by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 12, Muharram, 1429)
Muslims today find themselves facing a curious paradox. While some Muslims are involved in intense struggles to throw off the yoke of foreign domination and oppression - in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance -others in these very societies and elsewhere are busy facilitating the re-colonization of the Muslim world. Where Muslims have resisted, they have achieved notable successes. Hizbullah has repeatedly defeated Israel, and the resistance movements in Iraq and Afghanistan have at least prevented Western armies from achieving victories; the British have been driven out of Basra and the US faces imminent defeat in the rest of Iraq. But instead of being inspired by these successes in those parts of the world where Muslims face the greatest challenges, large parts of the Muslim world - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, to name a few - are all being re-colonized with the connivance of their ruling elites and without effective resistance from local Muslims.
Last month, US president George Bush made a highly publicized tour of the Middle East, his first visit to the region except for brief trips to Baghdad. His main message was to invoke the supposed threat posed by Iran, a message politely received by his hosts but mocked by virtually everyone else, as most people in the region regard the US and Israel as their real enemies. Bush, however, was welcomed as a visiting overlord by governments everywhere he went. He even had the temerity to tell the Saudis that high oil prices were hurting the US economy. If he were serious about the well-being of America’s economy or its impact on ordinary people, he could stop the economic haemorrhage by ending the disastrous war in Iraq, which has already cost $1 trillion ($2 trillion if payments to crippled soldiers and the families of those killed are included). He could also save a fortune if he were to advise the profligate Americans to consume one gallon of petrol a day less. But that would go against the rapacious lifestyle to which most Americans are accustomed, so instead he orders the Saudis to pump more oil to feed the Great Satan’s insatiable appetite.
But how does one explain the contradictory positions adopted by various players in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine: resistance on the one hand and collaboration with the enemy on the other? Despite the fact that resistance forces in Iraq have wasted considerable effort and resources on murderous operations against other local Muslims, when it has turned its attention to the US occupation, it has effectively destroyed America’s myth as an invincible superpower. At the end of the twentieth century, after the fall of the Soviet Union, America’s right wing ideologues, better known as the neo-conservatives (neo-cons for short), proclaimed that the twenty-first century would be the “American century”. In 2000, there was no power to rival its military might and none would be allowed to emerge, friend or foe; such was the Americans’ arrogance. The retreat of the Taliban from Kabul in November 2001, followed by the defeat of the Iraqi Ba‘athists, inflated the war-mongers’ egos. Everyone was expected to worship the new god, America. “You are either with us, or against us,” declared Bush arrogantly on September 11, 2001. Few wanted to get in the way of a superpower running rampant; but perhaps ordinary Afghans and Iraqis were given little choice. The Taliban may have been driven out of Kabul by the US’s firepower, but they had other, more subtle resources at their disposal as they spread into the countryside to mobilize the Afghan people, with evident success. Today, the US and Britain are secretly approaching Taliban leaders in the hope of negotiating a face-saving deal.
Western leaders are fond of telling Muslims that we must choose between “extremism” and “moderation”, and that these two trends are fighting for dominance in the Muslim world.
A similar situation exists in Iraq. In the last year, the US has spent billions of dollars to persuade Sunni tribal and other leaders to support them against the resistance, with some success, but the conflict in Iraq is far from over. It is bound to continue, in one form or another, as long as the US remains in the country, and it is clear from the US’s strategy that that is intended to be a very long time. While international attention has focused on the continuing fighting, the US has built huge permanent military bases and a massive embassy that is fortified to withstand a nuclear attack, all facilitated by an Iraqi government that claims to represent the Shi‘a majority. Since when has the US become a friend of the Muslims - Shi‘as or Sunnis? The same depressing situation exists in Lebanon and Palestine. While Hizbullah has successfully defeated the zionist army, most recently in the 34-day invasion in July and August 2006, the Lebanese government continues to collaborate with the US, Israel’s principal backer. It is not different in Palestine, where Hamas, the Palestinians’ main Islamic movement, is striving to maintain some semblance of dignity for the Palestinians in the face of unspeakable brutalities, while the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas and his cohorts, is busy selling them out.
Western leaders are fond of telling Muslims that we must choose between “extremism” and “moderation”, and that these two trends are fighting for dominance in the Muslim world. But the real choice Muslim face is between two opposing approaches to survival in the modern world already being demonstrated by Muslims in different parts of the Ummah: dignity and honour through struggle and sacrifice, and humiliation and subservience through acceptance of the overlordship of the West. The future of the Ummah - a quarter of the world’s population - will depend on which approach Muslims decide to follow.