AS ALL wars are trade wars, all discriminatory acts against certain sections of the population anywhere in the world and their persecution on racial, religious and other grounds have been primarily motivated by economic and political reasons behind the façade of trumped-up causes and excuses. As Blacks in the US, until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were officially discriminated against due to certain undefined/unexplained reasons or excuses. The root of racism in America was economic. America needed cheap labour and slavery was the most convenient (albeit grossly unethical) means to have it. And, they needed a ‘rational explanation’ to justify the institution as late as the 1860s, to make it permanent or long-lasting. Thanks to the government-sponsored apartheid and justification of enslavement of the black people, the bulk of the ordinary white Americans believed in the inferiority of the black people as something designed by God, hence justifiable and necessary.
Even after the abolition of slavery and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, many white Americans still believe in white supremacy and marginalisation of all black and ‘coloured’ people. Muslims in general fall under these two categories. Thus, the discrimination against Muslims and public objection to their culture, religion, attire and food habit that exists today in the US and elsewhere in the west are legacies of old prejudices and practices. Thus, Islamophobia in the west is integral to the racist prejudice that has never totally died out in the psyche of many white people. It is no exaggeration that in 2016 white supremacists voted Trump to power as they believed they had ‘lost America’ to a black man, Barack Obama. White supremacist voters were almost going to re-elect him in 2020. In sum, white supremacy and Islamophobia in America, and as a whole in the west, are the two sides of the same coin.
Unlike France Islamophobia, Islamophobia in the US, Britain, Germany, and elsewhere in the western world is quite subtle and is reflected mainly in their foreign policies. I single out France as the exception in this regard. In the name of promoting the freedom of expression, the Macron administration defended the Charlie Hebdo cartoon lampooning Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), because it knew the rich dividend the cartoon would bring to the administration. As expected, zealous and fanatical Muslims reacted violently against the cartoonist and the French government. One of them brutally beheaded the cartoonist. The beheading of the cartoonist once again convinces people that Muslims adhere to a violent faith and that it’s time to retaliate against Muslims. This sentiment further justifies the virtual French occupation of Muslim-majority countries like Chad, Mali and Niger.
French president Emmanuel Macron publicly asserts Islam is ‘a religion that is in crisis all over the world’, and tweets, ‘We will not give in, ever’. France has also been killing Muslims in Chad and Mali, in the name of countering Islamist terrorism, and in reality, to control their mineral resources. Angela Charlton explains why France, in particular, has incited so much Muslim anger, while almost all western countries are more or less discriminatory against Muslims and foment Islamophobia. She attributes it to the country’s ‘brutal colonial past’, ‘staunch secular policies’, and the ‘tough-talking president who is seen as insensitive towards the Muslim faith’. The main reason why Muslims are so angry with France is that a nation of 67 million having five million Muslims, it marginalises and ghettoises its Muslim population. The offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Macron’s irresponsible Islamophobic assertions and his tacit support of the cartoons added fuel to the fire of Muslim anger (Angela Charlton, ‘Why France incites such anger in Muslim world’, AP, October 31, 2020). Quite ludicrously, Macron has also asserted that secularism has never killed anybody! Meanwhile, some Muslim fanatics killed several non-Muslims in France and Austria.
As what France did to its Muslim-majority colonies in Africa, so what it is still doing in some of its former colonies in West Africa is disgusting! France killed around 1.5 million in Algeria under its colonial occupation. It’s unbelievable but true that in the early 1920s, a French soldier sent a postcard bearing a picture of severed heads of ‘rebels’ (freedom fighters) in Morocco. The French prejudice against Muslims is far from dying out today. French National Front leader Marie Le Pen has recently asked for the re-introduction of the death penalty in France, to punish non-white and Muslim criminals. Currently, there are more than 5,000 French troops in Mali, Niger, and Chad, engaged in ‘Operation Barkhane’ in the name of combatting jihadist groups, which is the largest French overseas military operation since the Algerian War in the 1950s–1960s. However, the French excuse for its military operations in West Africa is ‘protection of local and regional political order, good governance, and long-term stability’ of the region. The reality is somewhat very different. As French troops defended one of the worst dictatorial regimes in Africa, the one run by Mobutu in Zaire (1965–1997), they have been defending the various dictatorships in Chad since the 1960s. In 1986, French troops fought against the Libyan-backed rebels in Chad. In the name of stabilising African political orders, France has been promoting its own business interests, including mining in Mali and adjoining countries. Last but not least, the French government’s singling out Islam and Muslims as security threats to France is nothing but a clever ploy to justify its military interventions in Muslim-majority West Africa.
