THE LEVANT – By Sobhi Ghandour – Islam has once again taken centre stage in the western media, with headlines dominated by terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims. However, acts of terrorism committed by non-Muslims are just seen as violent crimes by individuals.
The concept of “Islam and the West” in modern history was promoted by westerners themselves, as those who propagate this theory cannot label it as one religion versus another religion because most of them are secularised, and overlook religion’s role in the development and evolution of a society.
Consequently, the secular western communities opt to use the term “the West” against Islam, to identify a host of systems that depict their societies. They first refer to the free market as their economic model, and to the secular democratic system that forms the political set up in their countries.
The use of the term the “West” is also meant to indicate a geographic location, which was for a long time a symbol of the Cold War against the “Communist Camp”. It is also meant to refer to the security pact in the form of the Nato alliance.
More important is that the term “West” refers to a geographical and political bloc that has its own cultural concepts and wants these concepts to be extended to the rest of the world.
The implication of the term also reflects a religious heritage, which is a blend of Christianity and Judaism — what is known as the “Judeo-Christian civilisation” . Of course, the term “West” should not be replaced by “Christianity”, because that is taboo!
The Islamic world’s problem is not with Christians in the West, simply because the Christian world itself suffered from the bloody struggles that resulted from a conflict of interest between the rulers of western countries. For instance, western Europe in the 20th century saw several wars — the kind that had never been seen in the world before — between Christian European countries, which share borders, and the same religion and civilisation.
Those who promote the idea of conflict between Islam and the West seek to pit the entire West in a war against Islam as a geographic location, and the Arab world lies at the centre of this location.
However, there are forces and groups in the West that seek convergence with the Arabs and Muslims. But, there are other groups that harbour a strong hostility against those westerners who seek rapprochement with Arab and Muslim countries.
In fact, there is a struggle within the West itself, and there are also internal wars within the Islamic world. This means there is no such thing as the western and Islamic fronts; there are diverse blocs and forces fighting each other within both these worlds.
In general, the distorted image of Arabs and Muslims in the West has passed through three phases, the first of which is the stage that came before the collapse of the “Communist Camp”. At that time, the focus was on the Arabs specifically, as a national and cultural identity, without addressing the religious dimension. During this phase, stereotypes in western media, books and movies, depicted Arabs as ignorant and rakish people who still lived in the desert and rode camels, although they had oil wealth. Arabs were largely recognised in the West as “primitive” and “ignorant”. At this stage, the western media refrained from negative campaigns against Islam and Muslims because the issue of Islam as a religion was used and exploited in the face of the “Communist Camp”, as was clearly seen in Afghanistan. This was also used to instigate Muslim republics in Asia against the communist regime in Moscow.
During the second phase, which began in the early 1990s, the western media continued to distort the national and cultural Arab identity. And this was coupled with a campaign against the Muslim identity. The western media expanded its defamation campaigns to include the entire Muslim world as a source of danger and as the West’s “new enemy” after the fall of the “Communist Camp”.
During these two stages, Zionist groups, along with racist, religious and pro-Zionism forces, played a central role in promoting distorted images about Arabs and Islam, to persuade western public opinion about the legitimacy of Israel, based on the myth of a “land without people for a people without land”, and also to make them believe that Arabs were backward, and that they do not represent western civilisation, and Israel does.
The goal of the second phase was to make westerners fear Islam and Muslims as the new enemy. This hate campaign against Islam involved all forms of instigation, including books and lectures about the ‘clash of civilisations’.
The third phase began after the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the consequential acts of violence carried out in different countries by various Islamist groups.
The seriousness of the third phase is that all that was said about the “new enemy” was now being realised on the ground. The only beneficiary of this campaign is Israel along with the international Zionist organisations, which promoted the concept of “the danger coming from the East”, which had a major impact on policy making in the US, and the West in general.
The George W Bush administration implemented all policies that were set in the mid-1990s by the neoconservatives in the US in coordination with institutes and figures known for their close ties with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played a direct role in this hate campaign against Arabs, in A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm (commonly known as the Clean Break report). This policy document was prepared in 1996 by eight neoconservatives, who were behind the US decision to launch the war against Iraq in 2003.
The neoconservatives who came in power in Washington highlighted the “Islamist threat” to justify hostile policies and wars. It was proved later these were not in the interests of the US and its role as the world’s sole superpower.
US policies and wars benefited no one except giant American corporations, as well as Israel, which made the best use of these wars to serve its own interests. There is no doubt that terrorism and acts of armed violence by Islamist groups have largely served these policies. Uncontrolled violence has become a very common phenomenon in Arab countries even in societies striving for change. But change that is based on armed violence and random killing of people will inevitably lead to social disintegration and bloody civil conflicts. This will also lead to creation of terror-incubating environment for the growth of more terrorist groups. And it will be used as a pretext to justify regional and international intervention.
Now, there is a tragic situation in several Arab countries, coupled with foreign interference sometimes, which instigates sectarian sentiments. This leads to in-fighting in the Arab world; Arabs have lost direction. Arabs are like a boat struggling in stormy seas, whose crew is overwhelmingly involved in their own affairs and internal conflicts. On the other hand, there are Arabs and Muslims who serve Israeli interests under nationalistic and Islamist banners. These Arabs do nothing but help Israel in achieving its designs and plans for sectarian and ethnic divisions in the region.
To correct this image, we first need to correct ourselves as Arabs before talking about the West’s responsibility, given that Arabs have a special role in leading the Muslim world, because the Arab region is the land of prophets and divine messages. The Arabs also speak the language of the Quran, and hence it is their responsibility to correct themselves and then lead reforms in the Muslim world.
* Sobhi Ghandour is Director of the Arab American Dialogue Center (Al-Hewar Center).