The skull and crossbones that used to wave over the waters of the Caribbean, or the cavalry that charged across Red Indian territory has now changed to the Stars and Stripes waving over the Persian Gulf. The colours may have changed, but the motives and the psychology remain identical: the United States of America is a bandit State that flouts international law and – nine out of ten times – gets away with it.
Flanked with NATO countries and US bases in the Gulf States and Arabia and by US client-states such as Pakistan , and the seas patrolled non-stop by the Sixth Fleet, the US is free to engage in acts of destruction with total impunity. President Bush warned to launch a “crusade”, awakening memories of medieval Christian Europe’s bloody campaign to capture the holy city of Jerusalem. Usama bin Laden was accused within one hour of the attack, when Boeings, transformed into missiles, slammed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. After years of vilifying and demonising him, Afghanistan and Muslims, “smoking them out of their holes…dead or alive” was a matter of course. Whether they are innocent or guilty did not matter.
On numerous occasions, policy-makers and and politicians in the West, particularly the United States, have exploited this stereotype of bloodthirsty Muslim tyrants and despots to advance self-serving foreign policy objectives. In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis, for instance, they used all the major American television networks and newspapers to whip up mass hysteria against ‘militant’ Islam, the Shi’ite, Khomeini, the Mullahs, purdah and so on. Thirteen years later, following the 1993 bomb blast at the World Trade Centre in New York, and now yet again, one hears the strident shriek about Islamic ‘terrorism’ and Islamic ‘fundamentalism.’
In spite of the flimsiest of evidence, American investigators, and more so the American media, have concluded that the attack was the work of .the Islamic ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘terrorist’,Usama bin Laden. Though there are solid theories implicating a host of groups such as U.S.-based right-wing militants, Mossad, anti-globalisation factions, etc. – the US establishment has decided to put the blame on Muslims. And, as the American writer Jane Hunter points out, “..in a society with very little understanding of the Middle East, there is a danger that all Arabs and Muslims will be stigmatised.”
Remarks by President George Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defence Minister Rumsfield, despite assurances to the Muslims that this was not a war against Islam, included references to a “crusade” and the “civilised world”, the “free world” and “democracy” being attacked by the “evil ones”. If the West is waging a crusade are we to compare it with the one Europe waged against Islam 10 centuries ago? If the West is the civilised world, are the Muslims savages? If democracy and freedom in the West is under attack, why is the US sponsoring and protecting a bunch of despotic regimes across the Muslim region against the wishes of the people who are struggling for democracy and freedom?
Why, one may ask, are Muslims vilified in this manner? Part of the explanation lies in the Muslim conquest and occupation of parts of Western, Southern and Eastern Europe for long centuries. The infamous crusades which ended in defeat for the Christian invaders of Arab-Muslim lands in West Asia also heightened European antagonism towards Islam and its followers. During the colonial period of the 19/20th centuries Muslim groups were among the fiercest opponents of alien subjugation. This, in a sense, is at the root of contemporary Western antagonism toward Islam and Muslims.
Muslim societies are discovering that they are once again targets of new forms of Western domination and control. This is primarily because most of the world’s oil reserves -the lifeblood of Western industrial civilisation-lie beneath Muslim feet. Controlling Muslim oil has been a fundamental goal of US policy for at least the last 4 decades. Anyone who dares to resist American control, or worse challenges its hegemony, is at once branded ‘extremist’, a ‘radical’, a ‘terrorist’ ,or simply ‘a threat to peace and stability.’
This was the fate of the Iranian , Iraqi, Libyan and Sudanese leaderships, ever since they gained control of their oil from the early seventies. Whatever the ideological orientations of these leaderships – and indeed each one relates to Islam in a different way – the West has decided that they are all Muslim militants and sponsors of terrorism.
Zionism has played a major part in the demonisation and disparagement of Islam, becoming more intense since the creation of Israel in 1948. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin declared, “We stand first today in the line of fire against the danger of extremist Islam”. With their disproportionate influence over Western media, the Zionists have sought to depict Islam as a militant faith and Muslims as individuals prone to violence.
Ariel Sharon told Powell, “Everyone has their bin Laden … and ours is called Yasser Arafat.” Within hours of the attack, Ehud Barak in London and Shimon Peres on US television were opportunistically denouncing Muslim “terrorists”. Israel’s Defence Minister ben Elezier stated that not even a thousand diplomats could have promoted the case for Israel as did the bombing. By portraying Islam in such a derogatory light, all movements that resist Israeli occupation and subjugation -the real freedom fighters- are invariably described in mainstream Western media as “terrorists”.
Indeed, Islam is rapidly emerging as the ideological rallying point for Muslims everywhere as they aspire for genuine liberation from the fetters of both local despotism and global authoritarianism. Given the prevailing perceptions of Islam in the West, one can expect the political elites to respond to Islamic resurgence with more antagonism. As the American Christian scholar Karen Armstrong put it, in her analysis of Western-Muslim relations, “We in the West must come to terms with our own inner demons of prejudice, chauvinism, and anxiety, and strive for a greater objectivity”.
In the process, one hopes that the West will realise that if there is to be genuine peace and harmony between the West and Islam – and within the human family as a whole- those structures that allow the few who are powerful to dominate the many who are powerless would have to be replaced by new institutions that promote equality and justice for all.
(Mr. Firoz Osman is Secretary of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)