Don’t put imperialism on trial stupid! The Middle Eastern expanse and the international security corollary
LEE RUDDIN January 12, 2006
LEE RUDDIN - Awarded The India Chambers Award of Excellence (LL.B. Law) and has MRes in International Security (Birkbeck, London).
British citizens, scholars and students alike are growing ever–increasingly apologetic of preceding imperial ruling in the Middle Eastern expanse (and contemporary U.S. foreign policy). This is most recently evidenced by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who reprehensibly commented that, “A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now, are a consequence of our colonial past.”
The manuscript was comprised whist researching at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of Exeter on the topics of Middle Eastern Global Politics and Islamic Studies respectively in 2005.
Princeton professor Bernard Lewis –previously of SOAS –poses the question “Who did this to us?” This is a widespread human retort when matters are going defectively. Academics have unearthed a repertoire of answers. It is easier for the natives of the Middle Eastern expanse to censure others for one’s calamity.
For a long time, the Mongols were the desired desperado, and the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century were viewed as the instigator for the destruction of both Muslims power and Islamic civilization and for what was seen as the ensuing weakness and stagnation. This argument is flawed.
The rise of nationalism –itself an import from Europe –fashioned a new–fangled acumen. This argument is defective.
The age of British and French paramountcy in the Arab world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries twisted a novel and more plausible scapegoat –Western imperialism. Indeed, there has been “Western political domination, economic penetration, and cultural influence” which has altered the visage of the region.
However, the Anglo–French interlude was moderately succinct and expired half a century ago; “The change for the worse began long before their arrival and continued unabated after their departure.”
Inevitably, their role as villains was taken over by the U.S. Another European contribution to this debate is anti–Semitism and blaming ‘the Jews’ for all that goes wrong (The ever–searing contestation in relation to the Israeli–Arab/Palestinian conflict is beyond the bounds of the manuscript’s ink and would itself not do the required justice. Put simply, the British foreign offices’ diplomacy in relation to its axis of promises as per regards partition and the pledges from McMahon to Hussein of Mecca (1915/16); those undertaken diplomatically under the ‘Sykes–Picot’ agreement (1916); in culmination to the ‘Balfour declaration’ (1917) were contradictory to say the very least).
At the present day two answers to this question command prevalent support in the region –each with its own diagnosis of what is wrong, and the corresponding prescription for its cure. The one, attributing all evil to the abandonment of the divine heritage of Islam, advocates a return to an imagined past. This is the way of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The other way is that of secular democracy, preeminently embodied in the Turkish Republic founded by the legendry Kemal Ataturk.
Meanwhile the blame game –the Turks, the Mongols, the imperialists, the Jews and now the U.S. –continues showing no sign of abating. Indeed, this game serves a constructive and indispensable rationale –to explain the poverty that they have failed to alleviate and to substantiate and the tyranny that they have intensified. In this way they seek to deflect the mounting anger of their dejected subject against outer targets.
“They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.”
Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
Before addressing the manuscript ethos in totality, the author feels it obligatory to fleetingly pay heed to the aforementioned divisive excerpt and the dogma surrounding the Crusades prior to commencing at the onset of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. This citation is oft contently overlooked in this aeon of “knowledgeable ignorance” –showering texts in politically correct dust lying abandoned on university shelves. It is time to blow away the soot and disinclination of enunciating such oratory illuminating the positives of both Imperial tutelage and contemporary U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The author fervently deems such strategy has proffered a greater international security corollary through the presiding of regional imperial sponsorship. Critics of British and U.S. policy in the expanse should pause and consider the alternative. Niall Ferguson scholarly illustrates the precarious substitute.
“If the U.S. retreats from its [imperial] role, who would supplant it? Not Europe, not China, not the Muslim world –and certainly not the U.N. Unfortunately the alternative to a single superpower is not a multilateral utopia, but the anarchic nightmare of a new Dark Age. Moreover, the alternative to unipolarity would not be mulitpolarity, at all. It would be ‘apolarity’ –a global vacuum of power.”
One must note that, paradoxically Islam as a whole went on the offensive in 1947 when Britain abandoned her imperial responsibilities when she allowed India to slide into anarchy, 700,000 of her subjects brutally murdered and tens of millions driven from their homes. This “apolar” moment coming with the expiration of imperial stability ushered in the first of the religious wars that are reigning all over the international community currently.
