia more fairly. Also helps more clearly point out how many comedians, MSM host, journalist congress members have protected Israel’s social justice and human rights violations often linked with Judaism through what ever means possible while criticizing other countries and religious extremism etc for similar human rights violations.

      Scheuer gets down to core reasons for the anger towards the U.S. Also focused on by other former CIA analyst and in many of those reasons somewhat discussed in the 9/11 Commission report

    • Kay24 on October 8, 2014, 9:25 am

      MDM, yes that was indeed the best part, seeing a smug Bill Maher, look like he was going to cry, when Michael Scheuer said that Israel was not worth our blood or money. It seems Maher is willing to send our kids to die for Israel.
      I also agree that many of our officials do not like Israel. In fact the CIA considers it the biggest spy threat in the Middle East, and that says a lot.

  8. Chespirito on October 6, 2014, 5:32 pm

    Mario Cuomo was in office before I came of political age, but he has always seemed to me a deeply decent man. How is it that his boys Chris and Andrew are such utter shits?

    • Kay24 on October 6, 2014, 6:57 pm

      Didn’t Andrew Cuomo rush to Israel to show the LOVE and support, while he totally ignored the babies in Gaza being blown up by the occupier and the mounting casual tie? . This must mean he has ambitions to run for higher office perhaps and needs the help of Israel/AIPAC, like our cheap politicians always do. As for Chris, I guess he needs to impress Jeff Zucker and show how devoted he can be to Israel too, by exaggerating Ben Affleck’s demeanor.

  9. Keith on October 6, 2014, 5:59 pm

    I think what should be obvious is that the “Clash of Civilizations” meme is a pretext for intervention in the Middle East, hence, is being heavily promoted by the imperial media. This should not be a surprise except, perhaps, for the crudity and overbearing nature of the “journalists.” Notice, also, that Aslan seeks to defend Islam against partisan attack rather than attack the consequences of Western intervention and imperialism. Most of the current violence in the Middle East flows from the US/Israel attempt to redraw the map of the Middle East. Ongoing US support for al Qaeda and ISIS/ISIL/IS is well known to those who care to look. The US is on a global terror campaign attacking and destroying anything that might conceivably challenge imperial hegemony, but you can’t discuss this on the corporate media.

    As an aside, Reza Aslan’s book, “Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” is an interesting and worthwhile read.

  10. Keith on October 6, 2014, 6:12 pm

    PHIL- “P.S. Count me among those who believe that traditional religious teachings are responsible for violence. Islam, Judaism, Christianity are all in the dock. Globalization is making these traditional tribalist understandings more and more problematic/wrong.”

    I don’t know that traditional religious teaching is the impetus for violence, which seems to me to have its roots in the struggle for power. Yes, religion can be manipulated to justify violence, however, societies go to war due to the power seeking of their elites. As for globalization reducing violence you have it backwards. The enrichment of the few and the impoverishment of the many caused by neoliberal globalization has increased the amount of violence both between competing nations and internally through sectarian divisions exacerbated by harsh economic conditions. In case you haven’t noticed, Obama and empire have set the world on fire.

    • bilal a on October 7, 2014, 3:02 pm

      I get the upper west side disdain for the religious preoccupations of fly over country gentiles and the shtetl orthodox , a kind of ‘hold my nose’ soft bigotry for the masses not smart enough to read or write for the NYT. But at least connect it to reality. Case in point, are the religious more violent than the secular, forgetting the obvious historical-political problems with that question, focus on the often cited example of women’s rights, intimate partner violence., sexual harassment IN Europe it is not associated with ‘progressive’ values, quite the opposite:

      Despite stereotypes depicting Eastern and Southern European countries as having “macho” cultures, the European country with the lowest reported violence against women is Poland, with 19 percent. In fact, since 2005, Poland has had a dedicated Law on Domestic Violence and a nationwide program to increase awareness and provide support for abuse victims.

      The fact that the forward-thinking Nordic countries have such high rates of violence against women seems counterintuitive.
      Read more:

    • Mooser on October 7, 2014, 3:31 pm

      “In case you haven’t noticed, Obama and empire have set the world on fire.”

      Obama did not want to set the world on fire, he just wanted to start a flame in your heart.

