restricted access 5. Fear of a Brown Planet: Pan-Islamism, Black Nationalism, and the Tribal Twenties
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5 Fear of a Brown Planet Pan-Islamism, Black Nationalism, and the Tribal Twenties Nathaniel Deutsch On March 1, 1961, Malcolm X, then the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, delivered a broadcast from the organization’s Mosque #7 in New York City in which he condemned Christianity for creating a slave mentality among African Americans. Rather than citing the teachings of Elijah Muhammad , the Nation’s prophet and longtime leader, however, Malcolm X invoked a different source for his critique of Christianity: Lothrop Stoddard, whom he described as a “noted white scientist [who] explains how the black man, when Christianized, becomes docile towards his masters, and is more inclined to looktowardthewhitemanforhiseducation,evenfood,clothingandshelter.”1 Bytheearly1960sLothropStoddard(1883–1950)hadlargelydisappeared frompublicdiscourse,butduringthe1920s—a nativist period that the AmericanhistorianJohnHighamevocativelydubbed “theTribalTwenties”—Stoddard was, in the words of Jonathan Spiro, “the second most influential racist in the country,” only surpassed by his mentor Madison Grant, author of The Passing of the Great Race (Spiro 2009: 172). Indeed, at his height, Stoddard wassonotoriousthatheeveninspiredafictionalcharacternamedGoddard— parodied as the author of a racist tome called TheRise of Coloured Empires—in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. Howdidoneof America’smostprominentandprolificwhiteracistsduring the1920sbecometransformedinto“anotedwhitescientist”andkeysourceof knowledge for the country’s best known and most influential African American Muslim during the 1960s? At first glance, the very question may provoke cognitive dissonance. And yet, as I argue in this essay, its answer is embedded within a complex historical narrative that not only links the emergence of the NationofIslam’sideologyinthe1930stoAmericanintellectualdevelopments· 92 · Pan-Islamism, Black Nationalism, and the Tribal Twenties · 93 of the 1920s but also links both phenomena in the United States to a wider— indeed, global—network of intellectual encounters between European and Euro-American racist thinkers and the founding theorists of the Pan-Islamic, Pan-Asian, and Pan-African movements. The resulting portrait is one in which American intellectuals who engaged with Islam during the 1920s cease to appear as isolated figures with little connection to broader intellectual currents within the Islamic world or Europe and, instead, are revealed as profoundly imbricated in a series of transnational conversations concerning the history, present, and future of Islam, including its ongoing relationship to race. Against this backdrop, Malcolm X’s invocation of Lothrop Stoddard—who, among his many works, published The New World of Islam in 1921—should not be seen as idiosyncratic but, rather, as emblematic of a history of intellectual cross-pollination between modern Islamic and non-Islamic thinkers extending back to the middle of the nineteenth century. European Orientalism and the Rise of Pan-Islamism In a brilliant study of the genesis of Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian thought—and theireventualintersection—CemilAydinhasarguedthatEuropeanOrientalism and Pan-Islamism developed dialectically in two distinctive phases over the course of the nineteenth century. During the first phase, which lasted through the middle of the century, conservative Orientalists asserted the cultural and racial superiority of Europe over the rest of the globe, including its proximate rival, the Ottoman Empire, but they did not yet frame their approach in the scientifically racist terms that would dominate in the postDarwinian era. In response, Ottoman intellectuals were initially nonplussed for two reasons: “First, the Ottomans viewed themselves as belonging to the Caucasianraceandthuswerenotoffendedbyracistperceptionsofthenatives in Australia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Second, they could rely on the universalism of the Islamic tradition to embrace and modify Enlightenment universalism . The Muslim leaders of the Ottoman state thus believed they should encounter no religious, cultural, or racial obstacles to being as civilized as the Europeans, as long as they completed a set of reforms that would allow them to reach a higher level on the universal ladder of progress” (Aydin 2007: 22). Thus Ottoman intellectuals initially saw themselves as natural collaborators in a civilizational project rooted in a shared heritage—rather than essential conflict—between Christian Europe and the Muslim Ottoman Empire . Significantly, the identification of Ottoman elites with this project was 94 · Nathaniel Deutsch grounded, in part, in an assertion of racial solidarity with Europeans over and against supposedly less civilized peoples in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, and elsewhere. As Aydin has noted (drawing on essays published by Ottoman intellectuals during the 1860s): “Muslim intellectuals could accept that the Caucasian race was unique in terms of its high intellectual capacity and contribution to civilization, as long as they could count the Turks and Arabs as belonging to this superior Caucasian race. Hence some Muslim intellectuals even contended that the black race, ‘by its very nature and creation, was not capable...