Saturday, March 13, 2010

The "Firanj" and the "Saracen" - still at it.

I'm not sure I agree with a lot of Usama Hassan's article in the Guardian today, "East is not always best". But I do sympathise with it. What did strike me is the level of anti-Islamic vitriol that is becoming standard in the comments section of the Guardian. I mean with The Times that might be something that is expected, but in a supposedly progressive, left leaning newspaper? Very interesting, but not worrying. European culture has in my opinion, been historically unable to deal with foreigners, or the other, very well in spite of all the claptrap about harmonious multi-faith societies. There is also a deep rooted perception that Islam spread by the sword. That Islam is a religion which is anti-cultural.

When one looks at the history of the Roman empire after becoming Christian, the actions of Teutonic knights, the ethnic cleansing of the entire Balkans (both past and present), the Holocaust, the "Reconquista" which ethnically cleansed the Iberian peninsula, Malta and Sicily, the entire continent of South America and of North America oh and that small thing called the Crusades, Russian pogroms against Jews, the elimination of entire Middle Age communities of Muslims in Italy (refugees from Sicily and Andalusia who settled there for almost a century) and of course the entire period of European colonialism, with the French occupation of North Africa being particularly brutal, one quickly realises that Islam was actually quite mild in its spreading. We also forget that at one time two thirds of the world's landmass was controlled by European powers (through the barrel of a gun).

Now comparatively the oldest Jewish communities in the world lived in Islamic countries, the oldest Christian communities (which in fact predate Islam's arrival) are still in the Middle East (the language that Christ spoke is still used as a first language in some villages in Syria). Refugees from Armenia, Circassia, the Balkans and Malta have all settled throughout the Levant quite happily until the Turkish nationalists (not the Ottoman's) decided to ethnically cleanse their empire of Armenians. There were communities of Greeks throughout the region until fairly recently as well. Why are some of these communities not there? I will ask you to take a guess (hint: arrival of European colonialism and ideas of nationalism). In fact the arrival of nationalism(this secular ideology that is touted as the wonder drug for the Middle East) is the start of much of the tribulations of the Arab and Islamic peoples.

Secular means religion and the state are separate but can somebody please point out which Arab country is actually ruled by Islam? Yes there are rules which are Islamic that are applied, but European countries also have a legislation which is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition so that is inescapable. Do you want to say Saudi Arabia? Where in the Qur'an does it say that you should ally yourself with countries that are attacking Muslim countries, or that you can use fabulous oil wealth for gambling, prostitutes, alcohol and ostentatious riches whilst there are Muslims living in utter poverty all around you. So Saudi Arabia is NOT a country ruled by Islam, it is a kingdom belonging to a family, the Saud's (who gave it its name) and which happens to be Islamic. So which Arab country is actually ruled by "religion"? None, and nobody seems to realise that the Middle East is in fact a secular region where it is nationalism and not religion that has caused the problems of the twentieth century. Particularly "Arab" nationalism. The Lebanese can probably be heard howling with indignation, what about our civil war? Well, I think that somebody honest enough will find on close examination that it was a battle of nationalisms. The phalange, for example, are Christian nationalists, they wished to have political power for people who happened to be Christian, and not to create some Kingdom of Heaven in Lebanon.

Is the East perfect then? Of course not. Neither past nor present are so, but we should be careful about putting a three hundred year period of "Western" hegemony as some model which is better than the "Eastern other". In fact just using the terms "West" and "East" is to use the divisive language of this quite exclusivist culture. We have a saying back in Syria:

ضربني و بكى, سبقني و اشتكى

"He hit me, he cried
Then he complained about me"

1 comment:

Omar Barsawad said...

And Australia? What happened there is too horrific for words. And how can we forget apartheid South Africa and how its people were enslaved, brutally subjugated and their wealth plundered and looted.

In Rwanda's genocide almost 1 million people were butchered in just one month - Muslims were not involved in that; in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge committed such atrocities, that it is hard to believe that they were done by humans - Muslims were not involved in that either. In the former Yugoslavia, the madness and the ethnic 'cleansing' that happened there just a few years ago, were echoes of Hitler's Third Rheich. Presently in Uganda, the DRC and Sudan - Joseph Kony continues to butcher and terrorize and yet, compared to Darfur, very little is mentioned of it.

The West has always been hypocritical, biased and pretentious in the way it relates and deals with others - especially with Muslims. It has always used double standards.