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Back June 5th, 2009 Forward
A couple of thoughts about Islam and the USA

Obama seeks 'new beginning' with Muslim world
Khamenei slams US as Obama reaches out
Bin Laden wants long war against infidels

I read these two headlines, and their accompanying stories, and I could almost see the retorting headlines in the US media, and hear the statements of right-wing zealots in non-Muslim countries throughout the world. Statements about lack of gratitude; statements about lack of respect; statements about being slapped in the face as the US president holds out the hand of friendship. I can just about hear the rising tide of demands from US Christian right-wingers now, insisting this is just typical, and that you can't trust "those folks".

So, before the tirades start, I'd ask the folks on my f-list, particularly those from the US, to think a bit about the wider contexts of these statements. I don't just mean the immediate "this week in politics" context, or the "USA vs the rest of the world" context. I mean in the context of the history of the USA's involvement with predominantly Muslim nations across the past twenty to forty years, or even the past century or so. I mean in the context of the wider Western involvement with these nations over the previous centuries all the way back to the first crusades over a thousand years ago.

From the perspective of people in Iran, the USA not only supported the repressive regime of the last Shah, but also effectively propped this regime up. From the perspective of people in many other Islamic nations (and particularly those on the Arabic peninsula, such as Saudi Arabia) the governments of the USA have been spending most of the past century propping up one repressive regime after another. The actions of the government of the USA in Iraq over the past twenty years have been extremely contradictory - on the one hand, the USA's "School of the Americas" trained up Saddam Hussein, and supplied him with money and armaments in order to engage in a drawn-out war against the Iranians purely on ideological grounds; on the other the US army was instrumental in firstly defeating, then deposing, and then finally executing the man. In Afghanistan, the USA first supported the Taliban against the Russian invaders, then invaded to depose the Taliban, and then let the Taliban take control once again. The Pakistani government has been dealing with a steady flow of refugees from Afghanistan for decades, ever since the USA and Russia decided to make the country into a battleground. The repressive regime of Suharto in Indonesia has been backed by the USA (and was put in place through tacit US approval of a coup against a democratically elected leader). The record of the USA in the Middle East, particularly as the primary international supporter of the Israeli governments (no matter what various Israeli governments might be doing to their neighbours, including outright invasion) due primarily to a sense of repressed anti-Semitism, has soured their reputation throughout that area as well - particularly when various US governments have declared a number of Middle Eastern and North African countries (Syria, Libya, Iran) international persona non grata, and effectively banned their participation in the modern world via restricting trade in various technologies, such as computer software.

Given this history, which stretches back well over thirty years (I can remember the early stages of a lot of the current arguments happening when I was in primary school) I'd argue the various leaders of the Muslim world are well justified in any scepticism they hold regarding the motivations of the USA overall. Barack Obama is working against the combined economic, military and social policies of the past century of the United States of America, in countries where their cultural memory for past events and root causes is much more highly developed. In countries where intra-faith warfare over who should have been the second Caliph of Islam is still a regular thing; where the defeats of the Crusades and the Spanish Reconquistada (and resultant Inquisition) are still regarded as open wounds; where the majority of people are used to thinking of government policy as being something which is only alterable with the death of a particular leader; in countries like this, the past carries far more weight than in a nation where it sometimes appears the cultural memory stops a week ago last Thursday. If the leaders of the primarily Muslim nations reach out and take the hand of friendship offered by Obama, who is to say his successor will not turn around and slap them with it in four years time? How can they rely on the willingness of the USA to keep promises of friendship and assistance, when their past record says those promises will be ignored as soon as it suits the purposes of the USA?

From the perspective of the Islamic nations, they have good reason to distrust the USA. After all, it isn't paranoia when the other side is out to get you.

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
Back June 5th, 2009 Forward