Without responding to Macron’s grossly prejudicial and ‘uninformed’ comments about Islam as a ‘religion in crisis’ and secularism not being ‘ever responsible’ for any killing in history, one may remind the president that from the French Revolution to the Napoleonic wars, French people alone killed tens of thousands of people in France, Russia and elsewhere in Europe in just two decades following the Revolution. And, those killings had everything to do with secular revolutionary and imperialist warfare, nothing to do with any religion! He should be told on his face that almost all devastating wars throughout history — from World War I to Vietnam War, and the western invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria — were fought in the name of freedom, democracy and empires. In sum, although Islamist terrorism today in 2020 is around thirty-year-old, Islamophobia in the west predates the Crusades. However, there was a dissipation in western hate and hostility to everything Islamic or Muslim after World War I. One may impute this change in western strategic thinking to the emergence of communist Russia as the most formidable challenge to western hegemony and capitalism. However, as discussed above, the dissipation of Islamophobia in the west during the Cold War was just the lull before the storm. Last but not least, it’s evident now that Islamophobia in the west is all about winning as many trade wars as possible. Nothing could be more profitable than selling weapons among allies and enemies to fight their common enemy: ‘Islamist Extremism’.
A little elaboration of the ambivalence of the west towards the Muslim world during the Cold War helps us to understand the west’s love-hate relationship with Muslims. On the one hand, the west promoted, armed, and protected select Muslim-majority countries, such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Arab kingdoms against communism; and on the other, helped the Zionists to get their ‘promised land’ (Israel) in Palestine in 1948. It also staged anti-people coup d’états in Syria (1949), Iran (1953), invaded Egypt in 1956 after president Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal and destabilised the entire Muslim world. The process of destabilisation, regime change and literal annihilation of millions of Muslims in the Muslim world has been an ongoing process since the end of World War I. Consequently, the west forced several Muslim-majority countries, from Algeria to Egypt, Libya to Sudan, and Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Indonesia (up to 1965) to join the anti-western camps. However, the process was reversed through western manipulation. The west succeeded in installing several friendly, autocratic regimes in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, and later Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Islamism has remained as the main alternative political ideology to challenge these regimes and their mentors in the west. In short, for centuries the west and Muslims have had love-hate relationships. Unfortunately, since the end of the Cold War, Islamophobia and Islamism have been the main ideologies that nurture mutual hate and mistrust among non-Muslims and Muslims across the board. Both of them seem to have hit the cul-de-sac bypassing the streets of tolerance, mutual respect and mutual trust.
As mentioned above, paradoxically, the west promoted Sunni Islamist extremists against the Soviet Union during the last decade of the Cold War (1980–1990), and when it was convenient and useful to cut them down, it did it with surgical precision in the wake of the Cold War. And, as also mentioned above, the west conveniently and frequently provokes Muslims by denigrating their religion and Prophet to incite sections of ignorant, zealous, and fanatical Muslims to make them run amok, resorting to terrorism so that it could justify its neo-imperialist invasions of resource-rich and strategic parts of the Muslim world. A new trick to win age-old trade wars. We may cite multiple examples of western duplicity in nurturing and crushing Islamist terror and militancy since the dawn of the Cold War in 1945. Examples abound.
