by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 12, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1425)
Two questions have preoccupied Muslims, especially in North America, since the destruction of Falluja and the slaughter of its people by US occupation forces: why the Western media have given so little attention to these atrocities, and why Muslim rulers (with rare exceptions) are silent about these crimes. Both questions are based on flawed assumptions: that the Western media are fair, and that Muslim rulers uphold the interests of Muslims.
Media outlets, like other institutions of state, are part of the system in which they operate. CNN, for instance, was not established to project Muslims’ points of view. The crimes perpetrated by US forces in Falluja, as elsewhere, have been reported by small leftist publications in different parts of the world. The internet has also helped to expose such crimes. Not only were thousands of people (including children as young as four years old) massacred in cold blood, but their bodies were then left to rot in the streets for stray dogs to devour. Thick smoke and the stench of death hung over the city for weeks. The Americans also attacked and destroyed hospitals, and deliberately killed doctors and nurses because they had exposed and publicised American crimes after the assault on Falluja last April, in which more than 800 civilians were butchered; this time they were taking no chances. Even medical-supply depots were destroyed, and soldiers were given orders not to take prisoners. Those seen with their hands up, or waving white flags to indicate that they were civilians who were surrendering, were also shot because they might be “suicide bombers”, in accordance with orders issued by American commanders.
Falluja is famous because its people have a history of refusing to submit to oppressors, and for its beautiful mosques; it is known as “the city of one thousand mosques”. The Americans, however, left not a single mosque undamaged. Even the famous Khulafa ar-Rashideen Mosque has been vandalised, and American troops walked over its rubble-strewn carpets in their boots; one can imagine the uproar had Muslims behaved so in even one church or synagogue anywhere in the world. The Americans also used banned chemical weapons– napalm and phosphorus bombs– and showered entire areas (even residential ones) with cluster-bombs. It needs repeating that it was the US that had accused Saddam Hussein of acquiring weapons of mass destruction and threatening world peace, to justify its invasion of Iraq. For weeks doctors and Red Cross teams were prevented from entering the city to help the wounded.
What has happened in Falluja is nothing new; similar massacres have been perpetrated in Iraq and elsewhere at other times by Western troops. Only a few months earlier, Najf and Karbala had been subjected to vicious attacks, killing hundreds of people and damaging mosques and shrines; likewise the entire invasion of Iraq was and remains illegal. Similarly, the Serbs’ massacre of 10,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995 is well documented. This was perpetrated in the presence of a Dutch contingent of UN ‘peacekeeping’ troops after the Bosnians had been assured of protection if they would surrender their weapons; an estimated 300,000 Bosnians were killed in the Serbian onslaught from1992 to 1995. Further back in history, Jerusalem was ransacked by the Crusaders in 1099 CE in a manner strikingly similar to Falluja. Christian historians have admitted that, after the fall of Jerusalem, its people were slaughtered so ruthlessly that the soldiers’ horses stood knee-deep in blood.
There are also many similarities between how Muslim rulers reacted then to the massacre of Jerusalem and how they are reacting to that of Falluja today. With the notable exception of Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei of Iran, not a single Muslim ruler has uttered a word of condemnation against the US’s crimes in Iraq. Indeed, as the massacre of Falluja was taking place, Arab rulers met for a conference in Sharm al-Shaikh, Egypt, on November 22-23 to consider the future of Iraq. There was not one single word of protest against the US-perpetrated massacres and other atrocities, such as the rapes of women in prisons; instead, Arab rulers voted unanimously to confer legitimacy on the US occupation and to endorse the forthcoming elections.
When the Crusaders arrived in Palestine in 1099, they found the Muslims divided, and therefore easy prey. Egypt was ruled by the Fatimids; in Baghdad a weak ruler, engrossed in the pleasures of life, deluded himself that he represented the Muslims of the world. He was not even the master of his own house, ruling at the pleasure of powerful sultans and generals. Neither the Fatimids of Egypt nor the Abbassid rulers in Baghdad cared what happened to Jerusalem or its inhabitants. It was Salahuddin Ayyubi, a Kurd from Northern Iraq, who persuaded some Muslim chiefs to follow him, and defeated others surrounding Palestine before going to confront the Crusaders; he liberated Jerusalem in 1187 CE.
Muslims today ask why their present-day rulers do not speak out against the atrocities being perpetrated against Muslims; they must first understand how Muslims have ended up in this sorry state. The Qur’ancalls the Muslims one Ummah (21:92), yet the Muslim world is divided into nation-states: a political construct totally alien to the ethos of Islam. The Prophet (saw) also emphasized that Muslims are like a single body; if one part is injured, the entire body feels the pain, he is reported to have said. Clearly, Muslims today are not acting like one body; otherwise the pain and suffering of the Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, Kashmiris or Chechens would not be so callously and casually overlooked.