  11. seafoid on October 6, 2014, 6:13 pm

    They are not moronic. They are systematic.
    It is deeply cynical but it pays well.

    The purpose of a system is what it does and the US media ‘s purpose in this regard is to demonise Islam. Easier to kill people.

    Dehumanising the victim makes things simpler.

    That usually worked for Israel too, until this summer. The Gazans got the pictures out.

    “So he wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it. ”

    None of those people know about Zakat or why Muslims say salaam aleikum when they meet someone. And where do they get their info from? Most have never met a Muslim.

  12. seafoid on October 6, 2014, 6:14 pm

    Maher is such a joke. Islam is ISIS. Does he have a car ? Where does the petrol come from ?

  13. wondering jew on October 6, 2014, 8:04 pm

    The United States and Canada are not at war with each other. They are both predominantly Christian countries. But the two facts are not related. (Both the US and Canada are settler colonialist countries that achieved victory over the colonized peoples approximately 150 years ago and there is no border conflict between the two and the cultures are amazingly similar and this is the cause for the “peace” between US and Canada. The wars between France and England were fought 250 years ago and so the conflict between those two powers has faded as a cause of war.)

    Syria and Iraq are cauldrons of war: there are conflicts between ruling elites that have refused to adjust to modern times with democracy and instead are mired in nondemocracy. Iraq’s relatively stable dictatorship was knocked off its pins by the US war of 2003 and the new government was capable of democracy but not of recognizing the needs of a pluralistic society. Thus the ruling elite of Sunnis saw itself as being oppressed by the Shiite majority and thus the fighting and the successes of ISIS. These problems are not inherent in Islam, they are inherent in the state of development of their societies, which are not up to the same speed as post WWII europe or post WWII North America.

    The Arab world’s backwardness in terms of democracy when compared with the West, is due to its being ruled by Turkey for hundreds of years and only recently was thrown into the world of events by the collapse of Turkey’s rule. The impetus for Western democracy which got its boost from Britain, France and the US, has not been duplicated in the Middle East and North Africa. There is nothing inherent in Islam that has slowed the progress of democracy. But nonetheless there may have been something involved in the Reformation that allowed for the development of democracy and such a Reformation was never duplicated in the Islamic world. But that is different than the claim to the inherent violence of Islam.

    Probably the worst of the three books: Old Testament, New Testament and Koran in terms of violence is the oldest: the old testament. God forbid (joke intended) that the Old testament, particularly the laws of Moses, are ever put into practice in Israel or in a larger area. It was only through accommodation with reality for a few hundred years and then exile for a few thousand years that allowed the book to exist as a separate entity from reality and that is how it is best to remain. If not a separation between synagogue and state then a separation between reality and synagogue. Islam never had the need to develop a reality principle outside of the bounds of their religion and is only now coming to terms with the end of the reality imposed by the Big Powers after WWI. There is a load of development that is necessary and certainly given the collapse of a geopolitical reality there will be violence and it will take a while (50 – 100 years) for Islamic society to put religion in its place.

    • eljay on October 7, 2014, 11:24 am

      >> yonah fredman @ October 6, 2014, 8:04 pm

      Good post.

      • Mooser on October 7, 2014, 3:36 pm

        “Good post.”

        Try reading it. It’s the usual confused bigoted muttering Yonah is famous for. Did you read that last paragraph? Not much daylight between Krauss and Yonah, really.

      • Cliff on October 7, 2014, 5:24 pm

        Identity matters IMO.

        I don’t think Yonah (who I mostly disagree with) is saying there is something intrinsically backwards to Islam.

        The Arab countries are a complete mess.

        In-part because of the ‘destabilizing logic of Zionism’ (a good book btw), various imperial powers meddling in the affairs of the Arab public, radicalization brought on by war and poverty, etc.

        It’s not that these people are genetically predisposed or that Islam is predisposed to something negative.

        There are clearly horribly backward concepts in all religions.

        What is more important, IMO, is the sociological characteristics (other than religion) and political climate of these countries.

      • eljay on October 8, 2014, 8:35 am

        >> Mooser: “Good post.” Try reading it. It’s the usual confused bigoted muttering Yonah is famous for.

        I did, and I found it to be one of his most legible and comprehensible posts ever. And I can’t say that any of it struck me as confused or bigoted.

    • Cliff on October 7, 2014, 12:20 pm

      Excellent comment, Yonah.

  14. JLewisDickerson on October 6, 2014, 9:51 pm

    RE: “Maher lumps Islam with ISIS, and CNN’s Cuomo says Aslan’s ‘primitive’ tone proves Maher’s point”

    MY COMMENT: Phil and Donald, you guys don’t still don’t seem to understand that we must fight our “inner demons” in a proxy war over there in order to postpone our inevitably having to directly fight them (our inner demons) over here (and suffer the “collateral damage” ourselves for a change)! ISIS is just a proxy for our own “inner demons”.

    TAKE IT AWAY, NORM: “Ideological Rigorism in America; The Response to ISIS”, by Norman Pollack,, October 3-5, 2014

    [EXCERPT] Perhaps rigor mortis is better, not merely rigidity in principle and/or practice, but rigidity of the whole entity setting in after death (in this case, rather, DECLINE as a vital civilization). ISIS, the specific subclass of terrorism on the current agenda (even seeming to displace Russia and China) as threatening America, Democracy, and the Free World, has been raised to the status of the universal anti-Christ, malevolence incarnate, and fueling America’s comeback to unilateral world dominance, a position from which it had been falling through the changing structure of international power. ISIS is like a life raft America reaches for in the multipolar world circumventing its customary position of unilateral political-economic-military dominance. In that light, it serves the function that communism did (and perhaps emotively still does) a half-century ago: the Hated Object to rationalize, legitimate, prosecute a course of global intervention, eradication of which is essential to national identity and survival.

    America is Edisonian: we invent things, but not necessarily what Thomas Alva had in mind. We invent that which will accomplish three goals, preferably simultaneously: Unify the nation (especially in the face of real or imagined class division); activate a huge military establishment (which translates into periodic if not continuous war and intervention); succor a capitalistic system (which might otherwise be at increasing risk of structural breakdown) prone, by its chicanery and misallocation of priorities, to an endemic condition of underconsumption exacerbated by a shriveling social safety net). Normality is a curse, unless, as now happens, the normality of war. Instead, constant jolts of fear keep the State and Capitalism going—but more, keep them growing closer, each reinforcing, and creating the need for, unity, mutual protection, ever-expanding aggressiveness.

    Welcome aboard, ISIS; if you didn’t exist, we’d be forced to invent you. Here, let the reasoning of Jean-Paul Sartre be our guide. I wrote an article in Agricultural History a half-century ago, “Fear of Man: Populism, Authoritarianism, and the Historian,” which strangely resonates with the present moment, testifying precisely to the ideological rigorism of today, called then by the term, “consensus,” a societal phenomenon whose purpose was to deny social protest past and current in favor of a grand celebration of Exceptionalism. Populism was in a sense our ISIS, as Cold War hysteria and historians’ opportunism to get on the bandwagon, in the 1950s-60s, magnified fears, induced conformity, and bludgeoned dissent. A shabby record in a still shabbier times.

    Sartre’s “Portrait of the Anti-Semite” uncovers the psychodynamics of authoritarianism, specifically, the fashioning of a scapegoat to hide one’s own (and here, society’s own) hidden fears and tenacious clinging to the status quo. For Sartre, the anti-Semite hates everything but the Jew: “He is a man who is afraid. Not of the Jews of course, but of himself, of his conscience, his freedom, of his instincts, of his responsibilities, of solitude, of change, of society and the world; of everything except the Jews.” My own, 1965: “This too captures the significance of our own attack on the Populist movement as an escape from ourselves and the challenges of our age.” In our discussion, remember ISIS as a possible functional equivalent, summoning the same psychodynamics in response to challenge, as Populism had been many years ago.

    In a preceding passage I wrote: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the critics of Populism and the society which finds the charges [anti-Semitism, xenophobia, premodernism] so congenial to its temperament exhibit the very traits of authoritarianism they impute to others…. Thus, Populism becomes for the historian and the larger society what the Jew is for the anti-Semite. Both historian and anti-Semite require a scapegoat, and the character of that scapegoat is incidental. For each hates not Populists or Jews but himself. Each cannot affirm man, each has little faith in human potentiality or confidence in man’s ability to shape the future and rationally control society, each cannot confront the possibilities of self-fulfillment in humanity—and frightened by these thoughts, each turns blindly to dependence on the homogeneous folk or the static past. In the final analysis, the denigration of Populism signifies the fear of man.”