During 1945 and 1990, the west in general favoured Sunni Islamist terror and extremism, more so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 to defeat its communist adversary. The catalogue of American and western interventions in the Muslim League since the end of World War I is pretty long. Even during the war, with a view to getting Arab support for the Anglo-French allies against Turkey, British and French governments played very dubious role in the Arab world by making false promises and deceptive agreements with Arab rulers. On the one hand, the Anglo-French imperialists promised King Sharif Hussein of Hijaz that for his support for their war efforts, he would become the King of entire Arab lands after the war. But in 1917, the British foreign minister Lord Balfour declared that his majesty’s government would create a Jewish state in Palestine. We know how the Anglo-French imperialists divided the Arab world into artificial states like Jordan and Lebanon out of greater Syria, to serve their long-term interests to control the strategically important Suez Canal and the entire region. The western imperialists also controlled Iran and neutralised Turkey after World War I. Soon after the end of World War II, a new overlord entered the arena of world politics. It was the United States of America, which was equally vile, vicious and treacherous for the Muslim world. The US, which was also one of the main proponents of democracy and freedom, toppled so many democracies in the Muslim world and beyond. The Anglo-American-French methods of controlling the world were slightly different in the post-World War II era. Since so many Afro-American countries had been decolonised after 1945, instead of directly controlling the former western colonies through physical occupation, western neo-colonial methods were slightly different, albeit as vicious and exploitative as before. They were outright terroristic by any definition of the expression. In 1949, CIA toppled the democratically elected government of president Shukri al Quwatly in Syria, by staging a military coup by a Syrian officer, known as the ‘American Boy’. In 1953, the Eisenhower administration staged another coup in Iran and removed democratically elected prime minister Dr Mosaddeq, only because he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (presently known as BP or British Petroleum). It’s noteworthy that with a view to overthrowing the democratically elected Mosaddeq government of Iran, who nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the Eisenhower administration bribed (the Shiite) Ayatollah Kashani to wage a violent protest against Mosaddeq, which eventually followed by a military coup that toppled his government.
In Egypt, the west also used the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, albeit in vain, to overthrow the nationalist government of president Nasser, who in 1956 nationalised the Suez Canal, jointly owned by Britain and France. The western use of Islamist fanatic jihadists was unparalleled in history. During the Afghan ‘jihad’ against the Soviet Union in 1979–1989, the west used Islamist radicals in Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan. Contrary to the popular perception, not any Muslim leader but Zbigniew Brzezinski, president Carter’s Polish-American national security advisor, who sporting a turban and brandishing a sword in early 1980 at Peshawar (Pakistan) formally declared America’s ‘jihad’ against the Soviet Union. America was so enamoured by the mujahedeen that president Reagan invited their top leaders for coffee at his Oval Office in the White House. He also compared them with the founding fathers of the United States. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in early 1990, while sections of the fractured mujahedeen turned into warlords and eventually the Islamist obscurantist Taliban emerged out of them to terrorise Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan for several years, the west just turned a blind eye to all the Islamist terrorism and anarchy in a distant part of the world, until 9/11. As we know, the rest is history.
The history of western military intervention in Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan, which isn’t yet over completely, is a dark chapter in world history. The west, which was mainly responsible for the creation of the Taliban and the various factions of the ethno-religious mujahedeen groups in and around Afghanistan, later had a disastrous fallout across the Muslim world and beyond, from Mindanao in the Philippines to eastern Thailand, and from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and India to Pakistan, and from Central Asia to the Middle East, North Africa, central and western Africa, Europe, North America, and beyond. Interestingly, in the post-9/11 world, the west in general, and the US, in particular, have been untiringly denigrating Islam as the fountainhead of terrorism, and demonising the Muslims in general as the foot soldiers of Islamist terror and anarchy. As if every Muslim is a potential supporter of al Qaeda, Taliban, and the elusive ISIS.
To be continued.
Dr Taj Hashmi is an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Austin Peay State University in the United States. He is a historian, author, and analyst of global current affairs.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion