GOP presidential candidates fear-monger about the Middle East and Islam, yet know nothing about either

(This article is published in Salon.)

The Republican presidential candidates know virtually nothing about Islam or the Middle East, yet all they do is fearmonger about both.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the fourth GOP presidential debate, on Nov. 10. Islam was the bogeyman of the night.

Jeb Bush insisted that “Islamic terrorism” is “the biggest threat facing America today.” Marco Rubio warned listeners “We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe. There are radical jihadists in the Middle East beheading people and crucifying Christians. A radical Shia cleric in Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon.” Ben Carson maintained we are fighting “global jihadists, and their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life.”

The cornerstone of the GOP’s foreign policy is fear. And, although this fear may attract voters, it is based on blatant lies.

The most egregious of such lies came from Bush, who declared “If you’re a Christian, increasingly in Lebanon, … you’re going to be beheaded.” 41 percent of people in Lebanon are Christian. Where are the beheadings? When? Lebanon has problems with sectarianism, but not the violent extremist kind. In fact, it is a relatively democratic society, run on a unique system called confessionalism, that ensures proportional political representation from the country’s various religious groups.

The lies spread about ISIS were legion. ISIS is the perfect objet d’horreur — it is brutal and bloodthirsty, medieval and mysterious, an embodiment of orientalist tropes, a self-fulfilling prophecy brought about by the horrors of violent U.S. militarism. More importantly, Americans know virtually nothing about ISIS, so its threat can be exaggerated, inflated many times over, in order to coerce the public into supporting even more militaristic policies.

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