Addressing the Muslim Anti-Western Narrative
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The following excerpt is from a chapter entitled "Addressing the Muslim anti-Western Narrative" and is published with permission of the author, Farzana Hassan, a writer and commentator on Islam and Muslim issues who has been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for opposing radicalism.
"No nation which is big and influential enough to play an international role can claim a spotless record on the world stage (the Arabs themselves have been expansionist). The US has supported some brutal dictators in the past, but much less so in recent years. In fact, the much maligned Bush/Cheney philosophy vehemently opposed puppet regimes. The majority of Muslims contend that the US-led war on Iraq was waged simply for the US to gain access to Iraqi oil. It was a war motivated by greed, it resulted in the massive killings of Iraqi civilians and the West was to blame. Yet the invasion, unsuccessful though it turned out to be, was the very antithesis of puppetry. If the US had sought cheap oil and a compliant despot at any human cost, it would have made no sense to invade Iraq ; it would have been much easier to whisper to Saddam that they would keep quiet about the Iraqis who disappear in the night, and just invite him to sign oil contracts. Such a policy would be the easiest and cheapest way to keep the oil flowing and the downtrodden suppressed.
Moreover, before the invasion, the Americans worked hard at diplomatic negotiations to gather support from other countries to topple Saddam, as had happened successfully in the first Gulf War. This was not the action of an administration that unilaterally sought to plunder a helpless nation. Oil was admittedly part of the US motive. However, it sought to make it available, rather than steal it. Events after the war confirm this. The Iraqi government has put contracts for developing oil fields up for open tender, with successful bids from a huge variety of oil companies so far. Some companies from Western coalition countries have won contracts, but so have companies from non-combatant nations, including China , Malaysia , Korea and Norway . The Bush administration, for all its naïve blundering in Iraq , at least helped to install an Iraqi government which is sufficiently independent to formulate policies which do not necessarily favour the US .
America has in fact helped Muslims many times in recent years, sometimes to its own detriment. It is useful to look behind the headlines and examine one such case in detail. After 9/11, the US agreed to pay Uzbekistan , a nation which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, to use Karshi-Khanabad air base as a staging post for operations into Afghanistan . However, the Americans became concerned about repression by the autocratic President Karimov. In particular, around five hundred people are believed to have been killed in the Andijan massacre in 2005. Karimov had been using the threat of terrorism as a pretext to suppress all dissent.
The American administration pressured the Uzbek government to allow an international investigation and to allow safe passage for refugees who, according to diplomat R. Nicholas Burns, “would be persecuted if they went back to Uzbekistan .”(1). The Uzbek regime found such US pressure intolerable, and the US military was duly expelled from Uzbekistan . Furthermore, the US call for democratization in Uzbekistan drove the disillusioned Karimov back into the Russian sphere of influence. He even asked the Russians to upgrade its relationship with Uzbekistan to a full-blown alliance. Thus it was that an American administration with a profound interest in operating a military base in a Muslim nation voluntarily gave it up in the interests of improving the rights of that nation’s citizens. This is not the action of an imperialist state bent on hegemony or on repression of ordinary Muslims.
I constantly hear that Americans and Westerners kill Muslims mercilessly. They talk about carpet bombings in Afghanistan , “shock and awe” in Iraq and drone attacks in Pakistan . Each time some of us have denounced terror, we get a response from some angry Islamist or other asking “What about all the Muslims that are being killed as a result of Western aggression?” The perception of Americans among Muslims is that they want to rape their lands and strip them of their religious identity. America ’s intentions are misunderstood. Muslims must examine the American record in defending human rights. It necessarily involves coming into conflict with religion, for example on issues concerning women. This does not mean that Westerners are anti-Muslim per se; it is just that that the worst transgressions against human rights continue to occur in Muslim countries.
A good case can be made to criticize US foreign policy throughout the twentieth century, and especially in the decades after World War Two. In Latin America it often supported brutal regimes, either openly or surreptitiously. The CIA ’s clandestine intervention poisoned local politics in ways that may not yet have been fully revealed. However, this is the way powerful nations have always behaved, and it is hard to see why the CIA has so often been blamed more than parallel agencies from other nations, such as Russia ’s KGB and France ’s DST .
Granted, politically aware people have always had good reason to question America ’s role as world policeman. Its intervention in Latin America last century led to the much satirized catchphrase “Yanqui go home!” The people in Latin America are almost all Catholic. Yet the citizens of Chile or Cuba or Bolivia who bitterly attacked US foreign policy did not consider that policy anti-Catholic. Some aspects of their anti-US narrative may have overlapped with the Muslim narrative now–notably what they saw as US greed and expansionism–but the fact that those who suffered from US interference happened to be Catholic had nothing to do with shaping the policy. Many of the places in the world where shots regrettably need to be fired in the twenty-first century happen to be Muslim. If an American administration decides that Marines have to be sent there, or CIA agents planted, that is no evidence of any anti-Muslim conspiracy.
The US has intervened many times in places with no oil and no strategic importance to speak of, such as Haiti , Somalia and Bosnia (the latter two in support of Muslims). In 2011 the US supported the side of Alassane Ouattara, from the Muslim north of the country, in the civil war in Ivory Coast . Muslims who follow the standard anti-US narrative naturally have little interest in Ivorian politics. However, if the US had happened to side with Ouattara’s non-Muslim opponent Laurent Gbagbo, they would all have become experts. This is how the narrative works.