The divisions in the Ummah can be traced back to the time when the khilafah was subverted into a mulukiyya by the Umayyads. Family and tribal interests superseded Islamic principles of brotherhood, yet many scholars in the Ummah rejected such subversion and refused to confer legitimacy on it. The concept of the Ummah remained strong; Muslim empires emerged but even they maintained a link, however tenuous, with the central authority, first in Baghdad and later in Istanbul under the Ottomans. It was at the beginning of the last century that British and French intrigue resulted in the total fragmentation of the Middle East. This was achieved partly by injecting the poison of nationalism into the body politic of Islam.
Two men in particular bear major responsibility for this subversion: Sharif Husain of Makkah (the Ottomans’ Arab governor in the Hijaz), and Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Najd. Both were on the payroll of the British, the first to undermine the Uthmaniyya khilafah in the Hijaz, the second to secure British interests in the interior of the Arabian Peninsula. The British secured Sharif Husain’s services by promising to make him the “king of all the Arabs” once the Turks had been expelled from Arabia. Abdul Aziz, a highway robber and thief who used to attack pilgrims’ caravans, was given free rein in the interior of Arabia and propped up as a rival to Sharif Husain, in case the latter became difficult to handle, because the British had no intention of fulfilling their promises to him.
The collapse of the Uthmaniyya khilafah led to terrible consequences for the Ummah; for the first time the by-then tenuous link with the first Islamic state (in Madinah) was completely severed, and Muslims started to think outside the framework of Islam. Also, it enabled the British to plant ‘Israel’ in Palestine by first dividing the Middle East into nation-states. Where none existed, such as in Jordan and the Arabia Peninsula, they were created and imposed on the Muslims. Arab nationalism replaced the khilafah – just as mulukiyya had done in the early days of Muslim history – and zionist nationalism was pitted against Arab nationalism, in which contest the latter lost completely. It might be asked why Arab and Palestinian nationalisms lost against zionist nationalism. Part of the reason is that nationalism is utterly alien to Islam, and the vast majority of Muslims have rejected it. The Muslims’ strength can be generated and accessed only through the power of Islam. This happened in the Battle of Badr, when the tribal power of the Quraishwas defeated despite the latter’s overwhelming superiority in weapons and numbers. This phenomenon has manifested itself repeatedly whenever Muslims have rallied under the banner of Islam.
Nationalism, a modern, large-scale form of tribalism, led to other adverse consequences in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world. A multiplicity of nationalisms – Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Syrian and so on – emerged, making Arab unity elusive. As David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, admitted in a moment of candor, the Arab regimes are Israel’s first line of defence. When it came to choosing between the Palestinians’ quest for a state and the “national interest” of any Arab state, Palestine always lost. This was also the basic error made by Yasser Arafat: he went for Palestinian nationalismrather than try to mobilize the Muslims of Palestine and elsewhere by means of Islam. Although nationalism seemingly enabled him to keep the issue of Palestine alive on the international scene, it brought him no closer to achieving his dream. He died a broken man, at the zionists’ mercy even in his death.
To return to the original question of why Muslim rulers and their regimes do not support or speak out in favour of the people of Iraq, the answer is because they give priority to their own “national interests”. Standing up for Iraq would require them to make sacrifices. This is not what they were created to do.
If Muslims are serious about solving their problems, then they must look beyond the immediate need: helping the people of Iraq with food and water will merely keep them alive. This is what happened when Muslims helped the people of Bosnia ten years ago; bread and medicines are no defence against guns and bullets. Apart from that, we Muslims need to reorder our house internally so that we can become immune from repeated attacks, defeats and humiliation. Only Islam offers the means to regenerate internal strength so that predatory powers are not tempted to attack. The clearest example of this was demonstrated in Lebanon: Hizbullah confronted the zionist army and defeated it, a feat that has not been achieved collectively by the armies of several Arab countries together (or even attempted). While the zionists threaten everyone else, they themselves dare not venture back into Lebanon again.
Muslims must learn to think in terms of the Ummah rather than the nation-state structure, in order to break out of the pathetic cycle of defeats and humiliations. These have been brought about because we swallowed the poison of nationalism, instead of rejecting it vigorously enough that not even a vestige of it should survive in our societies or institutions. It is only by reorienting our thinking and perceiving in accordance with the priorities of the deen that solutions to the myriad problems afflicting the Ummah can be found.
How to transform the Muslim nation-states dividing the Ummah into Islamic states is one of the most important challenges facing the Islamic movement today.