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Refuting Bernard Lewis
In recent days, in remembrance of 9/11/01, there has been a plethora of articles, some even by people who are recognized, mostly for wrong reasons, as we shall find out, here in the United States as “experts” on Islam. Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton is one such “expert,” who has written about the Muslim world for nearly three decades. While writing about the motives of those people who terrorized the U.S. last year, he rightly points out that such terrorist activities “is a common feature not of Islam as a religion but of these terrorist movements ..” (Ref: “Targeted by a History of Hatred,” The Washington Post, 9/10/02)
But then he mixes up the issue to suggest that Muslims hate Americans because the U.S. has become a world power at the expense of the former. To quote him, “For many centuries Islam was the greatest civilization on Earth–the richest, the most powerful, the most creative in every significant field of human endeavor. And then everything changed, and Muslims, instead of invading and dominating Christendom, were invaded and dominated by Christian powers. The resulting frustration and anger at what seemed to them a reversal of both natural and divine law have been growing for centuries, and have reached a climax in our time. These feelings find expression in many places where Muslims and non-Muslims meet and clash–in Bosnia and Kosovo, Chechnya, Israel and Palestine among others. The prime target of the resulting anger is, inevitably, the United States, now the unchallenged, if not unquestioned, leader of what we like to call the free world and others variously define as the West, Christendom and the world of the unbelievers.”
Nobody can deny that most territories in Asia, Africa and Latin America were at one time colonized by Christian nations from Europe and America, and that the experience of colonized people was anything but pleasant. Before the imperialists left those territories (after World War II), they created artificial boundaries that would later foment tension and unrest among newly emerged nation-states. As a matter of fact, the cross-border violence that we have been witnessing for the last few decades in Africa and Asia is directly related to this phenomenon. One should not also lose sight of the fact that during colonial period, the doctrine of “Divide (along communal, ethnic, religious lines) and Rule” was exploited to its hilt. And then there were territories like Chechnya, Daghestan, Xinjiang, Kashmir and the Mindanao Island, among others, which to this date have not been that lucky to emerge as autonomous, independent states. It is, therefore, not surprising that the struggle of these people for self-determination still continues.
I have to disagree with Professor Lewis that the so-called “frustration” of Muslims did not cause the tragedy in Bosnia and Kosovo. Muslims did not start the war there but were themselves victims of a calculated ethnic cleansing program in both places in the hands of a fascist Christian (Serbian Orthodox) government, led by Slobdan Milosevic and his gang of subhuman brutes and savages. The same ugly head of Christian fascism is still visible in Serbia and Macedonia. What is saddening is that the horrendous genocide in Bosnia took place right before our eyes in a place, which was the most secular, multi-ethnic Muslim community in the world. Europe truly wanted to sign the Bosnian suicide note. Here again, as much as it was true during the Jewish Holocaust, Europe and America have shown themselves to be guilty of non-assistance to endangered nations. Not only was the West guilty of condoning the murder of unarmed civilians, it must also share the greater blame of not allowing the Bosnians to arm themselves to repel Serbian aggression. The defense of one’s life and property, after all, is an inalienable right of all human beings. By the time our western governments intervened, the Serbian Christians slaughtered a quarter million Muslims. Where was the Western resolve to punish the aggressor? Are we to assume that such punishments are only reserved for Muslim aggressors, the likes of Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and not for Christian brutes? Does aggression pay? Looking at the Bosnian and Kosovar tragedy, it appeared so.
As to Chechnya let me remind the professor that in the year 1860, shortly after the Czarist Army moved into the Caucasus, more than 400,000 Muslims were killed. During Stalin’s rule another 300,000 were massacred. That is too high a price for a tiny nation: almost half the entire population! If that is not genocide, what is? Even then, the Chechens are still there and are fighting for their basic human rights. Yeltsin and Putin have, in recent years, razed Chechnya over and over again. Yet they are fighting for rights. No cluster bombs or artillery fires have been able to deter this brave, freedom-loving people from their resolve to live as a free nation, like so many others, who did not even have to make the kind of sacrifice this people have made over the last two centuries.