(I advocate the term ‘Islamo–Bolshevist’ as originally highlighted by Ferguson. Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, and concerned to win the empire of this world).
In his pronouncements, Bin Laden (Asiatic Leninist) crafts recurrent references to history. One of the most striking was his indication, in his videotape of October 7th, 2001, of the “humiliation and disgrace” that Islam has suffered for “more than eighty years.” Most American –and, European –observers of the Middle Eastern scene began an apprehensive exploration for something that had happened “more than eighty years” ago, which culminated in a repertoire of answers. The “Islamo–Bolshevik” statement was of course in reference to European colonialism which reversed a pattern of Muslim rule and expansion that had existed from the time of the Prophet.
For most historians, Middle Eastern and Western alike, the conventional beginning of modern history in the expanse dates from 1798, when the French Revolution, in the person of a general called Napoleon Bonaparte, landed in Egypt. Imperialism is a particularly important theme in the Middle Eastern and principally the Islamic case, against the West. For them, the word “Imperialism” has an inimitable meaning. This word is for example, never used by Muslims of the so–called ‘great Muslim empires’ –who conquered vast territories and populations and incorporated them in the “House of Islam.” It was perfectly legitimate for Muslims to conquer and rule Europe and Europeans and thus enable them –to embrace the true faith. It was a crime and a sin however, for Europeans, to conquer and rule Muslims.
The politically correct dogma that the crusades were an unprovoked, imperialist action against a peaceful, indigenous Muslim population is simply historically inaccurate and reflects distaste for Western civilization rather than genuine historical research. Virtually all Westerners have learned to apologize for the Crusades, but less noted is the fact that the Crusades have an Islamic counterpart for which no one is apologizing and of which few are even unaware. For centuries now, the Middle East, North Africa, and Persia have been regarded as the heart of the Islamic world. Did this transformation take place through preaching and the conversion of “hearts and minds”? Not at all: The sword of Islam. Under Islamic rule, the non–Muslims majorities of those regions were gradually whittled down to the tiny minorities they are today, through repression and discrimination that made conversion to Islam the only path to a superior life.
Britain and France’s making
In 1918 the Ottoman sultanate, the last of the ‘great Muslim empires,’ was finally defeated –its capital engaged, its sovereign held captive, and much of its territory partitioned between the victorious British and French Empires. The Arabic–speaking former Ottoman provinces of the Fertile Crescent were divided into three new entities, with new names and frontiers. Two of them, Iraq and Palestine, were under British Mandate; the third under the name of Syria was given to the French. Later, the French subdivided their mandate into two, calling one part Lebanon and retaining the name Syria for the rest. The British did much the same in Palestine, creating a division between the two banks of the Jordan. The eastern segment was called Transjordan, later simply Jordan; the name, Palestine was retained and reserved for the Western segment, in other words, the Cisjordanian part of the country.
In the Western world, the fundamental unit of human organization is the nation. This is then subdivided in various ways, one of which is by religion. Muslims, however, tend to see not a nation subdivided into religious groups but a religion subdivided into nations. This is the chief source of the countries backwardness whose weak rulers need religion to uphold their government(s).
The British and French created constitutional and parliamentary regimes in their own image –British–style constitutional monarchies and French–style republics. None of them worked tremendously well, and with independence almost all of them were discredited and overthrown and cataclysmic ripples throughout the region bring this exact debate to the fore today. This is no doubt partly because most of the nation–states that make up the modern Middle East are relatively new creations, left over from the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and they preserve the state–building, and frontier demarcations of their former imperial masters. The author concedes that even their names reflect this artificiality: Iraq was a medieval province, with borders very different from those of the modern republic, excluding Mesopotamia in the north and including a slice of western Iran; Syria, Palestine and Libya are names from classical antiquity that had not been used in the region for a thousand years or more before they were revived and imposed –again with new and often different boundaries –by European imperialists in the twentieth century; Algeria and Tunisia do not even exist as words in Arabic –the same name serves for the city and the country. However, this whole–hearted reasoning of imperialist nation–state “artificiality” undergirding and engulfing future aggression should be put to one side. A United Nations General Assembly Resolution (UNGAR) in the 1960’s comprised a collective and affirming statement on behalf of the leaders from the Muslim Middle Eastern and North African expanse agreeing to abide by the borders drawn from under British and French tutelage.
