This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Monday, 26 November 2012
The Crooked Road: The Crusades to Radical Islam
1. This post reflects my own – admittedly incomplete – knowledge of the history of West Asia and North Africa, and does not necessarily square with historical factuality. If anyone cares to correct me, with sources, he or she is more than welcome to do so.
2. I detest the term “Middle East”, for many reasons, some of which are as follows:
i. It reflects an utterly West-centric viewpoint, where everything is “eastern”, be it “middle” or “far”. This West-centric viewpoint is far from harmless, since it puts the observer in what he assumes to be the centre, where everything that happens in the periphery is only of marginal interest.
ii. For most of the people of the world, who live in Asia and Africa, the term is geographically misleading, because to us, for instance, the so-called Middle East is to the west, and from our viewpoint, the “Middle East” would be somewhere in the vicinity of Fiji.
iii. It lumps together people of multiple, and quite different, ethnicities, cultures and religions, in one undifferentiated mass, and assumes, almost as a corollary, that since they all live in the same area, they have the same problems and the same solutions.
Therefore, I shall, as always, use the terms “West Asia” and “North Africa” as being both geographically accurate and without these abovementioned inaccuracies and pitfalls.
3. I am, as always, in no way responsible for dissensions, fights and quarrels that may break out over the interpretation of this post and responses thereof.
Now, if we are to have even a rudimentary understanding of the dynamics of West Asia and North Africa today, some knowledge of the Crusades is absolutely essential. There’s a reason why people of West Asia – be they Muslim or Christian – absolutely hate the Crusades, and any Western European who knows what the term actually denotes should hate it as well.
These Crusades, so-called, were in reality nothing different from a Christian jihad; and not just a Christian jihad, but a Christian jihad of the Wah’abi/Taliban variety, ignorant, intolerant and morally bankrupt to the core. They were evil on various levels:
1. Far from being a justified attempt to “reclaim” the so-called Holy Land (modern day Palestine), they were little more than armed robbery expeditions as far as the vast majority of the nobles and knights going on them were concerned. Their primary objective was loot, and they let nothing come in their way.
2. These Crusades were as destructive to the West as they were to the people who were their victims. They pulled the labourer and the farmer from their work, fired them with primitive holy enthusiasm, and sent them off as sword-fodder to the war, while the ecclesiastics and the nobility grew fat on their blood and sweat. There was the Children’s Crusade, where kids were asked to volunteer to liberate the Holy Land and then calmly sold into slavery.
3. These Crusades were often devoted to the destruction of Christian civilisations, for instance the sacking and looting of Christian Byzantium, or the mass murder of the Cathar sect in France. They were about as far from a “defence” of Christianity as can be imagined.
4. The Crusaders were worse barbarians than the so-called barbarians. They destroyed civilisations so far above their primitive minds that they couldn’t even begin to comprehend their greatness.
In order to understand what I mean by that, I suppose I should explain that in the tenth and eleventh centuries, Islam was the most modern religion in the world, and probably the most modern religion the world had ever seen. The Islamic world was vibrant with scientific and mathematical knowledge and research, centred around the two great Caliphates of Baghdad and Cordoba. At the same time as the Western Europeans were murdering people for daring to wonder if the earth revolved round the sun, or if the Bible was perhaps not necessarily historically accurate, the Muslim world was inventing algebra, pursuing medicine so advanced the textbooks were still being used in the eighteenth century, and investigating astronomy. All this flowering of civilisation, which far anticipated the European Renaissance, was wrecked by the Crusades. As the Muslim world was weakened by war with the Christians, local Muslim warlords took the opportunity to break away, and internecine warfare further damaged the civilisation of the time.
The next disaster was the Mongol invasions. Chinggis (usually miscalled “Genghis”) Khan is a most misunderstood figure, and was responsible for far more good than evil, but his – and his successors’ – effect on the Muslim world was nothing less than calamitous. The weakened Caliphate collapsed, and the warlords and pricelings were ripe for the taking over by such colonialist forces as the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks.
