Thursday, December 2, 2010

Towards Understanding Islam in the Postcolonial World Order 4/5


by Taj Hashmi

Throughout history, most of the time, Muslims primarily fought among themselves; more Muslims than non-Muslims fell victim of Muslim wrath everywhere. The situation has remained the same; especially in the wake of the US- led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. They have wide-ranging problems of poverty, backwardness, bad governance, and above all, the crises of identity and integration into the modern world. Again, Muslims are not the only people reviving their faith during the last fifty-odd years; Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus have been on the same path to rebel against “secularist hegemony and started to wrest religion out of its marginal position and back to center stage”. We may agree with Karen Armstrong that no religion has so far been able to withstand changes over the last four hundred years in science and technology, philosophy and ideas, and socio-political and economic systems and structures.

 Religious revival is not just retrogressive but an attempt to cope with these changes and challenges of rationalism against myths and superstitions.[21] Again, the lines between “ethnic” and “religious” are too blurred to locate the real factors behind many conflicts.
The Muslim World and the West have been at loggerheads for centuries. During the 8th and 17th centuries, Muslim caliphates and empires had been the most formidable superpowers from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean World. Europeans in general either remained subserviently awe stricken by their Muslim hegemons or hell-bent to turn the table to their own advantage. One gets the reflection of this love-hate relationship in the corpus of European and Turco-Arabic literature, travel accounts and history. As Dante’s The Divine Comedy (written between 1308 and1321) is an epitome of hatred for Islam and its Prophet, so is Voltaire’s play, Fanaticism or Mahomet the Prophet (written in 1736). Hegel, Francis Bacon, Marx or Max Weber, among other Western scholars, had hardly any kind word for Islam either. Hegel and Marx through their discourse of “Oriental Despotism” portrayed the Orient, including the Muslim World, as inferior to the glamorous and enlightened West. The “Orientalists” only noticed despotism, splendour, cruelty and sensuality in the Muslim World to legitimize Western colonial hegemony in the orient.[22] British colonial rulers used expressions like “mad mullah” and “the noble savage” to undermine Muslim rebels and their followers in the Middle East and South Asia.[23]
Some Muslim leaders throughout history had been extremely prejudicial and discriminatory to their non-Muslim subjects and adopted oppressive policies against Jews, Christians and Hindus. The extermination of around a million Armenians by Turks in 1915-17 may be mentioned in this regard. Not only Muslim clerics and laymen but also sections of the intelligentsia and politicians glorify early and late medieval “Islamic Empires”. One just cannot ignore Europeans’ collective memories of subjugation of their ancestors under Muslim rule as an important factor to the growth of Islamophobia in the West. Similarly, one cannot deny the history of Western colonial rule of almost the entire Muslim World; and even worse, the postcolonial Western treatment of the Muslims in general and Arabs in particular as important factors in the promotion of Westophobia among Muslims. Only Turkey may be singled out as a Muslim-majority country, which ran a parallel and rival colonial empire in Eastern Europe, North Africa and Middle East for centuries. However, the loss of Turkey’s last vestiges of its empire soon after World War I sent two ominous signals to Muslims, especially in the Subcontinent: a) that while the Muslim World was under European (Christian) domination, Muslim supremacy and conquests of non-Muslim territories (often glorified by Muslim scholars and laymen) had become history; and b) that with the demise of the Ottoman caliphate, Indian Muslims had no one else to “help them out of British paramountcy”.
 We must not lose sight of the extra-territoriality of transnational “jihads”. Al Qaeda, Taliban and their likes not only fight for the “liberation” of Arabia, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir, but they also champion the cause of establishing an alternative Global Islamic Order. Islamists always claim to be the peace-loving champions of justice against injustice and freedom against (Western) hegemony. Very similar to Communism, Islam and Islamism promote transnational camaraderie and fraternity among their adherents. Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “formal declaration of jihad” against Soviet Union from Pakistan, and the decade-long US sponsorship of the Mujahideen refurbished their image as the greatest “freedom fighters” of all times. Lessons learnt in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 1980s should never be forgotten. Exploiting ethno-national and class conflicts, Islamist extremists have turned yester-years’ “freedom fighters” into transnational insurgents and terrorists today.
Islamism is a political ideology to regulate Muslims’ private and public affairs in accordance with Islamists’ version of the faith. Again, it is not all about violence and terrorism; there are Islamists who believe in peaceful and democratic means of establishing their version of the utopian “Islamic State”. Both terrorist and peace-loving Muslims converge on one point that it is Muslims who have been at the receiving end of Western prejudice and exploitation since the beginning of Western colonialism. Consequently it is essential that we know and empathize with the Muslim discourse of “What went wrong with the Muslim World?”, or in other words, “Is the West and its allies hell-bent on destroying Islam and Muslims?” This is not a new discourse; Muslim scholars, saints, poets and politicians have been posing these soul-searching questions for the last 200-odd years, from Egypt to Arabia and Afghanistan to India and Indonesia.[24]
 Islamism got a new lease of life in 1979. Two events that shook the world took place in that year: the Islamic Revolution of Iran and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Never before in history, leaders, scholars and analysts in the world took so much interest in Islam and Muslims as have they been taking since 1979. Since then, more Muslims than non-Muslims have fallen victim to Western and Islamist wrath and attacks. However, despite their differences and history of bloody conflicts between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, they often close ranks against the West. While the First Gulf War of 1991 agitated Muslims against West; US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after Nine-Eleven have simply antagonized most Muslims towards the West.
Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are critical of the invasions have never been sympathetic to the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. Islamist ideologues, who espouse the cause of “global jihad” against their Muslim and non-Muslim enemies, have benefitted most by exploiting the average Muslims’ hatred for postcolonial Western duplicities and hegemonic designs in the Muslim World. They love to hate anything Western, including pro-Western governments, leaders and culture. Paradoxically, some West-bashing Muslims also aspire for “Western-Style” democracy, justice and peace in the Muslim World. Since Nine-Eleven both the West and the Ummah in general are confused; and afraid of each other. By demonizing the “others”, Western and Muslim leaders, scholars and laymen justify the “inevitability” of the “Clash of Civilizations”. Muslim bewilderment and fear of Western retaliation against them led to the proliferation of denials and conspiracy theories after Nine-Eleven, which portray Jews and American government as the masterminds behind the attacks.
Source:  Wichaar
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