Sat, 29 Mar 2003

Wither the Muslim world? Expect the dominoes to fall

Kaiser Bengali, The Dawn, Asia News Network, Karachi

No wars are strictly legitimate; however, this particular war stands bereft of any element of moral or political legitimacy. The United Nations had refused to sanction the resort to war. That it has been unable to prevail in the face of the U.S. juggernaut does not minimize the importance of its stand.

While U.S. actions are deplorable, the state of the Muslim world is pathetic. The battle to protect Iraq and to deny the U.S. international legitimacy for its aggression was led by non- Muslim France, Russia, Germany and China. By contrast, Muslim states have continued to dither.

Qatar and Kuwait have provided hospitality to U.S. troops and the approval by the Turkish parliament for U.S. troops to use Turkish air space to bomb Iraq is indicative of dominos in the Muslim world to fall in the days to come.

The situation is reminiscent of a common scene from a National Geographic television program. A lone tiger chases a hundred-plus strong herd of buffaloes, downs one of the unfortunate ones, and settles down for a sumptuous meal. If the herd were to choose to stand together and counter-attack, it would be able to gore the tiger to death instead. But that is not how wildlife is ordained.

The condition of Muslim states today appears similar to that of the buffaloes. They are likely cower helplessly as the U.S. devours one of them, each praying that they would be spared.

The Muslim elite, particularly the religious elite, is attempting to portray the unfolding scenario as the West's assault on Islam. This mistaken notion is likely to dissipate the energies of the Muslim world in the wrong direction. The issue is one of strategic economic and political interests.

The U.S. does not have any inherent problem with Islam as a religion and its policy positions and actions are not at all formulated in religious terms. It had no problem with Christianity, when it shed Christian blood in Chile and Nicaragua. It shed Buddhist blood in Japan and Vietnam and Muslim blood in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine but has also saved the Muslims of Bosnia from further bloodshed at the hands of the Christian Serbs.

The U.S. has proceeded to commit aggression against Muslim Iraq without UN authorization, but there is a history of aggressive actions without UN approval against non-Muslim Vietnam, Panama and Grenada. The U.S. has shown no hesitation about violating international law whenever it suited its interests. Not all Iraqis and Palestinians are Muslims.

George Habash, the most militant of the Palestinian leaders, was a Christian and so is Tariq Aziz, the most well known Iraqi leader after Saddam Hussein. Yet it has to be admitted that U.S. actions to date have ensured that the battle ground is being drawn along "West versus the Muslim world" lines and its actions are likely to reinforce the polarization along those lines Rationality will be sacrificed and raw emotions will prevail.

That the U.S. wants to occupy Iraq for its oil is now certain. The large-scale show of force is militarily unnecessary, but politically essential to reduce to submission all potential challengers to U.S. authority.

After all, Japan's military might had been exhausted by mid- 1945, but the use of nuclear weapons was as much an attempt to cut short the war as to send a message to the rest of the world that a new master had arrived on the world stage. That the message cost scores of innocent civilian lives was of no concern to U.S. policy-makers and has never been so since then.

The pursuit of U.S. interests has justified human destruction on any scale. It licensed the indiscriminate U.S. bombardment of Vietnam with napalm and chemical bombs. It warranted the destruction of Cambodia, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia and the mass deaths that it entailed. And, in the words of a woman U.S. cabinet member, it even made the deaths of a million children in Iraq "worthwhile." Mortalities are "collateral damage."

The proclivity of the U.S. leadership and its capitalist elite to sacrifice human life at the altar of its interests can be traced to its early days. Its cruelty evidenced in the annihilation of the Red Indians is well documented.

Subsequently, U.S. capitalists perfected a military-supported market structure, where African communities were decimated as men and women were shipped to the U.S. to serve as slave labour. Neither the Red Indians nor the Africans were Muslims.

The proclivity of the present-day U.S. leadership and its capitalist elite to engage in human destruction to serve its self-interest is even greater today; thanks to the vastly enhanced firepower that it now commands.

And for all their outward sophistication, the Bush-Cheney- Rumsfeld-Rice quartet should not be expected to have any moral qualms about engaging in any course of action to achieve its ends.

The U.S. is now prepared to bury the UN in the same way that Hitler's Germany buried the League of Nations. Worse still, the U.S. is even prepared to subvert the system of international law in the pursuit of its goals. Even truth is unlikely to be spared, as the U.S. manipulates its domestic and international media to suppress and distort the news that does not serve its interests.

Given U.S. superiority, the war is certain to be short and decisive. A U.S.-controlled administration is likely to be set up in Baghdad. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is likely to become irrelevant as the U.S. Department of Energy dictates oil production levels and prices.

Low and stable oil prices would boost U.S. and oil-consuming economies at the expense of oil-producing states. Washington is likely to turn the tables and use the oil weapon against the oil- producing countries. It is likely to use low oil prices as a means to subvert the economies of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The defeat of the Muslim world is likely to be complete.

However, the onus of responsibility lies as much on the Muslim states as on the U.S. After all, the U.S. has been acting in pursuit of its self-interest, howsoever reprehensibly.

Now, have the Muslim states been acting in pursuit of their national self-interest? Unfortunately, no. The response of the Muslim governments to the U.S. aggression has largely been insipid. The Arab summit collapsed amidst internal bickering and name-calling and the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement adopted hollow resolutions.

Muslim leaders and generals have all been paper tigers subsisting on bombast. Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser thundered threats at Israel, but humbled himself in less than a week. Saddam Hussein called the 1991 war with the U.S. . the "mother of all battles", but failed to give a fight and was forced to accept a humiliating inspections regime.

Nearly all Muslim states are iniquitous and unjust societies, with governments that are monarchies or military dictatorships with a narrow power base among the traditional military, landed, business, and religious elite.

With the rare exception of a handful of countries, say Malaysia, almost all Muslim states are ruled by repressive regimes and are at war with their own peoples. They have built up their military forces that are fit for ceremonial parades and for conquering their own people.

They desperately need U.S. support to survive and to save them from the people. This perhaps explains how the U.S. is always able to so easily manipulate Muslim governments to serve its purposes.

These elites have built mosques and mausoleums instead of universities and centres of learning. They have kept their people locked in illiteracy and ignorance. That the Muslim world is today no match for the scientific and technological prowess of the U.S. is not at all surprising.

If the Muslim world is to find a dignified place in the world order, it will first have to establish a domestic order that ensures a dignified place for its citizens. This will require the establishment of social welfare states with truly democratic regimes. And this will, per force, necessitate the sweeping away of the traditional military, landed, business, and religious elite that are today tied to U.S. apron strings.