In pursuit of colonial interests, Israel and its backers have insulted and defamed Islam, but as a consequence turn millions against them, writes Ayman El-Amir*
There is a sinister connection between the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West and the tepid reaction to the blatant extermination campaign Israel is waging against the Palestinians in Gaza. Under the guise of freedom of expression, some West European media and officials, including most recently German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, have sought to denigrate Islam and its symbols as a subhuman culture of cruelty and terrorism. It has thus become fair game for cartoonists, Europe's ultra-conservative politicians, and special interest groups.
This attitude provides cover for Israel to escalate its carnage against the Palestinians in Gaza with impunity. Dialogue of civilisations aside, the perpetrators of this defamation campaign -- particularly Israel and its supporting chauvinists -- should know better. Breeding a culture of hate and intolerance may, one day, come back to haunt them, as it did in similar circumstances in the past.
Western Europe is under the spell of a neo- conservative wave that travelled across the Atlantic from the United States after 11 September. Germany, France, the Netherlands and Britain are ruled by conservative governments that perceive Islam as an implacable enemy. Acts of terrorism in Spain and Britain, illegal immigration, the influx of cheap, unskilled labour into the European job market and the resistance of migrants to coercive cultural assimilation into newly adopted homelands continue to create social tensions and political problems. Likewise, to Arab and non-Arab Muslims alike, Western Europe is not exactly the melting pot that embraces foreigners, gives them equal opportunity and accepts as slow and difficult the process of integration that may take more than one generation to accomplish. After all, pogroms were committed against European Jewry because of its cultural seclusion and determined resistance to assimilation.
Western ultra-nationalist politicians and their Israeli allies are stoking Islamophobia as part of a racist campaign to demonise Muslims. This campaign serves the best interests of Israel in that it masks its genocidal war on rebellious Palestinians caged in the Gaza Strip. Tightening the noose around their necks every day is the premeditated policy of a criminal state.
Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai warned the Palestinians of "a bigger holocaust" if they intensified the firing of their primitive Qassam rockets into Israel. The Israeli army made good on this threat. Israeli warplanes, land-to-land missiles and direct military invasion killed nearly 120 and wounded more than 350 Hamas resistance fighters, innocent civilians and children in a week-long campaign. Later on, the Israeli deputy minister withdrew his statement, not because it betrayed Israeli designs to commit genocide against the Palestinians, but to protect the exclusivity of the terminology.
For generations, Europe suffered the consequences of religious and ethnic intolerance exacerbated by colonial competitiveness and war. In framing the Charter of the United Nations at the end of World War II, Western powers talked of "saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war", that is, European-engendered war, "which twice in our life time has brought untold sorrow to mankind".
The 1975 Helsinki Final Act put to rest centuries-old European wars, disputes and territorial claims. But colonial ambitions towards developing countries continued unabated under different guises and targeted those with rich natural resources, particularly oil. Former competing colonial powers exported their wars, together with their "Jewish problem", to vulnerable developing countries, where instability would provide an excuse for intervention.
From the Arab perspective, Israel was created as an embodiment of settler colonialism -- a Western- supported racist and violent entity that promotes instability and colonial domination in the Middle East region. For the past 60 years, Israel has sown the seeds of violence that will continue to reap their horrid harvest for decades to come.
The US and Europe have driven the agenda of globalisation, including open borders, free markets, unfettered mobility of people and labour, free investment, financial deregulation, and the elimination of trade barriers. Tolerance, non-discrimination and acceptance of "the other" were introduced as the ideological-political underpinnings of the new, post-Soviet Union, globalised world of the 1990s and beyond.
Now, however, there is ample evidence to show that the new approach in international relations was designed primarily to serve Western designs on expanding new markets while no such terms of free trade were to be offered to developing countries. However, in the fast changing world of the 21st century, China emerged as a new power, scooped up much of the benefits of globalisation and joined the World Trade Organisation while sky-high oil prices cut the edge the West had previously enjoyed. Only in the arms trade and in lead technology, which China and Russia are chipping away at, does the West still hold an advantage. In this context, calls for tolerance, non-discrimination and acceptance of "the other" beget question marks, particularly with the rise of neo-chauvinism in Europe and neo-conservatism in the US.
The Euro-Mediterranean partnership proclaimed by the Barcelona Declaration in 1995 was ostensibly built on three pillars. It provided for political and security partnership, economic and financial partnership and a third tier for the development of social, cultural and human affairs. This was to be implemented through the so-called Barcelona Process. The process seems now to have been considerably reduced to intelligence gathering and information sharing about potential acts of terrorism, as well as blocking illegal immigration. And President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has advocated a radical change of the process to limit its scope to Mediterranean and Euro-Mediterranean countries, to the exclusion of other powers in Europe, particularly Germany, Britain and Scandinavian countries.
When Western Europe has no tradition of ethnic diversity and non-Europeans are accepted only because of the payback debt of colonial legacy, social and political conflicts become inevitable. Muslims, the new ethnic bête noir of intolerant Europe, have a long way to go to strike a balance between their cultural origins and the norms of their adopted societies. It is a compromise they will have to make in order to melt into European societies that for centuries embraced the culture of war, colonialism and xenophobia.
Meanwhile, Israel remains a racist and colonial anomaly in a world that is edging slowly towards a globalised culture that does not compromise national identity. Despite blind US support, West European guilt-complex sympathy and the deadly military power it musters, Israel, at best, will not escape the historical destiny of South Africa.
The political gimmickry of naming itself the homeland state of the Jews, a qualification US President George W Bush was quick to parrot, is identical in concept to the purity and superiority of the Aryan race adopted by Nazism. The fallacy of "God gave us this land" will not hold water for long.
Radical Islam is a phenomenon that emerged as a self-defence mechanism against brutal forces of neo-colonialism and hegemony. When it battled the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, it was hailed as jihad. When it fought US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, it was condemned as terrorism. In both cases it was not mainstream Islam; only a transient trend that was called up to ward off foreign aggression.
For Israel and its racist allies to portray Islam as a global threat worthy of fear and hatred is to inculcate the same sentiments that unleashed some of the darkest forces in modern history, with sorrowful consequences. Israel and its backers exclusively depend on the use of naked military force. Military superiority has created empires and has undone them too. The lasting lesson of history is that, "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword."
* The writer is former Al-Ahram correspondent in Washington, DC. He also served as director of the United Nations Radio and Television in New York.