THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ‘WEST’: WESTERN ACADEMICS AND INTELLECTUALS SPEAK OUT
Faced with the disaster that is happening in Iraq, we have seen – sadly – the predictable and expected response from some Muslim quarters. Already the call for ‘Jihad’ against the West has been heard from Morocco to Indonesia. In Pakistan, crowds at a rally in Lahore have been calling for an all-out jihad against the West. In Indonesia, Americans have been warned that they are no longer safe and that all Westerners should leave the country. Should this trend remain unchecked, it will spell an even greater disaster for the Muslim world in particular and the global community as a whole, for it will turn the tenuous Huntingtonian thesis of Clash of Civilisations into a
reality and lead to the further isolation of the Muslim community from the rest of the world.
For that reason it is imperative that Muslim leaders, intellectuals, writers and activists speak up and remind Muslims that the entity known as the ‘West’ is fundamentally an intellectual and ideological construct. There is no such thing as a homogenous, unified ‘West’, as Edward Said has persuasively shown in his recent essay ‘The Other Face of America’.
Now, more than ever, we need to remember that the West is a complex civilisational, cultural and political invention, with many dissident voices and alternative undercurrents running through it. What is more, at this present state of global crisis where a radical dislocation of unprecedented proportions has set in, we are better able to deconstruct the apparently unified and static West, to open the way for the marginalised and subaltern voices that have been suppressed for so long.
This could not have been demonstrated more clearly than during the speech given by the American documentary and film-maker Michael Moore’s speech at the recent Oscar awards ceremony when he openly stated that “we are living in fictitious times and we (the Americans) are fighting a fictitious war.” His appeal for an end to the Iraqi conflict was accompanied by the sharpest admonition of the Bush government heard in the US thus far: “Shame on you, Mr. Bush!” To which one could only add, “Bravo, Mr. Moore!”
Though they have not been given the same opportunity to voice their opinions and put their arguments across, the intellectual and academic community in America and the West have been largely against the war in Iraq from the very beginning. So before the Islamists go out into the streets and start calling for an all-out jihad against the West and all things Western, they would do well to remember that some of the strongest campaigners against the war have themselves come from the West.
For a start, a number of Western legal experts have questioned the legitimacy of the military action by the US and its allies. In the words of Professor Andrew Harding, Professor of Law at the School of Oriental and Afircan Studies in London: “This war is against international law and seeks to replace right with might as the test of legitimacy: it is in nobody’s interest to undermine the international legal order. Saddam is not a threat to (international) security and (the regime) has been effectively contained. The Iraqi people have enough problems without being bombed into submission. An opinon poll showed that only 19% of British people support the war.”
The same concern for international law and consensus was voiced by Professor John Esposito of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University: “Without a multilateral approach that included significant support from UN, European, Arab and Muslim allies, the Bush administration projects itself as an imperial power and will reinforce the perception among many in the Arab and Muslim world that (the war in) Iraq is but one step in the creation of a new global order.”
The popular sentiment against the war and the unilateral military action by the United States was summed up by Professor Monika Wohlrab-Sahr of the Faculty of Theology of Leipzig University: “I think this time the opposition of the German population against the war is much stronger than in former cases. There were mixed feelings regarding the war in Bosnia. The same was the case regarding the war in Afghanistan. (But) this time the opposition is much stronger: The United States is seen as a superpower ignoring
international law and putting immense economic and political pressure on poor states in order to get support by them; they are seen as a power that is constructing a link between terrorism and the regime in Iraq that has never been proven and through this trying to legitimate the war; and they are seen as a power that is primarily following up its own matters and safeguarding its spheres of interest in the middle East. On top of that it is seen by many as very dangerous with regards to the Islamic world as a whole, and very likely revitalizing anti-Western sentiments.”
In response to the oft-repeated claim that the war against Iraq is meant to bring about a ‘regime change’ and thereby introduce democracy to the Arab world, Professor Sahr’s responded by pointing out that “people who use this argument, for example point to Germany’s history after World War II. But there is also much scepticism against this position: scepticism that there is actually the political will for democratization, but also if it is possible to ‘install’ a democratic regime from outside. Many people - who remember the United States’ changing engagements and coalitions in the Middle East - are sceptical that the United States has a real interest in democratization.”
Others have warned of the global and geo-political consequences of the military action and the impact that it will have on the world in the long run. According to Professor William R. Roff, Emeritus Professor of History at Columbia University, New York and Honorable Fellow in Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Edinburgh: “The attack on Iraq is illegal, unjustified on the evidence, morally wrong, destructive of the United Nations authority, and globally counter-productive. It reflects principally the world hegemonic agenda of the current extreme right-wing administration of the United States, which where the Middle East is concerned has as its purpose the redrawing of the map to ensure the local dominance of its ally Israel and total control of the region’s petroleum resources.”
On the thorny question of what this war is all about and whether it seeks to target Muslims in particular, Professor Roff has argued that: “It has little or nothing to do with ‘Islam’ as such, but it cannot be denied that it aids and abets anti-Muslim forces in American society and elsewhere.”
Few, if any of the Western intellectuals who have spoken out so far are of any doubt of the scale of the disaster that is bound to follow. Professor Dieter Senghass of the Institut für Interkulturelle und Internationle Studien, Bremen University reminds us that: “Karl W. Deutsch, a leading 20th-century political scientist, once defined power as ‘the ability to afford not to learn’. What, then, is super-power? It is, by implication, the
ability to act out obsessions in cases where some suspicion might be justified, disregarding the wider external world. The result? Political disaster even in the case of military victory. If, in addition, the obsession is religiously perfumed, there is the danger of not just one disaster but a series of disasters, potentially ending in catastrophe.”
But perhaps the most ominous warning of all comes from Professor David Apter of Yale University: “You are seeing the consequences of what has been a right wing coup d’etat in the U S. And this is only the beginning.”