In fact, insofar as the Middle East’s the victim of anything other than its own failures, it is not Western imperialism but Western post–imperialism. Unlike Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas, Arabia has never come under direct European colonial rule. Instead, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Great War, the victors carved up the Arabian Peninsula not into colonies but '”spheres of influence,” a system that continues to this day. Rather than making Arabia a Crown colony within the Empire, sending out the ‘Marquess of Whatnot’ as governor, issuing banknotes bearing the likeness of King George V, setting up courts presided over by judges in full–bottomed wigs and introducing a professional civil service and a free press, the British instead mulled over which sheikh was likely to prove more pliable, installed him in the capital and suggested he have his sons educated at Eton, Harrow and Oxbridge. The French did the same, and so, later, did the Americans. This was cheaper than colonialism and less politically prickly, but it did a great disservice to the populations of those countries!
The author briefly wishes to digress as it is necessary to re–trace the readers’ steps to an aeon, before European imperial time when the Ottoman’s ruled, and enlighten the reader as to the system of “loose control” presiding.
Population concentration in large cities has helped facilitate the establishment of central authority in the cities due to social needs for order. However, on the other hand, the dispersion of populations outside the walls of the city and in remote dry– land areas has consistently and fervently resulted in state instability affecting the established authority (now creating an international insecurity corollary). Despite annual rates of urbanization of 4.5 to 5% from 1980 to 1995, some 40% of the peoples of the Middle East still live in village or tribal communities. This perpetual Islamic tribal/clan patronage fragmentation has continually proved a colossal obstacle to overcome –and was not an imperial manufacture. This transports a verdict of “not guilty” on the indictment of British imperialism creating an anarchic international security corollary.
The author believes that a student reader in Middle Eastern history ought to be competently well–versed enough as to comprehend and appreciate the aforementioned passage (“loose control”) when issuing a critique of Imperial tutelage. The emergence of sovereign, independent states in the Middle East in the 1940’s and the 1950’s dramatically altered domestic power equations and the traditional foundations for state–society in each Middle Eastern country. Additionally, these ostensibly modern states where thrust unprepared into a competitive international environment in which they had to foster rapid economic and individual development and most importantly, satisfy the growing nationalist aspirations of their populations.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s widespread dissatisfaction with the track record of Western–inspired liberal nationalism took its toll. Monarchs and governments tumbled from power and new governments emerged in Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Iraq, and Algeria. All were based on baleful influences of Marxism and some form of Arab nationalism with its populist appeals to Arab–Islamic roots, stress on the West, and promise of far–reaching social reforms.
The jewel of imperialism
During the period of Anglo–French influence, the imperial powers ruled Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine. It is historically precise that they nibbled at the fringes of Arabia, in Aden and the Persian Gulf, but they were wise enough to have no involvement in the affairs of the peninsula. As long as this foreign involvement was exclusively economic, and as long as the rewards were more than adequate to sooth every grievance, the alien presence could be borne. But in recent years the terms of engagement have changed. With the fall in oil prices and the rise in population and expenditure, the rewards are no longer adequate; the grievances have become more numerous and more vocal. Nor is the involvement limited to economic activities. The revolution in Iran, the ambitions of Saddam Hussein, and the consequent aggravation of all the problems of the region notably the Israel–Palestine conflict, have added political and military dimensions to the foreign involvement, and have lent some plausibility to the cries of “imperialism” that are increasingly heard.
The impact of imperialism is seen as immense and, in the eyes of most people in the region, wholly harmful. The impact and the damage were no doubt considerable, but much less extensive and less one–sided than the Islamic/Arab–nationalist mythologies would have it. There were after all a repertoire of benefits– infrastructure, public services, educational systems, as well as some social changes, notably the abolition of slavery and the considerable reduction through elimination of polygamy. The contrasts can be seen very clearly by comparing the countries that were tutored under the imperial yolk, like Egypt and Algeria, with those that, unfortunately never lost their ‘independence,’ like Arabia and Afghanistan. In Saudi Arabia universities were late and few. At the present day, for an estimated population of 21 million, there are eight universities –one more than the seven institutions of higher education established by the Palestinians since the Israeli activity in the territories in 1967. Slavery was not abolished by law in Saudi Arabia until 1962, and the subjugation of women remains in full effect.