While the West European countries and the United States never recognized the annexation of the tiny nations of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia into the Soviet Union, and eventually recognized their independent status soon after the collapse of the so-called Evil Empire, it is difficult to fathom why our western governments would have a different set of standards to go by for the Muslim territories in the Caucasus. After all, how much blood did the people of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia shed for their independence?
The people of Chechnya along with their fellow co-religionists in the neighboring Ingushetia were dragged from their homes in 1944 on Stalin’s whims to wastelands of Kazakhstan on a cooked-up charge of collaborating with the Germans. Both these peoples were sentenced to penal servitude and subjected to systematic genocide, worse than those of the Siberian Gulag. For a time being they were declared an extinct people, who did not exist in Stalin’s time. Thirteen years later, under Khrushchev, both these peoples were reinstated, told it was a mistake and invited to return to their homelands. Many did so on the foot. While Chechens still had a home to return to, the Ingush Muslims found their lands and houses occupied by Christian Ossetians.
I wonder, how much more sacrifices do these people have to make before our western governments recognize their right to live as a free nation, the same recognition which was not denied to the people of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia? What is the basis for a nation’s claim to independence? Must a people wander in the wilderness for two millennia (like the Children of Israel) and suffer repeated persecution, humiliation and genocide to qualify? Until now, history’s answer to the question has been pragmatic and brutal–a nation is a people tough enough to grab the land it wants and hangs onto it. Period.
One would have thought that after the collapse of the so-called evil Soviet empire, its government-run propaganda machineries would change their Goebbles-style policy of misinformation feeding to one of truth and frankness. As is obvious, that was not to be in the Yeltsin-Putin’s nation. Naturally, Moscow did not mention that (the assassinated Chechen leader) Dzhokhar Dudayev was popularly elected on the strength of his promise to free Chechnya from Russia; that Chechnya is rich with oil and minerals; that it controls the oil pipelines between the Caspian and the Black seas and, thus, is essential to Russia’s economic interests. When we had the opportunity to condemn the massacre of Chechens by Russians, our Vice President Gore condoned such human rights abuses by stating that the Chechen problem was an internal affair of Russia.
As to the Israel-Palestine issue, let me remind the professor that on Nov. 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the UNO, under heavy pressure from the USA, Europe and USSR, despite strong opposition from all Arab, Asiatic (except the Philippines) and African (except S. Africa and Liberia) countries, recommended that a “Jewish State” be established in Palestine. It allotted 56% of Palestine to the Jews (comprising then only 32% of the population in Palestine). Interestingly, the UN broke its own charter by not allowing Arabs the rights to decide their own fate. Before the British mandatory rule ended on May 15, 1948, Zionists seized 80.48% of the total land. But the land by itself was not enough for them; it had to uproot its Palestinian people. And this it did by terrorizing Arabs. In one village alone (Deir Yassin) they massacred every man, woman and child of its 254 inhabitants on April 9, 1948. Later, Menachem Begin, the leader of the terrorist organization, Irgun, responsible for such atrocities, gloated that without such savagery there would not be any state of Israel. [Ref: The Revolt] During this process, they evicted 770,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homes. Of the occupied 524 villages, the Israelis completely destroyed 385 villages. David Ben-Gurion wrote in 1954 in his introduction to the “History of Haganah” (another terrorist organization), “In our country there is no room for the Arabs. We shall say to the Arabs: Get out! If they don’t agree, if they resist, we shall drive them out by force.” It is quite interesting to discover that Israel would later put these words in the mouth of the Palestinians!
