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by Mushahid Hussain, Asia Times Online

8:00 a.m. January 15, 2001 PDT

If the Muslim world now fears the military might of the United States and its allies, such as Russia, Israel and even India, it has largely itself to blame for this retreat.

ISLAMABAD — The past year, highlighted by the war in Afghanistan, has made one fact of international politics evident—the emergence of religion as a principal factor shaping perceptions and influencing foreign policy.

Islam, and nations and peoples belonging to this faith, are increasingly perceived as part of a "problem" that theorists and ideologues in the West now say should be combated, contained or crushed with military might.

The US magazine Newsweek recently carried two essays in this regard. Samuel Huntington, the architect of the 1993 thesis regarding an impending and inevitable clash of civilizations, now talks of "The Age of Muslim Wars."

Fareed Zakaria, an Indian-American writer for the magazine, has likened "radical political Islam" to an "army over which military victory is indeed essential."

Despite professions to the contrary, the actions of Western countries, particularly the United States, are pointers to this perception of Islam or Muslims as being a part of the problem.

This view is not new. It first surfaced after several key events in 1979, events that will surely rank with 1971 (the US rapprochement with China), 1989 (the collapse of communism and the demolition of the Berlin Wall) and 1998 (the nuclearization of South Asia) as landmark years in the second half of the 20th Century.

The revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to stave off what seemed a certain victory of the Muslim mujahideen over the Marxists and an orchestrated campaign against what was called Pakistan's "Islamic Bomb" helped create an atmosphere of a coming conflict, or at least an adversarial relationship, between Muslims and their former mentors in the West.

The year 1979 saw a sea change in the Middle East as well. The Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel were brokered by the United States, and in November that year, soon after American diplomats were taken hostage at their embassy in Tehran, there was a takeover of the Holy Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and the dissidents were later forcibly evicted.

In short, it was a year of upheaval in the Muslim world, with Islam seen as a political factor for mobilizing Muslims and changing the status quo.

That same year saw the establishment of America's Rapid Deployment Force, concentrated in the Gulf and larger Muslim world. The force was a forerunner of the Central Command that covers the region from Morocco to Pakistan, and is the staging army for the campaign in Afghanistan.

The past year has been a landmark year too, where Islam and Muslims are at the center stage of international politics. This new development needs to be examined in three broad contexts.

First, the American war against terrorism has so far targeted terrorists who happen to be Muslims, even those groups who have not directly damaged or attacked American lives, property or interests, such as the Chechnya resistance or the Lashkar-e-Toiba (Soldiers of God) in Kashmir.

The Tamil Tigers, the Irish Republican Army and the Basque separatists in Spain are exempt from these pressures and policies emanating from Washington and its allies.

Second, even key Muslim allies in the American-led coalition are not fully trusted, although they may be cooperating, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and even Turkey.

There have been repeated allegations of covert Pakistani assistance to the Taliban even after Pakistan joined the coalition, or fears projected in the media of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal "falling into the hands of the fundamentalists."

Similar complaints of non-cooperation continue to be voiced about Saudi Arabia, while Turkey, which opposes any American attack on the possible next target, Iraq, has been denied even candidate status for membership in the European Union.

This is notwithstanding Turkey's support of the American war effort in Afghanistan, including sending 90 specialists in guerrilla warfare to help train the Northern Alliance troops of General Rashid Dostum, who came out of his exile in Istanbul to fight the Taliban.

Third, despite labels like "armed doctrine" to "radical political Islam," the fact remains that a loosely-defined anti-Westernism links together "radical political Islam," which is stateless and not represented or promoted by any Muslim state, unlike the anti-Westernism of Nasser's Egypt, Khadafy's Libya or Khomeini's Iran.

Even Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network have not been linked by the Americans to any state, not even Iraq, and its financial or other support is similar to the fund-raising efforts of the IRA in the United States or the Tamil Tigers in Europe.

Before the West or the United States get locked in another exercise in futility, combating demons in the Muslim world conjured up by ideologues searching hard for a new enemy, it would be worth their while to see the facts and the causes of unrest.

If the West now is apparently confident it can overwhelm any resistance in the Muslim world through its military might—the fear of which has been inculcated among Muslim rulers and regimes after the Taliban's decimation—what of the Muslim world itself?

It is not just intellectuals in the West who have started devising strategies to combat radical political Islam by labeling it an armed doctrine, thereby treating it worthy of a military adversary to be routed through superior military power rather than engaging in dialogue or examining the causes of instability or violence.

Surely, the causes of violence in Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya cannot be lumped under the currently favored generic title of terrorism. Instead, the main issue is occupation that has been repeatedly rejected by the populace of these areas.

If the Muslim world now fears the military might of the United States and its allies, such as Russia, Israel and even India, it has largely itself to blame for this retreat. This is because its hallmarks are impotence and the inability even to take a stand on issues concerning Islam and the Muslims, let alone acting in unison.

After the Ramadan War of 1973, where the Muslim world acted with a lot of spine, initiating an oil embargo against Western supporters of Israel after Egypt's spectacular crossing of the Suez Canal and successful storming of the Barlev Line in Sinai, actions cemented at the Lahore Islamic Summit in April 1974. There, the Palestine Liberation Organization was first recognized as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."

But self-inflicted wounds such as the Iraqi invasion of Iran to quell an indigenous revolution that threatened the regional status quo, followed by another Iraqi invasion, this time of Kuwait, ensured that Muslims were bogged down in wars against each other. Increasingly, their strength was dissipated and their dependence on distant godfathers increased.

An arrogance of power, a rigidity bordering on stupidity, and an inability to understand the dynamics of global politics, all attributable to policies of Muslim regimes, ensured an outcome detrimental to Muslim interests. Countries and causes became isolated, the latest being the example of the Taliban.

If the lessons of 2001 are to be correctly understood, Muslim countries facing pressures are on their own, as Pakistan has discovered since the December 13 attack on the Indian parliament, which New Delhi says is linked to Pakistani groups.

For additional information, please visit the Asia Times Online.

Article copyright © Mushahid Hussain, Asia Times Online; all rights reserved
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Terrorism, the Future, and US Foreign Policy (FindLaw.com; pdf file)

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