America Must Have an Enemy
  The United States is at war with a very different, mythic Islam of its own
making that has nothing at all to do with this Islam of the Qur’an. To make
sense of that conjured threat, scholarly studies of Islam or Islamic
movements are of no help at all. Even the examination of the real-world
history and practice of empire has limited value, unless the perceived
Islamic dimension is considered. The American imperial project cannot be
brought into clear view without assessment of the distinctive rationale that
the Islamist Imaginary provides. The task is not an easy one. The Islamist
Imaginary has no simple and unitary existence. Rather, it is a complex
amalgam that shapes both the delusions of empire and a conjured threat to
imperial power into a co-evolving composite. It is a “difficult whole,” in the
helpful language of complexity theory.

The Islamist Imaginary, unlike Islam itself and political movements of Islamic
inspiration, does not exist outside of the imperial interests that shape it. It
has no independent cultural or historical reality, outside its role as predatory
threat to Western global interests. The American empire, in turn, requires a
hostile and threatening enemy, which today takes the form of Islam of its
imagination, to realize and rationalize its expansionist project that must
remain unacknowledged and unspoken. The two elements of the imaginary
and empire co-evolve. The needs of a threatened empire as vulnerable
victim change over time. The Islamist Imaginary transforms itself to meet
those needs. Imaginary and empire circle one another in a dance of predator
and prey. Their roles are interchangeable, a clear sign that they are not
entirely real. The predator is prey; the prey is predator. They develop in
tandem in a complex process of mutual adaptation. Boundaries give way
between the real and the imagined. In the end it is the imagined that haunts
our imaginations and drives our policies.

The idea of the co-evolution of Islam and empire in the Islamist Imaginary is
not as strange as it might at first seem. Scholars know that the
entanglement of Islam and empire has an intricate chain of precedents.
Edward Said provided a useful starting point for analyzing these complex
linkages with his frequently quoted assertion that ours is an age of “many
Islams.” It is also the time of the singular American empire. He pointed out
that Islam and empire have an intricate history of connections.
America and Islam