Degeneracy of modernization
The most powerful accusation of all is the degeneracy and debauchery of the ‘Western’ way of life, and the threat that it offers to Islam. This threat, classically formulated by Sayyid Qutb, became a regular part of the vocabulary and ideology of Islamic fundamentalists, and most notably, in the language of the Iranian Revolution. This is what is meant by the term the “Great Satan” applied to the U.S. by the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Satan is depicted in the Qur’an is neither an imperialist nor an exploiter. He is a seducer, “the insidious tempter who whispers in the heart of men” (Qur’an CXIV, 4, 5).
Broadly speaking, Muslim fundamentalists are those who feel that the troubles of the Muslim world at the present time are the result not of insufficient modernization but of excessive modernization, which they see as a betrayal of authentic Islamic values. For them the remedy is a return to true Islam, including the abolition of all the laws and other social borrowings from the West and the restoration of the Islamic Holy Law, the Shari’a, as the effective law of the land. From their point of view, the ultimate struggle is not against the Western intruder but against the Westernizing traitor at home (‘The Near Enemy’).
Their most dangerous enemies, as they see it, are the false and renegade Muslims who rule the countries of the Islamic world and who have imported and imposed infidel ways on Muslim peoples. This can be labelled as a symptom of a deeper evil to be remedied by an inner cleansing from the Wahhabi creed.
The point is clearly made in a tract by Abd al–SALAM Faraj, an Egyptian who was executed along with others in April 1982 on the charge of having plotted and instigated the assassination of President Sadat. His remarks throw some light on the motivation of the act :
“The basis of the existence of imperialism in the hands of Islam is these self–same rulers. To begin with the struggle against imperialism is a work which is neither glorious nor useful, and it is only a waster of time. It is our duty to concentrate on our Islamic cause, and that is the establishment first of all of God’s law in our country and causing the word of God to prevail. There is no doubt that the battlefield of the jihad is the extirpation of these infidel leaderships and their replacement by a perfect Islamic order and from this will come the release of our energies.”
Once again, this transports a verdict of “not guilty” on the indictment of imperialism being the catalyst for ‘neo–Muslim’ militancy. The West (Satan) is not an imperialist nor an exploiter –but a seducer of freedom (modernization) –this is the real threat to the expanse.
However, the author would deeply concede that the ilk of dictatorships that exists in the Middle East today has to no small extent been the result of (Western) modernization, more specifically of European influence and example –creating an international insecure corollary. This included the only European political model that really worked in the Middle East –that of the one–party state, either in the Nazi or the Communist version, which did not differ greatly from one another. In these systems, the party is not, as in the West, an organization for attracting votes and winning elections; it is part of the apparatus of government, particularly concerned with indoctrination and enforcement. The Ba’th Party has a double ancestry, both Fascist and Communist, and still represents both trends very well.
However, now arriving and touching upon Nazi creed and conceding implementation of the political model in the Middle Eastern Expanse, it is timely to note that, prior to the fall of the Caliphate, it was the Ottomans that decided to exterminate her Christian–Armenian subjects, and incidentally showed their European German (Nazi) allies the proper way to conduct genocide; and it was shortly afterwards that Turkey expelled all the Greeks from Anatolia where they had resided since the days of the Greek–city–states!
Necessity for U.S. imperial rule in the expanse
Lawrence of Arabia noted, as per regards the embryonic formulation of the modern Middle Eastern expanse, that it was better to let them [Arabs] do it imperfectly, than outsiders do it perfectly, for it is their land. However, with the Victorian quest of ‘annihilation of distance’ coupled with the all–to–real threat of Islamic radicalism amalgamating with technological proceedings of the 21st century –one must discount the advice of a trouble–making middle–class turned ‘wannabe nomad’ practicing the rules of engagement of the late 19th and early 20th century. For only U.S. presence in collusion with her primed partners in the region can maintain stability in this precarious period –which, the author stresses, is not the corollary of imperialist decree! In contrast to the fashionable speak of a ‘neo–conservative’ cabalistic seizure of U.S. foreign policy under President Bush (2001–2004) there has been a hijacking of the Muslim faith every bit as real as the hijacking of the those planes on Tuesday 11th September 2001. Bin Laden and his ‘neo–Muslim’ ilk have killed thousands, but more importantly they threatened the souls of millions whom they wish to convert to their orgy of violence, by citing and evoking the apparent injustice of imperial rule.
