The tragedy of 9/11 made many Americans wonder why political Islam hated America. Many among us reached the conclusion, primarily due to media’s influence as well as claims by opportunistic politicians, that political Islam hated the freedom enjoyed by Americans as well as their economic achievements and was determined to destroy the country out of jealousy. As is often the case with opinions based on emotional reasoning, this conclusion was faulty. While it may be true that many of the rights taken for granted by Americans are in conflict with the moral and ethical worldview proposed by the political Islam, the conflict is more the outcome of America’s imperialistic ambitions since the 20th century rather than the cultural differences between the East and the West.
This paper argues that the conflict between the U.S. and the political Islam is not new but has its origins in the events starting in the second half of the 20th century. The paper discusses military campaigns by the U.S. that may or may not have had imperialistic ambitions behind them but nonetheless bought the country in an interaction with the political Islam. It is important to touch upon these events because they help us better understand the evolution of relationship between the U.S. and the political Islam. The ideals and beliefs inherent within political Islam that may or may not have been inspired by the religion Islam are also touched upon. Religion is a huge force in Muslims countries, considerably bigger than what Christianity may be in the West, thus, one cannot understand the nature of political Islam without understanding the source of ideals and beliefs. Finally, recommendations are provided as to how the conflict between the U.S. and the political Islam could be reduced or possibly eliminated.
It may be misleading to define U.S. imperialism through historical lens because imperialism in modern times is not like French, British or Spanish imperialisms which involved outright occupation of territories around the world. U.S. imperialism could be defined as the growing American influence around the world in terms of politics, economic might, and cultural influence. Political Islam could be defined as an organized attempt to revive Islamic spirit in the face of modernism, make Islam relevant to new realities (Tammam), and protect the real or perceived interests of Muslims from Western elements.
Different ideas have been theorized to explain the disturbing relationship between the West, particularly the U.S., and the political Islam, and one idea that has attracted considerable attention is Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations? (Huntington) article which first appeared in the summer of 1993. Huntington argued, “The fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.” It is possible that Huntington made this hypothesis due to a potential belief that the world will continue to become more interconnected due to globalization, thus, nations will resist transmission of foreign ideas to preserve their cultures. Surprisingly, the conflict between the U.S. and the political Islam seems to be driven more by ideological differences as well as economic interests instead of cultural differences. While Huntington’s hypothesis may be valid to a certain degree, analyzing the conflict between the U.S. and the political Islam through Huntington’s hypothesis would lead to erroneous conclusions.
Another hypothesis that tried to explain the bitter relationship between the U.S. and the political Islam was presented by Bernard Lewis in his article The Roots of Muslim Rage (Lewis). Lewis argued that Muslims feel humiliated by their lack of progress in the last few centuries as compared to Christians, “Islam has been on the defensive, and the Christian and post-Christian civilization of Europe and her daughters has brought the whole world, including Islam, within its orbit.” Thus, Muslims want to restore their formal glory which is why they have ambitious plans which puts them at odds with the West. Once again, Lewis’ idea may be valid to some extent but it doesn’t help us properly understand the conflict between the U.S. and the political Islam.
If Huntington’s and Lewis’ hypothesis was applicable to the relationship between the U.S. and the political Islam, we would see more Western countries as the party to the conflict. U.S. may be the leading face of the Western Civilization but it is not alone. Most of the Western Europe is also economically developed and have similar tendencies towards liberal views and lifestyles. If the political Islam was primarily the outcome of hate for freedom and liberal values, we would see organizations like Al-Qaeda and Hamas issuing Jihad against Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, and Germany etc. too. Yet we observe that political Islam has primarily rallied against countries not over their liberal values or perceived lack-of-morality but due to their military engagements in Muslim-majority countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
One of the major points of conflict between the U.S. and the political Islam is the U.S. unwavering support for the state of Israel. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has its roots in the state religions of the two nations, i.e. Judaism and Islam. Both sides make their claims to geographical territories on the basis of their religious convictions. The central belief among the Israeli Jewish community is that the Old Testament is incontrovertible fact and gives unconditional right to Jews over the land currently known as Israel as well as the occupied areas. According to them, the only solution is Palestinians giving up all claims of ownership (Cohen).
Similarly, the Israeli-Palestinian land also holds religious significance for the Muslims because Jerusalem is considered the third holiest city by Muslims after Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem was also the first Qibla for Muslims before Mecca became Qibla. Qibla refers to the place towards whom Muslims face while offering daily prayers. Jerusalem was visited by prophet Muhammad on several occasions. Fundamentalist Muslims, like their Jewish counterparts, also consider the whole land of Palestine and Israel as a Muslim property (Abu-Amr). As history demonstrates, U.S. has been the staunchest supporter of Israel since its creation and has stood with it unconditionally during both times of war and peace. U.S. provides over $3 billion in military and economic aid to Israel every year which is rarely challenged by any political leader. This creates a sense of resentment among Muslim countries around the world who view U.S. as a party to the violation of human rights at the hands of the Israeli military forces. This growing resentment has become a powerful tool for the political Islam such as Hamas and Al-Qaeda to gain support by portraying the U.S. as the enemy of Muslims.