Zionism has revealed itself to be racist, conspiratorial, deceitful, inhuman and murderous. In the last 54 years, it has proven itself to be as repulsive as its author’s (Theodor Herzl) thoughts who declared, “Universal brotherhood is not even a beautiful dream. Antagonism is essential to man’s greatest efforts.” [Ref: Jewish State] Such being the thesis of Zionism, it is easy to see why UN Resolution 242 and others have been ineffective in halting the plunder of Palestinian lands in full view of the world community.
Israel’s policy of dislodgment of Palestinians has also produced the corollary Zionist imperative: that the displaced Palestinians must not be permitted to return to their homes. The explanation is provided by Moshe Dayan in an interview on June 11, 1967, given on CBS News program “Face the Nation”: “It would turn Israel into either a bi-national or poly-Arab Jewish state instead of the Jewish state, and we want to have a Jewish state.” It is the same issue around which the Clinton-brokered peace initiative in 2000 between Arafat and Barak failed. Israel never had and still does not have any intention of signing a genuine peace deal that involves the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland.
Israel’s settlement policy ignored repeated UN resolutions which asserted the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their lands. Israel’s stance against de-colonization (UN Resolutions 3481, 3482, 3382), Palestinian rights (UN Resolutions 3376, 3419C), along with its stance in favor of racism (3377, 3378) clearly sets them apart from the more progressive forces that are shaping world history. So, when the 30th session of the General Assembly of the UN, in Nov. of 1975, considered and adopted its historical decision that “Zionism is a form of racial and radical discrimination”, it did so for the right reason.
To atone for a collective Christian guilt, our western governments for the past 54 years, have chosen to shut our eyes and plug our ears from seeing and hearing the suffering of Palestinians. State terrorism is the logic of political Zionism, and is being routinely practiced by the state of Israel. The indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilian targets, political assassination of its adversaries, unprovoked bombing of foreign military and civil installations, attempted plots to kill leaders of the Palestinian movement are all legitimate arsenals with the Zionist state. As such, the massacre of Palestinians in Kafr Qassem, Sabra, Shatila, Tel et-Zaatar, southern Lebanon, Gaza, Jenin, Ramalla, Nablus and other occupied territories and the resulting unfathomed misery and suffering of non-Jewish people are only a few footnotes to be repeated over and over again in the bloody history of Zionism. With total immunity, Israel can bomb any place or assassinate anyone. The only excuse she has to offer is that her security was at risk. Just imagine the kind of outcry that would have resulted if a fraction of these crimes were to be committed by any of the Muslim states.
Yes, any conscientious, fair-minded human being is bound to get “frustrated” when he/she sees how Israel treats the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories of Palestine, in clear violation of the Geneva Convention. Israel is the only country in the world that uses tanks and helicopters to fire on rock-throwing teenagers, a crime that the erstwhile racist regime in South Africa even did not dare to commit against the Black Africans. Such is the level of arrogance! Why won’t Israel behave as a pariah state when her criminal activities are condoned, encouraged and rewarded by the most powerful nation on earth? President Bush has no moral dilemma, no bite of conscience in inviting the Israeli Prime Minister Sharon–a cold-blooded murderer, who killed 20,000 Palestinians in 1982 invasion of Lebanon, not to mention the thousands that he has killed since coming to power in less than two years, a war criminal who should be tried for crimes against humanity–six times to the White House, while he won’t meet with the Palestinian leader Arafat–winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace. While I write this piece, Sharon’s army has blown away several buildings inside Arafat’s PA headquarters, the Palestinian equivalent of the White House, and has also hoisted the Israeli flag there. But not a single condemnation would come from our State Department or from our President. What a sell-out of our government institutions to the Zionist lobby! One wonders if the so-called “Axis of Evil” actually originates from the White House! When the numerous U.N. Resolutions and the civilized world refer to the West Bank and Gaza as the “Occupied Territories,” our trigger-happy Defense Secretary Rumsfeld audaciously refers to these as the “so-called occupied” West Bank. Does this mean: all those talks about an independent and democratic Palestine were a mere hogwash?
