Orientalism and Wokeness: The Evil Twins of Liberalism
19 April 2023
There are several reasons why Wokeness and Orientalism would appear to be opposing ideologies. First, Muslims were fully assimilated into the intersectional map of oppressed victims of the Trump voter after the 2016 elections. Second, the Democratic Party preferred to take a new multicultural shift, similar to the one it took in the 1960s, rather than addressing its deep structural problems. Thus, it hid its rejection of the Bernie Campaign, under a new celebration of the inclusion of Muslim congresspersons in the Party. Third, “Woke Orientalist” Intellectuals, mentioned in this article, moved further to the Right after their own social engineering project blew back against them. Fourth, those intellectuals and many others find similarities between woke activists and Islamists, especially when it comes to tactics of censorship against free speech.
In the confusing microcosm of American internal politics; Wokness and Orientalism seem to come from completely different domains. But in the grand scheme of the history of the War on Terror, and the global geography of the neoliberal imperial project, Wokeness and Orientalism are part of the same liberal epistemological crisis.
Wokeness and Orientalism are part of the same liberal epistemological crisis.
The category of “Woke Orientalist” or “Woke Islamophobe” might seem oxymoronic and impossible in America, but it is not so in other contexts, such as in France, or the cultural liberal bubbles of Arab countries. In the US context, the opposition to Islamophobia has been coopted by Wokeness; this led to separating the definition of Islamophobia from its orientalist liberal origins, turning it to an exclusively right-wing phenomenon, and watering it down to a moral prejudice to be censored immediately.
A class-based leftist view would not adhere to this definition which considers the mere criticism of Islam, Islamists, and regimes with an Islamic ideology as Islamophobia; indeed, criticizing the exaggerations of certain dress codes or condemning death threats against an author, or defending someone’s right to become an Ex-Muslim will not necessarily make you an Islamophobe. A true class-based definition of Islamophobia, as it is today, would be the existential fear that The Neoliberal Order will not be able to assimilate Muslims into the bourgeoisie class, due to a fatal essentialist flaw in Islam and Muslims. Hence, a vital prerequisite for Islamophobia is a belief that there is no alternative to the Neoliberal Order.
Another reason why one could think that Orientalism and Wokeness are at odds; Is the idea that the Anti-Iraq War Movement built Wokeness later on. Now that is not entirely true, The War on Terror itself had constructed the bureaucratic infrastructure to be taken over later on by Wokeness. The US interventionist framework during the Cold War and in the 1990s was based on the notion that political regimes commit human rights violations or at least fail to protect human rights. The September 11 Attacks have changed the equation radically; now societies as a whole commit human rights violations, especially the ones which do not have Western liberal moral values (or updated Western values). This has opened the door for an international system where collective societal and civilizational punishment is allowed; that was the international system of the War on Terror.
Therefore, Muslim societies around the world became partners in crime to the perpetrators of the attacks, they had to be punished, disciplined, fixed, reeducated, and introduced into modernity. Three main orientalist actors took on such a mission with gusto; US establishment Neoconservatives, New Leftists turned Neoliberals, and Muslim and Arab cultural leftists who since the Pan-Arab defeat in the 1967 War and the subsequent rise of Islamism, have taken a hysterical approach of blaming the Arab society as a whole for the defeat and the regression.
All of this led to a new Professional Mangerial Class in the North Atlantic center and the Middle Eastern periphery, created in the Bush-era New Middle East Plan in 2001 and enlarged in the Obama-era Arab Spring foreign policy in 2011, especially after the victory of Islamists in the elections held in Arab countries, which also led to mass hysteria from an Arab left that was too immature and unprepared to lead the Arab uprisings.
A wide-scale imperialist social engineering project, which practiced an early version of Wokeness on a wide scale.
This PMC was tasked with the mission of liberal assimilation in tandem with neoliberal economic assimilation. The end goal was a bottom-up process of “social change” instead of the up-bottom process of regime change. That was a precedent for a wide-scale imperialist social engineering project, which practiced an early version of Wokeness on a wide scale against an Abrahamic religion. That was the Woke-Orientalist academia and media ecosystem that launched or morphed the careers of New-Athiest and Islamophobic public intellectuals and media personalities like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, and Ayan Hirsi Ali, not to mention many other public personalities and pundits, such as Ex-Muslim activists, extremism experts, self-proclaimed “former terrorists”, Arab and Muslim validators and collaborators.
But If the likes of Christopher Hitchens, and Ayan Hirsi Ali wanted to use the War on Terror as a “reeducation camp” for Muslims, the current woke ideologues want to use neoliberalism to create a global reeducation camp for everyone. This is why Wokeness has dwarfed and sidelined Orientalism as a cultural shift while inheriting its social dynamics in several domains:
First; the aforementioned industrial complex of governmental and non-governmental organizations, that has a close relationship with the national security state, and that aims to create an interventionist moralist foreign policy and a culturally controversial domestic policy.
Second; a liberal ideology that is designed to fix the minds and hearts of people instead of fixing the material conditions of people, which leads to replacing class struggle with cultural clash. This liberal ideology is fixated on othering a certain traditional group, viewing it as backward, dangerous, and patriarchal with a special focus on the relationship of that group with women, minority ethnic groups, and sexual minorities.