What Prussian military strategist Karl von Clausewitz would have had no difficulty in recognizing was the parallel war that the Bush administration embarked on: against states “harbouring” or otherwise supporting Islamic terrorist organizations. ‘9/11’ shattered the illusion of hiding behind the missile defence shield. For terrorism bred in precisely the (Islamic) “rogue” regimes and strife–born “failed states.” This kind of war –intervention to overthrow malign Islamic–Bolshevik governments –is not novel, ‘neo–conservative’ nor is it impractical. Indeed, it was precisely what the Victorians excelled at.
A typical example, cited by the brilliant polemic Niall Ferguson, was the war against the “Sudanese Mahdists, Wahhabist zealots whose killing of General Charles Gordon at Khartoum was a Victorian 9/11,” and whom were ultimately brought to book in 1898 by force in the asymmetrical battle of Omdurman –executed from within the parameters of what the author terms ‘doctrine of reactionary prevention.’
One indisputable lesson to be drawn by comparing the results of Britain’s delayed and weak response to embryonic Islamo–Bolshevism –and the Mahdi with America’s unwavering use of firepower to crush the established Islamo–Fascist Taliban is that decisive action against an implacable enemy is more human in the long run than misguided attempts at compromise or appeasement. Eventually, Britain had to finish the job that it had initially bungled.
In collusion with Ferguson, Paul Johnson’s article entitled: “21st-Century Piracy: The answer to terrorism? Colonialism,” provides a further historical parallel. Indeed, analogous to the ‘War on Terror’ and the urgency for U.S. presence in the expanse is the war against piracy in the 19th century – which was an important element in the expansion of colonialism. It could be that a new form of colony, the Western–administered former terrorist state, is only just over the horizon. Significantly, it was the young U.S., not Europe that initiated this first campaign against international outlaws (most civilized states accepted the old Roman law definition of pirates as “enemies of the human race”). By the end of the 18th century, the Bays of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli had become notorious for harbouring pirates and were themselves engaging in piracy and the slave trade. The French took the logical step, in 1830, not only of storming Algiers but of conquering the entire country. France eventually turned Algeria into part of metropolitan France and settled one million colonists there. The French solved the Tunis piracy problem by turning Tunisia into a protectorate, a model they later followed in Morocco.
The situation in Southeast Asia and the Far East was not essentially dissimilar. Amid the countless islands of these vast territories were entire communities of orang laut (sea nomads) who lived by piracy. Local rulers were too weak to extirpate them. Only the Royal Navy was strong enough. But that meant creating modern bases--hence the founding of Singapore.
That in turn led to colonies, not only Singapore but Malaya, Sarawak and Borneo. In this area, then, the war against piracy was directly linked to colonization, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish. This was finally recognized by the U.S. when it annexed the Philippines after the Spanish–American war, basing a large naval base in the West Pacific there, one of whose duties was pirate–hunting. The lesson learned was that suppression of well–organized criminal communities, networks and states was impossible without political control!
In conclusion, it is all too clear to the reader, that the rhetoric applied fuelling anti–Western sentiments fanning Middle Eastern ‘neo–Muslim’ belligerent activities across the international community is not on the authority of “imperialist” direction nor the plundering of the riches of the oil–pit –that is the Middle East. But, it is simply because of the modern Western (infidel) way of life and the undergirding fallacy of Islamic supremacy, supported by the fuelled ‘blame–game’ propaganda across the airwaves of the expanse.
The Bush administration, akin to its predecessor in World War II, will see to it that our way of life will not be comprised, granting concessions to any ‘neo–Muslim’ commands –from the expanse spanning the Maghreb to the Mashrek.
If the term ‘neo–colonialism’ makes you squeamish, give it a Kantian ‘Clinto-Blairite’ placard in the vein of '”global community outreach!” Tony Blair, to his credit, has already outlined a 10–year British commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan under a kind of UN protectorate. The same will most definitely be required for Iraq (for citizens must understand the wider picture and not simply view the invasion as a failed crusade locating ‘WMD’ –but to create an enhanced international security corollary when presiding over an immature democracy which are inherently more fractious. Democracy is a secondary value when juxtaposed with vital security concerns). We can do it for compassionate reasons (the starving hordes beggared by incompetent thug regimes) or for selfish ones (our long–term security), but do it we must!