In the light of above facts, is it wrong for the people of the Orient to surmise that the West does not have a conscience, and it never had. Hypocrisy had been her trademark. Truly, if hypocrisy is an art, our Western governments have mastered it, and the Bush Administration, in particular, has specialized it. If Malcolm X were alive, he possibly would have said: There is no system more corrupt and more hypocritical than a system that represents itself as the example of freedom, the example of democracy, the example of fraternity and can go all over this earth telling other people how to strengthen out their house, how to manage their affairs, still deny the inhabitants of Palestine and Chechnya their basic human rights.
When the late Mahatma Gandhi was calling for the independence of his country–India, he was invited to visit and plead his case in England. In one occasion, an English reporter asked him as to how he felt about the European civilization. He sarcastically asked the reporter, “What! European civilization? I did not know if they had any.” What the Mahatma meant was Europe had not then (that is, in the early twentieth century) evolved into a “genuine” civilization; if it had it would not have committed the kind of brutality and savagery in colonized territories of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Nearly seven decades have passed since those remarks were made, however, looking at the world events, one is justified in stating that the West is still not ready to make this giant step forward towards a “genuine” civilization. The West has always shown indifference to human life and has instead glorified violence. The seeds of racism are so deeply rooted in western subconscious mind that most western men are unaware of it until it emerges when put to the test.
Professor Lewis writes, “For a long time politicians in Arab and some other Third world countries were able to achieve their purpose by playing the rival outside powers against one another — France against Britain, the Axis against the Allies, the Soviet Union against the United States. The actors changed, but the scenario remained the same.” However, he fails to share with us what that purpose was. As to the rest of his above statement, suffice it to say that he is dead wrong again. It was the western powers which actually used Muslim nation-states against each other. The examples are plenty. As a matter of fact, I won’t be far from the truth if I were to state that all the clashes between Muslim nation-states in the last 90 years, since the days of Lawrence of Arabia, were fomented and orchestrated by western powers. Because, it was the prudent way for the West to “divide and rule” and sell weapons to warring parties. Just look at the billions of dollars spent over the last two decades by the Gulf States in buying mostly American weapons.
Writing about the reasons for the so-called Muslim hatred, Lewis writes, “The reasons for hatred are known and historically attested. The basic reason for this contempt is what they perceive the rampant immorality and degeneracy of the American way ” That is again news to me! Is that why al-Qa’eda attacked us last year?
I have to disagree with such assertions. Truly, his writings epitomize the Orientalist view of Islam and the Muslim world. His is a world that is polarized between “Them” and “Us”; “Us,” obviously, meaning people who live in the western world. Like his mentors–the Imperial historians of the old–when Lewis writes on “Them,” i.e., the eastern people, esp. Muslims, he had never been and could never be objective, and has always displayed a penchant for dehumanizing “Them.” In the above, I have tried to show the flaw in his hypothesis.
To his kind of bigoted, biased, and hate-mongering analysis of the painful events of September 11, 2001, the root cause had to be a history of hatred of Muslims towards the West. He does not see this as a terrorist activity by a group, similar to those of Gush Emunim among his co-religionists. He forgets to educate our readers that it was our CIA, our U.S. Administration that had recruited and trained individuals like Osama bin Laden (OBL) to wage holy war (a concept that was hitherto dead for almost a millennium until the Carter and Regan Administrations had to resuscitate it among Muslims) against the Soviets so that the “Evil Empire” could be torn apart. American operatives went about the Muslim world recruiting for “Jihad” in Afghanistan. The volunteers came from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, Occupied Palestine, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. Lewis forgets to mention that in this chess game between two world powers, millions of Muslims would simply be used as pawns to die for the “noble” cause of defeating the Soviets and eventual death of communism. He fails to mention the broken promises to rebuild Afghanistan and how the Afghan society was torn apart because of U.S. meddling over the last two decades. He fails to mention how our government helped to bring the Taliban into power, and how the relationship cooled down only after the oil-pipeline deal went sour. Who could forget the image of President Ronald Regan receiving Afghan Mujahedeen in the White House in 1985? Pointing to those bearded men with turbans, he said, “These are the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers.” In August 1998, another American President–Bill Clinton–ordered missile strikes against OBL and his men in the camps in Afghanistan. What went wrong with those moral equivalent of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Lewis naturally fails to see the entire episode as a “blowback.”
Saudi Arabia never had foreign troops there before 1990. In 1990, during the Gulf War, our American forces went there to defeat Saddam Hussein. Saddam was defeated, yet to this very day our forces stayed on in Saudi Arabia, much to the annoyance of local public, the tribal people of the desert, who do not like occupation by foreigners. The tribal code of ethics consists of two things: loyalty and revenge. As late Professor Eqbal Ahmad had rightly stated, “[To the tribal people] You are my friend. You keep your word. I am loyal to you. You break your word, I go on my path to revenge. For him [Osama], America has broken its word. The loyal friend has betrayed. The one to whom you swore blood loyalty has betrayed you. They’re going to go for you. They are going to do a lot more. These are the chickens of the Afghanistan war coming home to roost.” How prophetic Professor Ahmad’s analysis had been, given the fact that he stated this on Oct. 12, 1998, nearly 35 months before the fateful day of 9-11!
Now in OBL, you find a person who was both a millionaire and a master planner. His engagement in the “Jihad” in Afghanistan has already made him a folk hero among Arabs. His recruitment drive was further facilitated, rather exponentially, by our government’s irresponsible and immoral support of Israel that has emboldened its government to unleash its most brutal and inhuman campaign against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Muslim youths from Arab countries saw day in and day out how American Apache helicopters, fighter jets, missiles and tanks wreaked death and destruction on Palestinian towns and refugee camps, thanks to. Al-Jajeera TV, the Qatar-based TV station. Instead of condemning state terrorism, practiced by the Israeli government, what they heard was always a blanket condemnation of the Palestinian Authority by our government officials. And add to this list, the decade-long sanction against Iraq that has killed more than half a million infants. It was, and still is, clear that our Administration was not interested in lifting the sanction until Iraq was destroyed and its dictator removed from power. We were interested in cheap flow of oil and not in removing misery of suffering Iraqis.
Whether our Administration likes it or not, it cannot shy away from taking some responsibility for the fateful day of September 11. Our U.S. government was at war with Osama and his group much before the WTC and the Pentagon were hit. They killed nearly 3000 of our innocent men and women on that fateful day, and we have killed more than 4000 of innocent Afghans since then.
Our Administration’s naked, one-sided policy, tilting towards Israel, in the Middle East, its neo-imperial arrogance and double-standards on global issues, thanks again to Lewis and his group of disingenuous intellectuals and the “Amen Corner” in the Capitol Hill, have already polarized straight-thinking people outside the U.S. We are losing credibility among our one-time admirers and trusted friends. A superpower cannot afford to complain about Palestinian terror when it condones and promotes Israeli terror. To stop the cycle of violence and find genuine peace, it has to be an honest broker, even-handed, search for root causes and not symptoms, and then solve the problem justly. Truly, peace without justice is only an illusion. For political problems, do not look for military solutions. They cause more problems than they solve.
Lewis forgets the age-old maxim that you cannot fool all people all time. Lies of today can haunt you big time later. If people like him, who, sadly, acts as think tank for our government, had been sincere and honest (like Prof. Ahmad) to making this world a better place for all mankind–irrespective of race, color, creed or religion–we would all be living in a safer world today. But to these bunch of imperialist-minded and intellectually corrupt individuals, the world had to be divided between Them and Us. War and death are only means to that end for world hegemony.
While Lewis may need one, we don’t need any extra filter to discern the root cause for the violence that struck us on that fateful day.