If your instinctive response to the phrase “liberal Islamophobia” is something like, “that doesn’t make any sense, its conservatives who are racists,” you should probably read Kumar's book. This is assuming you've already done some reading about the history of Islam and are familiar with imperialism's impact on our history. Without a solid grounding in the history of Islam and of Europe’s imperial ventures in the Islamic world, there’s a lot of information here that might be difficult to follow. This book occupies a very particular niche, and if you’re educating yourself on the social forces that have created this current moment in the fall of the American empire (and you should be), that means you're looking for exactly this, and you’ll be glad you’ve found it.
I myself only finished this book because a friend wanted to talk about it. That was enough to motivate me all the way through, but otherwise I probably would have set it down. The writing quality is functional, not outstanding, and since I’ve been obsessively reading news analysis of America’s wars since 2001, most of the information was completely familiar to me. For my history degree I took several courses that touched on the history of Islam-and-the-West: the Crusades, the Atlantic slave trade, the Russians in Afghanistan, the British in the Middle East and the Americans in Iran. Disillusionment with the Iraq War was a formative part of my young adulthood. I’m old enough to remember all the way back to 2010-2011 and the Arab Spring, how hopeful some of us were and how reluctant the Obama administration was to support Arab democratic revolutionaries.
So when Kumar says, “McCarthyism wasn’t simply about one out-of-control senator, but a political system (including both Democrats and Republicans) that allowed a figure like Joseph McCarthy to set the political agenda. McCarthy was a useful tool in prosecuting the Cold War—particularly in creating a climate of fear where dissent could be punished and neutralized. The right-wing Islamophobic warriors play a similar role during the era of the War on Terror. They are not “alien outsiders” but emerge from within the political establishment, the security apparatus, the academy, the think tank milieu, and the mainstream media. Thus, far from “infiltrating” an otherwise good system the new McCarthyites are a product of, and fit comfortably within, the structures of American empire,” I’m not surprised.
If you are surprised, read this book! If you hear, “anti-Muslim bigotry is about creating a political climate in which the United States can invade other countries at will and suppress dissent at home,” and want to fight about it, read this book! It’s pretty good, and reading it is a much better experience than fighting in the comments under dumb Facebook memes.
n.b. I got this book from my not-so-local public library, downloaded instantly as an ebook. Super convenient.