Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami
In late 2002 when the United States was planning to invade Iraq, a Hindu friend made an interesting comment to me. He said the problem in the Muslim world was that there was not a single country even as powerful as India to challenge the West’s military might.
This statement remains valid as the US and European powers continue to dictate events in Muslim countries.
Islam since its early days had marched in directions of the globe and won region after region against militarily superior adversaries.
This winning streak stopped in the 17th century. A decline began in the 18th century and the 19th century saw huge loss of power for the Muslim world.
The beginning of the 20th century came as a curse where almost all the Muslim lands were conquered by the Western imperial powers and Russian empire.
Following the World War Two, the mid-20th century saw the emergence of independent Muslim nations. New smaller independent nations came into being in the Muslim world due to the division of territories by the imperial powers. Although these countries got their political independence, most of them have not able to become sovereign nations till today.
In the last hundred years Muslims have not achieved any significant military victory against any major power. The 1915 victory in the battle of Gallipoli during the last days of Ottoman Empire can be considered as the last full-scale war where Muslim armies emerged victorious and managed to save the conquest of Istanbul from the enemy forces.
One can argue that the 1974 Turkish intervention in Cyprus after the Greek junta tried to capture the whole of Cyprus to merge it with mainland Greece was a significant success by a Muslim army. The Greek action forced Turkey to safeguard the rights of Turkish citizens of the island bestowed by the Treaty of Guarantee (1960). Turkey intervened and defeated the Greek and Greek Cypriot forces.
Egypt celebrates the first leg of Yom Kippur war against Israel as a victory and Pakistan celebrates the 1965 war against India but both the wars cannot be considered a military victory either by Egypt or Pakistan. Egypt suffered loss of land in the conflict and the India-Pakistan war ultimately ended in a pre-war status quo.
The liberation of Afghanistan from the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the most recent war against the country’s US occupation also do not fit into the criterion of a major victory.
The entire war was fought within Afghanistan, where Afghan militias were successful in banishing occupying forces but only after much humanitarian and infrastructure loss to the country.
Today’s Muslims find their rulers corrupt and authoritarian. They have admiration for western democracy and free speech. The loss of prestige has made Muslim populations extremely vulnerable and mentally besieged to the extent that they find solace in the small triumphs of resistance forces against imperial powers.
The despotic regimes in the Muslim world are busy curbing the rights of their own people and work more as uncouth viceroys of modern-day imperial powers.
The rise of resistance forces such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, MNLF and Afghan militias against US-led Western aggression has been welcomed by Muslims in the absence of government action to safeguard their interests.
Even the recent capture of Mosul in Iraq by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, an amalgam of different paramilitary forces is welcomed by some alienated and discriminated Sunni citizens of Iraq.
The rise of resistance forces is directly proportional to the weakening of state apparatus where governments become incapable of protecting the rights of their citizens from foreign aggression and intrigue.
The other major factor is the failure of governance in major Muslim countries. Most of these countries after getting independence from their colonial masters are being ruled either by military dictators or hereditary tyrants. These rulers are unable to provide the necessary leadership to their masses.
The monarchical regimes and dictators have created equally or more repressive systems than their colonial masters, so in most Muslim countries local rulers only replaced colonial masters and not the system of governance.
There are hardly any independent minded leaders like Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These two leaders not only enjoy genuine mass support in their countries but also receive admiration across the Muslim world.
The myopic approach of rulers has impaired the worldview of Muslims. People in the Muslim world feel morally letdown by government leaders and seek new heroes who can bring back the lost glory and respect.
Scientific, social, cultural and economic progress needs political stability. There is little political and economic integration within the so-called Islamic world of Muslim majority countries. The Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has proved ineffective in promoting the interests of its members.
When military occupation became difficult, colonial powers devised a plan to divide and rule the colonized territories indirectly. Prior to relinquishing their hold, they divided the land inhabited by Muslims into small sovereign states.
To control the power structure of those countries, they curbed the people’s voice by supporting despots. The demand for democracy and dignity by Muslim masses in the Middle East and North Africa is further restrained by counter-revolutions by Arab tyrants. Well-orchestrated coups by modern imperial forces have destroyed the chances of democracy in Muslim countries.
Some achievements have been made by a few Muslim countries on the economic front. Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have become members of the G20 economic bloc but nothing significant has been achieved in terms of military power. As the so-called Muslim world they are still dependent on imperial powers and their blocs such as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the emerging China-Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
We can’t just blame the former colonial powers and the United States for the problems of Muslim countries. It is the dictators and monarchs who must be held accountable for the mess they have created.
The subdued Muslim masses will find little comfort in the achievements of their sports stars or minor military successes of resistance forces. What is needed is the emergence of a central power that can unite the Muslim world around it.Last Mod: 03 Temmuz 2014, 12:03