I should make this point here: never imagine for a moment that “colonialism” is only active across ethnic or religious divides. People of the same religion can, and have many times, colonised each other and reduced them to subservience. And, by and large, colonial regimes exist for one purpose, and one only: to suck as much out of the colonies as possible, and give as little back as possible in return.
The Turks were no better. They colonised the Arabs, and snuffed out the last flickers of the civilisational flowering that the Muslim world had. After the Turks took over, the retreat into religious orthodoxy was assured. And by the time the Turks fell – a process which took centuries and wasn’t complete till 1918 – the Western Imperialist phase was in full swing, with European nations competing first for trade and then for colonies, until by the early twentieth century nations like Germany and Italy were looking for colonies for prestige purposes, and for nothing else.
The British and French, specifically, betrayed the Arabs at the end of the First World War, They’d been guaranteed freedom if they threw off the Turks, and they did; but by that time the value of oil had finally been recognised, and, extremely unfortunately for the Arabs, most of their countries had substantial deposits of this commodity. Therefore, they were promptly colonised by the West.
There are a couple of other things apart from economic exploitation that one needs to keep in mind about imperialism.
The first thing is that no colonial power can ever hope to rule directly. The only way to rule over a colonised people is to use co-opted collaborators, local police, minor rulers, lower-level administrators and the like – to control the natives and keep them in line. Any colonial power which attempted to administer a territory directly would have to bankrupt itself to maintain control, and wouldn’t survive very long. Therefore, the colonial power’s imperative is to build up a colonial class (called the “brown sahibs” in this part of the country) who are put in charge of their fellows and whose own interests coincide with the coloniser, because as long as the colonial power remains in control, this class remains in control. And this matters because once the colonial power leaves, this class will do anything to retain its control. In most postcolonial regimes in nations which didn’t achieve independence through armed revolution, it is these brown sahibs who provide the post-independence government, and rule in pretty much exactly the same way as the colonial administration did. Since the level of resentment against these people is always fairly high, is it a wonder that so many newly independent nations have suffered military coups or rebellions?
In the case of the nations of West Asia and North Africa, the situation is complicated by the fact that the colonial regimes generally foisted kings on the people they ruled, and they ruled through these kings. Usually, these kings were the rulers of minor kingdoms before being put in charge of entire territories. For example, Idris I of Libya was King of Cyrenaica before being made King of all Libya, against even his own wishes. Such monarchs are less than welcome to the majority of their subjects.
Now, another thing about colonial regimes is that the colony is demarcated and run for their own administrative convenience. The history, culture and so on of the people who live there means little to them. This is why the maps of so many African nations, for instance, show borders as ruler-straight lines. Of course, the administrative boundaries colonial rulers draw on the maps won’t change the people on the ground, and divided tribes and communities will still want to be together and this is a readymade recipe for civil unrest.
Therefore, in the fifties and sixties when the old imperialists finally departed, they left behind them a large number of artificial nations, ruled over by people they’d made in their own images, and where historically hostile people were forced to live together while others were sundered by completely unnatural boundaries. And if this wasn’t bad enough, there came the Cold War, where the two sides fought a proxy war among these new nations, each trying to foist its own brand of ruler on them.
Now remember the fact that the Arab world has most of the world’s oil. Now, these rulers of course want to hold on to their thrones, which mean everything to them. The people they rule over mean little or nothing to them, because by and large they draw what legitimacy they have from only a tiny part of their countries’ populations. They are without exception utterly corrupt and brook no interference in their rule, and the Western world reinforces their rule as long as they keep the oil flowing. Under these circumstances, the only force that seems – to the ordinary people – to offer hope is Islam. The mullahs may be medieval in their outlook, but at least they are, unlike the secular dictators, neither corrupt nor corruptible.
This is why the people of Palestine voted for HAMAS instead of the secular Fatah. This is why radical Islam still has a following in these nations.
The current Arab revolutionary uprising (I mean the real uprising and not the faux revolution in Libya), in fact, marks the one and only chanceof a genuine secular revolution in the Arab world. If it fails, the only alternative is radical Islam. This alone should be a reason to ensure it succeeds, but, unfortunately, the dictators and the oil won’t allow that.