    ISIS is our scapegoat, as, under the capacious tent of counterterrorism and defense of the homeland, other groups have preceded and no doubt will follow it. ISIS keeps the hairpin trigger of militarism and echoing patriotism on steady alert–surveillance, war, intervention, increasingly blind submission to the framework of power, in sum, ruling-groups’ idealization of what America is and must continue to be, as the natural fruit of an American society giving tacit admission to its own failure by its strident expression of hegemonic declaration and ideological rigidity. Again Sartre, in what I said “reaches to the innermost recesses of the authoritarian mind”—on reflection 49 years later appears to me the uncanny exactitude of anticipatory vision which best delineates America today: “Anti-Semitism, in a word, is fear of man’s fate. The anti-Semite is the man who wants to be a pitiless stone, furious torrent, devastating lightning: in short, everything but a man.”

    That, I submit, is the American mentalset, a nation craving, as Sartre says elsewhere, the durability of stone: a face of hardness to the world, fearful of introspection, of ever stopping to inspect the record of shock-and-awe intervention, paramilitary-sourced regime change, never-ceasing weapons development, stockpiling, and modernization of existing stock, and, twin of this psychological closed system, hubris and the boastful claims of divinely-ordered superiority. ISIS must be accorded spontaneous creation to cover America’s tracks as to the fundamental takeover of the Middle East, which included the invasion of Iraq leading ultimately to ISIS’s formation and growth; hence as its parent in having responsibility for the ensuing turmoil. But it also must be accorded world-shaking proportions to justify the continued permanent state of emergency, bombing Syria and turning ISIS itself (now that Ukraine is losing its luster) into the front-line ranks of the Wider Threat, these being the latest manifestation of US power. A not-so-subtle linkage has been created with Russia and China, as well as the argument laid for ISIS’s own ultimate threat of encroachment on American soil. . .


    • JLewisDickerson on October 6, 2014, 10:29 pm

      P.S. MY COMMENT AS IT WOULD HAVE APPEARED IF MONDOWEISS STILL HAD AN EDIT CAPABILITY: Phil and Donald, you guys don’t still don’t seem to understand that we must fight our “inner demons” in a proxy war “over there” in order to postpone our inevitably having to directly fight them (our “inner demons”) “over here” (and suffer the “collateral damage” ourselves for a change)! ISIS is mostly a proxy for our own “inner demons”.


      “How the Power of Myth Keeps Us Mired in War”, by Ira Chernus,, 01/20/11

      [EXCERPT] . . . White Americans, going back to early colonial times, generally assigned the role of ‘bad guys’* to ‘savages’ lurking in the wilderness beyond the borders of our civilized land. Whether they were redskins, commies, terrorists, or the Taliban, the plot has always remained the same.
      Call it the myth of national security — or, more accurately, national insecurity, since it always tells us who and what to fear.
      It’s been a mighty (and mighty effective) myth. . .

      SOURCE –

      * Gen. Petraeus on the “bad guys” his “troopers” were fighting “over there” ~

      Is Israel a “Jewish Nation”? Is the US an “American Nation”? ~ by Ira Chernus,, 1/31/14

      [EXCERPT] . . . All countries define themselves, Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian minister and ambassador, told Rudoren. “Why doesn’t Israel call itself at the U.N. whatever they want to call it — the Jewish whatever, Maccabean, whatever they want. Then the whole world will recognize it.” But, Khoury added, “We will never recognize Israel the way they want, I mean genuinely, from our hearts. … Why for them to feel secure do we have to deny our most recent history?”
      “For them to feel secure” — There’s the heart of the matter, as Americans should easily understand. Israeli Jews, like white Americans, have always known that their claim to the land they call their own is dubious.
      Ever since the first Europeans arrived in what would become the United States, they have paraded an endless array of papers, all claiming to be treaties signed by native peoples ceding their lands to the conquerors.
      “You see, we have a right to this land,” the whites proudly proclaimed. Never mind that most of the treaties were either coerced, signed by native peoples who did not understand them, or outright fraudulent. They gave at least the appearance of legal right.
      Israel has a somewhat stronger case with UN Resolution 181, passed in 1947, providing for “independent Arab and Jewish States” in Palestine. But the right of the Jews to have their own state in Palestine has still remained a matter of contention (pardon the understatement) ever since.
      Why did so many white Americans find it so important to be able to waive those pieces of paper “proving” their “legal right” to the land? Why do a sizeable majority of Israeli Jews favor the demand that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”? Obviously, both peoples are insecure about their right to their land. If they can get the former inhabitants to relinquish their rights, it gives the appearance, at least, that the vanquished concede to the victors a moral right to the land they have taken. . .


