During the Colonial Era, the bulk of the struggle against imperial forces in the Arab World (and in the wider Muslim World) was made of secular movements, who didn’t separate their plight from that of many other nations under occupation around the world. Yes, there were religious movements involved, but their weight was very insignificant politically, though religion continued to play some role in shaping people’s views -as it has always done.
The leaders were nationalists. They were talking about freedom, equality and democracy. They were dreaming of free and modern Arab states, where women would have their place, where Islam would have it’s place as a religion and identity, and as a tool for the assimilation of cultural and religious minorities. Some were very charismatic and inspiring like the Moroccan leftist leader, Mehdi Ben Barka.
When Colonial powers finally decided to grant “Independence” to their former colonies, they made sure to create a permanent state of post-colonial dependency. Especially in the Middle-East considered very early as a “stupendous source of strategic power.” First they created borders in a region that had none; borders designed to fit their interests perfectly. Then they put dictators or despotic monarchs at the head of each of the Middle-Eastern newly created entities. Divide and Rule: nothing that might unite those countries should be encouraged; they should be united only in their dependency towards the former colonial powers. Each time some local regime showed signs of defiance, it was systematically demonised, undermined and eventually removed, often in the most awful circumstances. That’s what happened to Muhammad Mossadeq, for example; The democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran who was plotted against by the Americans and the British, and who was finally removed from power. What was his crime? he attempted to nationalize his own wealth.
Local populations never submitted. The struggle against their repressive regimes, right after formal independence was granted, took the form of a Nationalistic and Pan-Arabist opposition. It’s not surprising to find that the enemy for Western powers at the time was Arab Nationalism. Those who succeeded in reaching power and defying the post-colonial order, were dismissed. Gamal Abdel-Nasser for example, was often labeled: “the New Hitler.” Again, he was accused of trying to regain control of his own people’s wealth.
Puppets and stooges at the head of the Arab states, were encouraged to use any means necessary to literally destroy the local secular (mainly Leftist) opposition. Notably, Islamist radicals were instrumentalized against what was then described as “communist infidels.” Many were abducted, tortured or “disappeared.” The Americans, who took over the British after WWII as the world new Imperialist power, understood as early as 1967 that Israel has a central role to play in undermining Arab Nationalism. Israel was then the “local cop on the beat”, in the words of Richard Nixon. Tel-Aviv is the largest recipient of US financial “aid” in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion of American Tax payer’s money (see Mearsheimer and Walt article).
When the secular opposition was eventually “defeated”, the Arab political landscape wastotally devastated. Political parties were either co-opted (hence, discredited) or too small and weak to represent any threat. The vacuum ought to be filled. it was the time Ben Laden and his like were eagerly waiting for.
Years of repression and poor economic management, have led to huge poverty inequality and frustration. Now that the secular channels of expression have been destroyed, many (especially the most disaffected) were tempted by the rhetoric of extremist Islamists. Moreover; the situation in Palestine, and the similar fate of many other Arab-Muslim countries, pushed the less impoverished sections of those societies to even more radicalism.
after 9-11, the new “enemy” for America was radical Islam. The Arab “leaders”, frenetically shifted their repression strategy to please the US with their “With-Us-or-Against-Us” new doctrine. The old methods would now again be permitted, even encouraged by the good old American friends.
Many in the west still refuse to see that the monsters the world has to deal with today are, in a way or another, the result of an imperialist mentality still dominating most of western policies towards the Arab-Muslim Worlds. Self-delusion has led some to engage in a morbid reasoning that led them to Islamophobia, racism and bigotry.
“various types of self deception, lead people who undoubtedly conceptualize themselves as good people and upstanding citizens to suppress critical instincts-that would normally be operative in condemning bad actions by others-when it comes to justifying one’s own evil deeds.” Pr. Robert Trivers
People from whatever religion or background have no choice but to live together. As long as this vicious circle of despair, hatred and radicalism is not broken, the world is condemned to live in perpetual tragedy, with always innocent bystanders paying the higher price… always!
(picture from Socialist Worker Online)