Third; the aforementioned elite of “civilizing” public intellectuals, who incite discourses to create alarm among the public, in order to manufacture a clash of cultures focused on the necessity to encounter the other “deplorable” and “regressive” culture.
Fourth, a new hysterical middle class in the search for a scapegoat or a manufactured antiliberal enemy, as explained by French academic Emmanuel Todd in his book about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015. This middle-class hysteria could be caused by violent tragic events like mass shootings or terrorist attacks or mundane events such as right-wing election wins, magazines that might publish a “triggering” article, conservative law bills, riots that did not kill anybody, and weather air balloons.
This hysteria of the NGOs, media elite, and the nihilistic middle class, is a symptom of a deeper crisis of “false consciousness” in the post-industrial West and the liberal bubbles in the East, that stems from the economic crisis, alienation created by late capitalism, the death of traditional belief systems and meta-narratives, and the New Left’s abandonment of class politics. Such hysteria leads to totalitarian tactics that require the perceived enemy to fully assimilate, making the renunciation of their past and tradition, their own ancestral identity of origin, and its cultural and religious symbols, as the necessary prerequisites to maintain their national identity. This leads to the destruction of critical thinking and forces individuals into adopting thoughts they do not believe under the threat of ostracism and cancellation.
The Conservative Right in the West sanctioned the creation and the rise of this totalitarian Woke infrastructure.
Ironically, the Conservative Right in the West sanctioned the creation and the rise of this totalitarian Woke infrastructure for more than a decade thinking they will not be next. Nowadays, things have changed drastically; as we moved from profiling brown and bearded men to profiling young white loners, many Americans are finally able to understand the suspicion Arabs and Muslims always felt towards the Liberal PMC and their campaign of cultural progress to the unknown. If Orientalism was designed to virtue signal the working classes of much of the Global South, Wokeness was more sinistrally designed to virtue signal the working classes of the West.
Before the “Right” became “New” and went into the enormous cultural shift with regard to Islam, it took a similar trajectory to that of Cold War thinker George Kennan who, at first, in a Stalinophobic fashion, overestimated the external threat of Soviet Communism and its ability to subvert Western societies, before realizing that the true threat to traditional modes of life came from inside, from the heart of Western Liberal materialism, as Agosto Del Noce concluded at the end of the Cold War. After two decades in the War on Terror which culminated in a disastrous US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the New Right was going through similar intellectual sobriety; Islamism was never going to be the thing to overtake and destroy Western societies, the neoliberal contradictions within such societies would do the job.
This intellectual sobriety made the New Right more intellectually engaging than New Atheists ever were. If Richard Dawkins’ main talking point to feminists was based upon “whataboutism”, telling them they better criticize the “real” Muslim patriarchy, the New Right had a different radical approach, critically asking whether patriarchy is essentially a bad thing from the outset, and asking in what neoliberal context patriarchy is being attacked and who does it serve?
Nevertheless, the obsession of the Libertarian Right and some of the Neocons to cleanse Wokness from neoliberalism could bring us back to square one, which is the preservation of the Neoliberal Order. Matt Walsh in the “Qatar World Cup Affair” would condemn Imperialism only when it is “Woke” but would deny any other type of historical and current economic Imperialism. Also, Jordan Peterson's change of tune about Islam is giving a shaky sense of hope to Muslims, especially since there is a limit to his engagement in the multicultural dialog -and his engagement in the class inequality discussion- before he starts to anger his libertarian Pro-Clash of Civilizations friends at the Daily Wire and PregerU.
It would be in vain to question one product of Liberalism or the other without questioning Liberalism itself through the lens of class politics. The fundamental mutual crisis of Orientalism and Wokness is based upon the drive and the capacity of Liberalism to destroy the old (with a lot of suffering in the process), and its incapacity to fulfill the promise of building the new. The myth of the necessity for the extinction of “everything old” for the progress of humanity is the worst lie of Orientalism and Wokness.
The obsession of the Libertarian Right and some of the Neocons to cleanse Wokness from neoliberalism could bring us back to square one.
Class politics provide an authentic solution to this epistemological crisis created by a liberal media and academia class that is compromised to capital and state power when trying to understand the peoples and the problems of the world. In his book about Eurocentrism and the Islamist culturalist reaction, Samir Ameen indicated that asserting popular control over the material means of production would lead to asserting popular sovereignty over the production of knowledge about peoples and communities.
A historical lesson can be learned from one community that opposed the destruction of “everything old”. The Jewish Workers Bund rejected and survived blind and unbridled assimilation (as much as they rejected isolation and populist ethnonationalism), and considered class consciousness instead of cultural liberalism as a vital path for human progress. Bundist and Holocaust Survivor Irena Klepfisz has an argument on religion and secularism that is crucial for criticizing New Atheism; she says: “I believe in the Bund’s formulation that secularism isn’t just assimilation or not going to synagogue. Veltlekhkayt includes building Jewish life by establishing Jewish education and fostering Jewish culture. I was taught that one couldn’t just be against something, one had to be for something.”