      ■ ALSO SEE – “Iranophobia: The Panic of the Hegemons”, by Ira Chernus, Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2010
      LINK –

      • JLewisDickerson on October 6, 2014, 10:38 pm

        P.S. ONE MORE TRY:
        * Gen. Petraeus on the “bad guys” his “troopers” were fighting “over there” –


      • bilal a on October 7, 2014, 4:02 pm

        the only opposition to pc speeech control and eternal orwellian ‘progressive’ war is localism , what weiss calls tribalism, eg extended families with a traditional code of ethics:

        Vatican rejects “chosen people” claim, calls on Israel to end “occupation”

  15. traintosiberia on October 7, 2014, 4:33 am

    Bigotry and stupidity exhibited collectively on CNN show the empire is unravelling and the stakeholders have no solution other than displacing the impotent frustration on the created scarecrow . ISIS is bad,Islam is inherently violent- these cant and ergot won’t buy America extra time or delay the descent down the abyss . Its in the tunnel already going down the tube . All it could is blame the darkness around it. Darkness serves the purpose of not being seen or identified and when disappeared oneday ,no one would miss the vacant lot and wonder it used to stand here .

  16. Kathleen on October 7, 2014, 11:40 am

    “Americans have a responsibility to consider our violence, and Jews have a responsibility to meditate on Zionism. ”

    A conversation about some of these issues went on between Joe Scarborough and middle east reporter Ayman Moyheldin the other morning on Morning Joe “Did Affleck get it right on Islam discussion” Joe ask which religion is more of a threat to civilization….Worth the watch. Got into a tiny bit who is responsible for more deaths, injuries etc

    Bill Maher was silent for longer than I have ever witnessed. He had to know that his racism was showing even more clearly than in his lop sided movie about religions. Maher even threw some racist red meat out to Affleck stayed on point. Maher and Sam Harris displayed real racism once again. Sam Harris “Islam the mother lode of bad ideas” Affleck called their racist comments out “gross and racist”

    • Kathleen on October 7, 2014, 12:24 pm

      I love Maher on so many other issues for his willingness to call hypocrisy out but on this issue he demonstrates racist attitudes and an inability to look at Israel and its actions and the I lobby and their influence. He will not touch this issue honestly.

      Prof Juan Cole nails this hypocrisy in a piece about this latest exposure of the racism embedded in comments made by Maher and Cohen. Over at Informed Comment

      • bilal a on October 7, 2014, 3:06 pm

        Cole connects the dots :

        Maher ironically has de facto joined an Islamophobic network that is funded by the Mellon Scaife Foundation and other philanthropies tied to the American Enterprise Institute, etc. which is mainly made up of [zionist ] evangelical Christians, bigoted American Jews who would vote for the Likud Party if they could, and cynical Republican businessmen and politicians casting about for something with which to frighten working class Americans into voting for them.

  17. tumblin_tom on October 7, 2014, 5:05 pm

    I used to think the Cuomo clan was okay (just like the Weiss ;-) but, without resorting to stereotypes about Italian-Americans, it seems that Cuomo Jr. is cynically preparing the way to become Governor of the State of New York, now that Cuomo Sr’s political run is over, due to corruption.

  18. JLewisDickerson on October 8, 2014, 2:17 am

    RE: “So he [Aslan] wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith [Islam] in the first place, which is the hostility of it.” ~ Chris Cuomo on CNN

    MY COMMENT: Shades of the “Angry Black Man”! ! !

Leave a Reply