One of the central ideas in Islam is the concept of Ummah according to which Muslims all over the world are one nation no matter where they come from. Here the concept of nation is not based on geographical territory but rather on an allegiance to a religion (The Christian Broadcasting Network). Even the holy book of Muslims Quran states, “Whoever does not care about the affairs of the Muslims is not one of them,” (ShaheMardan.Org). The concept of Ummah may explain why political Islam has been able to successfully recruit from all of the Muslim countries and how military conflict in any Muslim country is a boon to the mission of political Islam. Thus, any military conflict involving the U.S. helps to antagonize the political Islam.
The conflict between the U.S. and the political Islam has not been the outcome of any single event but a series of military and non-military events each of which helped fueled the distrust of America among different elements of political Islam. The first conflict that probably created resent for America in the Islamic World may have been the Six Day War between Israel and Arab allies. Due to Soviet support of Arab allies, the U.S. offered a military loan of $545 million to Israel and the relationship continued to grow stronger in the following years due to U.S. Cold War strategy (Feith). Israel emerged victorious in the war which was accompanied by U.N. resolution 242  that called for withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories (SixDayWar). Israel has not fully implemented the resolution to this day and U.S. has continued to oppose any resolutions condemning Israel in the U.N., often putting the country as one of few dissenters. The latest examples may be U.S. as the only country among 15 members of the U.N Security Council to not make statement against Israeli settlements last year in December (Nichols) as well as the country’s opposition to Palestinian statehood which was passed by a vote of 138 to 9 (Fox News). These policy positions by the U.S embolden the perceptions in the Islamic World that U.S is opposed to the interests of the Islamic countries and cannot be trusted. By closely aligning itself with Israel, it also provides an excuse to the fundamentalists that U.S. is the closest friend of an enemy of Islam (Israel), thus, it only works to further the interests of the anti-Islam elements in the world.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia emerged as the U.S. closest allies in the Afghan-Soviet war but after the war ended, the U.S. neglected Pakistan which led to the birth and emergence of Al-Qaeda. The tragedy of 9/11 led to U.S. attack of Afghanistan in which Pakistan became an unwilling participant. Pakistani President at the time, General Pervez Musharraf revealed that U.S. threatened to bomb the country back to the stone age unless it cooperated with the Washington in its fight against Al-Qaeda (BBC News). These events have created a sense of betrayal among the ordinary Pakistanis and give credence to the claims by the Political Islam that paint the U.S. as an opportunistic power with no interest in the welfare of the Islamic World. Moreover, Pakistan also feels betrayed by close U.S. economic ties with India which is Pakistan’s arch-rival (Siddiqi). Similarly, the drone attacks in Pakistan which have resulted in the deaths of countless civilians have also helped fuel anti-Americanism among Pakistanis and have strengthened the message of Political Islam, making it easier for them to recruit.
The U.S. has traditionally portrayed itself as the champion of basic human rights. In addition, the country continues to re-affirm its commitment to spread of democracy around the world yet the country has historically tolerated dictators who were willing to protect U.S. political and economic interests. This apparent contradiction was at full display in U.S. support for Iran’s dictatorial rule by Reza Shah Pahlavi before the 1979 revolution (Ghasemi). Other dictatorial regimes supported by the U.S. for the sake of its interests have been Pervez Musharraf’s rule in Pakistan, Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq (pre-Gulf War), Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt until the Arab Spring, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Political Islam has also risen due to the inconsistencies displayed by the U.S. foreign policies which have given credence to America’s imperialistic ambitions. The U.S. attacked Iraq under the pretense of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction yet has tolerated Israel’s nuclear arsenal for decades. U.S. also intervened militarily in Libya in the wake of Arab Spring and has now been pressuring Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program. Yet the country has taken no military action against North Korea which has been pursuing its own nuclear program for quite some time and has recently carried out nuclear detonation (Mullen). This trend gives credence to conspiracy theories as well as claims by the Political Islam that U.S is biased against Muslim countries and initiates military actions under false pretenses to steal the economic resources of Muslim countries, particularly oil reserves.
One of the common mistakes critics made in analyzing the relationship between the U.S. and the Political Islam is their underestimation of the role religion plays in most Muslim countries. The concept of the separation of the church and state is alien to the public in Muslim countries as almost all Muslim countries have Islam as state religion including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran. The influence of Islam can be seen in almost all aspects of daily lives, thus, it is reasonable to assume that the public is prone to interpret political events through religious lens and making it easier for Political Islam to survive and thrive.
In addition to military might, America’s economic might is also at full display through the world domination of its private corporations such as Coca Cola, McDonald’s, and Nike etc. which have presence in almost every single country including the Islamic World. The growing distrust among Muslim countries for America also casts doubt on American corporations who are viewed by some as just the propaganda arms of the American Government.
There are several strategies that could be adopted by the U.S. to reduce the influence of Political Islam. The first strategy is to promote education and economic development in Muslim countries, especially developing economies because poverty-stricken individuals are more likely to be radicalized and join the band wagon of political Islam. Another strategy is to support democratic reforms in all countries, even in countries with friendly dictatorial regimes because America’s and Western Europe’s experiences prove a positive relationship between democracy and long-term economic progress. America’s short-term interests may be hurt but it will benefit in the long-term due to weaker elements within Political Islam.
The common notion among Americans is that Political Islam is the result of hate for American ideals such as freedom and economic achievements but that doesn’t explain why Political Islam doesn’t display the same degree of negative goodwill towards Western Europe, Canada and many other developed nations. The real answer lies within the history of America’s imperialistic ambitions since last century as well as inconsistencies in foreign policies.
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