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2 February, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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A crusader in Cairo: Pompeo's pompous imperialism has no clothes

The speech Trump's secretary of state gave in Cairo put the thuggish truth of American imperialism on full display
Hamid Dabashi

"In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth." This is the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talking, at the American University in Cairo, the capital of a major Muslim country. The evangelical preacher, abusing his hosts and mistaking a university lector for his hometown church pulpit, then made sure his audience knows the militant intentions of his invoking the Bible. "And it's the truth, lower-case "t," that I'm here to talk about today. It is a truth that isn't often spoken in this part of the world, but because I'm a military man by training, I'll be very blunt and direct today: America is a force for good in the Middle East." A military man with the Bible on his side and a nuclear arsenal to his name: the crusader stood there and delivered the message to Egyptians.

"America is a force for evil," something must have been whispering in the militant preacher's ears. The evangelical crusader descending on Muslim lands, had the entire audience of the Mahometan infidels sitting politely in front of him and listening. He was Guy of Lusignan incarnate.

Does this image, right out of the history of the Crusades with a modern twist bother anyone?

Trump has indeed drained the Washington swamp as he promised - and unleashed it into the streets, alleys, squares, governmental organisations and US embassies around the globe. It is everywhere to be seen and smelled if you can bear the stench.

The crusader was in Cairo the guest of the leader of the military coup against Egyptian revolution, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The rude effrontery of Pompeo has nothing to do with Egypt or Egyptians. The dignity of the name "Egypt" and "Egyptians" should never be sullied with such loutish imperialism protesting his evangelical vulgarity too much.

An Islamophobe missionary

This was no ordinary evangelical preacher delivering a speech in Cairo. He was the poster boy of American Islamophobia. "In addition to Pompeo's potential hawkishness," wrote Ishaan Tharoor in Washington Post, back when Pompeo was nominated as Trump's "top diplomat," "critics are worried about Pompeo's troubling track record on religion and intimate association with the Islamophobic fringe in America." The person who passes as "top diplomat" in Trump's America, has a sustained record of visceral contempt for Muslims. The feeling, I am sure, is mutual.

Pompeo is in perfect company in his diabolical hatred of Muslims, particularly American Muslims. "John Bolton and Mike Pompeo mainstreamed Islamophobia" is now the plain fact of these Laurel and Hardy of reactionary warmongers ruling the United States.

Pompeo's militant preaching in Cairo has been widely read as a reaction against Obama's speech in the same setting. People around the globe, however, could not, of course, care any less about the minor differences between Obama and Trump let alone between Pompeo and Obama.

To us, they all look more or less the same: ignorant, arrogant, self-righteous, militant, irredeemable. Yes, Obama began his speech in Cairo by a cliche "assalamu alaikum," just before he went back to Washington, DC, and donated billions of dollars' worth of weapons to Israel to kill Palestinians and sold even more to Saudi to murder Yemenis with ease. "Assalamu alaikum" indeed - wa alaikum assalam!

Pompeo's antics in Cairo have, of course, not gone unnoticed. Juan Cole has rightly characterised it as "extremely embarrassing," "inconsequential," describing it as "Christian Zionist strain of American foreign policy." Paul Pillar has aptly called the speech "remarkably tone-deaf."

All such characterisations, however, point to something far more serious than a televangelist on the loose: this dysfunctional empire has never had an iota of normative hegemony, let alone moral authority. Abusing Christianity for its imperial purposes impoverishes Christianity and exposes the vulgarity of what passes for the ruling elite in Trump Tower of Babel.

Dangerously delusional officer class

Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and their boss are dangerously delusional. They are ill-mannered, badly raised juvenile delinquents in adult people's outfits. They have received little to no proper education, roaming through this life with no regards for human decency. The only reason the world listens to their gibberish is that they walk around with a massive military machinery of death and destruction behind or in front of them. Dismantle or disregard that machinery and you see a wretched gathering of old car salesman desperately trying to sell you something you don't want to buy.

Under Trump and his henchmen, American imperialism is more naked, brutish, vulgar, and fanatical than ever before. The same way that, under Netanyahu, we see the real ugly face of Zionism bared and put on global stage, under Trump, too, we see the thuggish truth of American imperialism on full display. Trump has stripped the truth of American militarism to its bare bones - with no fake clothing or fancy ideological make-up. This is America. Pompeo on that stage at that podium in Cairo was America: "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

The full passage from Hobbes's Leviathan in fact perfectly describes what Pompeo and his ilk have in store in our imminent future on this earth:

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth . . . no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”.

Trump as an embarrassment

The liberal elite in the US are anxious to get rid of Trump for he is an embarrassment and he has spilled the beans of truth of the political culture that has enabled him, that the emperor of this oligarchy has no pants on, that Trump is not accidental, but definitive, to the US.

The same is true about all his appointees and cabinet members. They are from the heartland of American nightmare that they call a dream. Pompeo cannot and should never be dismissed as a lunatic evangelical Zionist who does not represent anything. He does. He is dully appointed by the US president and approved by the US Congress to represent the US around the world - and representing he does.

The world cannot afford to shove Trump, Pompeo, Bolton and the rest of them under the proverbial carpet. Pompeo and his racist evangelical Zionism are what our part of the world, in particular, the Muslim world, faces - and our own "leaders" (from Mohammed bin Salman to General el-Sisi and everyone else in between) invite, host, and enable them.

There is nothing wrong with the Bible or reading the Bible. The Bible is a magnificent book, so is the Quran and the Hebrew Bible. Every civilised human being should regularly read these books. But the Bible in the hands of Pompeo and Bolton is like the Quran in the hands of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden, and like the Hebrew Bible in the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, and Ayelet Shaked: a sharp sword in the hand of a drunken lunatic.

The rule, not the exception

What Pompeo said in Cairo is the rule in the history of American politics not the exception - the contours of his evangelical fanaticism were articulated in Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (2007), and its effects evident from the history of slaughtering Native Americans to African slavery to the institution KKK.

If we were wondering what Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would look and sound like with a nuclear arsenal at his disposal, just look at Mike Pompeo in Cairo: that's how he would look and sound like, and the speech Pompeo gave at AUC is the script Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would read if he had the power to come and give a talk at Columbia University in New York. That nightmare is a reality with al-Baghdadi's kindred souls Mike Pompeo in the US Department of State and Naftali Bennett in Netanyahu's cabinet.

But one must never confuse the master with the mercenary. As Timothy Egan put it in the New York Times: "An 85-year-old casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, now has more influence on American foreign policy than even the secretary of state, the Koch tool Mike Pompeo."

Pompeo does not run this country. He is a useful utensil - a fuming preacher. Something else runs this country. Again, in Egan's accurate wording: "But the Kochs pay for politicians in order to enrich themselves and to gut regulations affecting the polluting industries that made them billionaires. Adelson got a similar tax windfall for the millions he put into electing Republicans, with the added benefit of controlling the State Department's view of Israel."

Among the Kochs, the Adelsons, and the Pompeos of America there is an unholy alliance. Two in the circus yank chains and snap their whips for Pompeo to jump and perform, as he cites the Bible: "How high?"

The writer is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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