Editorial: Is the Iraq war against Islam?
Last Wednesday, three Pakistani experts discussed the topic of “Is the Iraq war against Islam?” on a private Pakistani TV channel. While Pakistani-British Lord Nazir Ahmad and ex-ambassador S.M. Inamullah thought that it was not against Islam, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal-Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Hafiz Hussain Ahmad was convinced that it represented a general assault on Islam by the West. Hafiz Hussain Ahmad referred to the alleged blasphemers Salman Rushdie (British) and Taslima Nasreen (Bangladeshi) and said that they had been sheltered by the West out of enmity towards Islam. He also referred to the action taken against the Islamic state of Afghanistan and against “the innocent” Pakistanis who had been rounded up in Pakistan by the FBI simply because they were “Muslims helping other Muslims”. Ambassador Inamullah held that the West was not against Islam but certain Western policies could be construed by Muslims as being “anti-Islam”. Lord Nazir agreed with him but criticised the inconsistent anti-terrorist policies of his Labour government in London.
There is no dearth of opinion in Pakistan that the West, led by the United States, is targeting the “world of Islam”. The arguments go like this: states that have influence over international affairs are alleged to discriminate against Muslims when they go about “resolving” crises in different parts of the globe. On the top of this list is Palestine where the Muslims are believed to be suffering “only because they are not Jews”. A similar situation was allegedly created in the Balkans in the 1990s when the Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims were subjected to “genocide” while the “Christian” West simply stood aside and watched. The American president George W. Bush, instead of addressing the plight of the Muslims the world over, has now included two Muslim states, Iraq and Iran, in what he calls the “Axis of Evil”. Furthermore, the argument goes, the Kashmiri Muslims’ right to self-determination, as recognised by the United Nations, was ignored for half a century while the Christians of East Timor were “liberated” from Muslim Indonesia. In the recent past, America, with support from Europe, attacked Libya, Sudan and Iraq, all three Muslim states, and Islamic parties were prevented from coming to power or staying in power in Algeria and Turkey under pressure from the “Christian” West. Then there is Muslim Chechnya that has been crushed by “Christian” Russia while the West has looked on passively. In the United States and Europe, Islam has been designated by important scholars and defence officials as the “next” enemy of the West as led by the United States. Laws are also being framed to target Muslim immigrants to the United States and the European Union. In Pakistan, exclusively Islamic organisations are being targeted as “terrorist”, a trend that is growing across the Islamic world where governments are under pressure from the “Christian” West. Finally, “Christian” terrorism in Ireland and Spain is not treated at par with Muslim causes that are dubbed “terrorist” by the West.
This is a formidable list of “Muslim” grievances. But there are fallacies that must be nailed before confronting secular western governments on their double standards and policies of discrimination. In any critique of the West one must not ignore one’s supporters from within the West who object to the current American policies under President Bush. This refers to American and European “Christians” who come out on the streets in large numbers and give the lie to the “clash of civilisations” thesis propounded by some intellectuals of the West. But just as we Muslims see western civilisation divided over American policy, the West too is justified in seeing the Islamic civilisation divided over the monolithic pan-Islamic idea of one “religious nation” or “ummah”. Over the past 20 years, Islamic states have gone to war with one another as nation-states defending their self-interest, just as in the last century the “Christian” nations have fought world wars over theirs. What is happening is “realpolitik”, not a clash of civilisations.
Today’s scenario has to be tackled realistically by Muslims across the globe. Just because there is an “Islamic” upsurge in most Muslim societies doesn’t mean that the self-interest of the nation-state is no longer relevant. The “civilisational” labelling in the Islamic world has been caused by the limelight-grabbing ulema, but that doesn’t mean that these ulema, after coming to power, are likely to ignore the nation-state’s “national interest”. That’s why Iran’s religious ruling elite will not listen to the “Islamic” argument advanced by the Pakistani ulema as it moves forward to form a strategic relationship with “non-Muslim” India. That is why, despite offering tedious “America-centric” explanations about the behaviour of Islamic states on the eve of the attack on Iraq, the truth is that some Islamic states have actually offered military bases to the United States — even as they officially protest American policy — because they feel threatened more by “Islamic” Iraq than by the “Christian” United States.
The power of the United States is not based on its ability to mobilise “Christian” coercive power in a uni-polar world. It is essentially rooted in its secular economic and military ascendancy. That is why it is intellectually unsound to posit a “civilisational” conflict simply because the Islamic states lack political cohesion and cannot present a united political front. *