Saturday, April 11, 2015

Islamic Imperialism: a history by Efraim Karsh

The conventional predominant understanding from progressive circles about the Modern Middle East is that Western countries encroached, and then invaded the area unjustly.  "Muslim Rage" is a term that expresses the outrage of the West's meddling in the Middle East.  Much of today's foreign policies of dissociation stem from this kind of thinking.  Efraim Karsh sets out to explain, however that this predominant understanding is seriously flawed and does not reflect the truth of events in the region.  He claims the fall of the Ottoman empire was not due to Western tampering but rather the intrinsic fault lines and weakness of that empire; the Ottomans required support from the West.  He shows very forcefully that the West was invited to the region; that one need not bleed for what has happened in the Modern Middle East due to the West because Islam always regroups by nature of its imperial force. Islam has always behaved in traditional imperial fashion from its inception with Muhammad and the initial Arab conquests.

Mr. Karsh shows, for example, that the famed Egyptian leader, Muhammad Ali had his own imperial ideas and was only nominally attached to the Ottomans because of the politics of the day.  He was strong enough and the Ottomans weak enough to assert some independence.  Although some claim that he was a vassal for the Ottomans, Mr. Karsh maintains that Ali was more than just a vassal and as a result of his own imperial demands his rule lasts a long time and does not come to end until 1952 with the rise of Nasser, another imperialist.

Nasser asserts a "pan Arab" policy to unify the Arab world.  Mr. Karsh explains that such a policy is a stratagem of imperialism.  The Arab / Israeli conflict becomes a rallying point to unify the Islamic world against the State of Israel and win back the territory lost during the 1948 war of Independence and more! "We are going to drive the Jews into the Sea!" said Nasser in hope of conquering all of Israel; a classic call of imperialism.  His complete failure during the 6 day War came as such a shock that he dies three years later of a broken heart.

Mr. Karsh sees Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terror network in traditional imperialistic terms. The way the prophet is always invoked gives reason to this understanding since Muhammad himself continued conquering lands until he was neutralized, and his successors continued to conquer.  The terror attacks are all thematically linked with a deafening screed against the West giving more reason to believe that Al Qaeda is not just ejecting the West from the Middle East, but rather attacking the West in imperialistic fashion.

The Islamic Republic of Iran manifests an imperial outlook since the leadership is constantly asserting hegemonic superiority.  Moreover, The quest for nuclear power in an oil rich country can only fuel the notion that Iran is looking in imperialistic directions.

Mr. Karsh concludes that one need not feel guilty that the West entered the Middle East and somehow encroached on the lands of Islam.  Mr. Karsh is of the opinion that the politics of a weakened Islamic imperialism encouraged the West's entrance. One should not make, however the mistake that somehow the different factions of Islam will emerge without hegemonic intentions that go beyond the Middle East.