The Fate of Abraham by Peter Oborne

The West’s scapegoats: the long history of Islamophobia

The journalist Peter Oborne once cherished a faith in British rectitude. His columns for publications including the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator marked him out as one of conservatism’s more erudite spokesmen. Then came Britain’s complicity in the invasion of Iraq – broadly supported by both Labour and the Conservatives – and the Labour government’s mendacity over the death in suspicious circumstances of its scientific adviser David Kelly. The double deception prompted him to renounce his beliefs: “I went mentally into opposition to the British state”.

In The Fate of Abraham he turns his attention to some victims of the system he has rejected: Muslims in Britain and abroad. Western civilization’s apologists divided Muslims into the “good”, who collaborated with the imperial project, and the “bad”, who resisted. As a religion with adherents spanning the globe, Islam could be targeted as a disruptive force in the Philippines in the same terms used to deride Muslims opposed to the royal family in Saudi Arabia or military regimes in Egypt. In this sense Muslims assume the role of communists during the Cold War: the enemy without and within. Oborne argues that the Cold War model is both wrong-headed and harmful.

“I started to investigate attacks on Muslims”, he writes, “just as a traditional reporter sets out to expose a miscarriage of justice or an unsolved murder.” He traces the history in Britain, France and the US of the Islamophobia that has produced countless military attacks on Muslims in Islamic countries and hostility towards Muslims in western societies. Lamenting a record that runs from the Venerable Bede’s description of Muslims as “shiftless, hateful, and violent” to the demonization of Muslims by successive French governments, he argues that Muslims are the West’s scapegoats. Negative portrayals of Islam justify the conquest of the earth in the Conradian sense of “taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves”.

His travels take the reader to the front lines of conflict in Mindanao, in the Philippines, Nigeria, Syria, Myanmar, Turkey, Bosnia and Darfur. None of these is a setting for the “clash of civilizations” (in Samuel P. Huntington’s infamous phrase) that this book refutes. Instead he finds tribal conflicts, wars over resources and sheer brigandry that cannot be explained as examples of an imagined primeval struggle between Islam and Judaeo-Christianity…

Read the full review on The TLS.

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