Monday, 17 September 2012

Anger and Islam

Demonstration against "The Innocence of Muslims" in Baghdad

Back in the 70s, to finish off one of my degrees, I studied Islam and its context and relationship to other monotheistic religions. Back then, it was regarded by those Australians who had heard of it (and there weren’t too many) as a quaint and harmless set of beliefs whose adherents prayed a lot but were generally pretty much like everyone else.

Since that time, I’ve had a fair bit to do with Muslims, including people who operated a chain of grocery stores and an obstetrician whom I got to know well when I lived up north. For a while I employed a Muslim woman at my special school. She was a compassionate individual for whom no task was impossible even with the most difficult and demanding children.

 My current GP is Muslim, although he’s lapsed a bit, much as I have with my Catholic faith.

My contact with these people has been generally very positive.

Recently I’ve noticed people in full chadri on the streets of Toowoomba, which I find simply incongruous. Something has changed in the last 20 years.

Rather than write it off as the rise of radical Islam, and to suggest that the solution is simply to take military action – essentially retaliation – I think a quick and dirty historical analysis might go some way towards understanding what is really happening.

On 11th September 2001, radicals who used the name of Allah as justification, killed over 3000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Prior to this, there had been deadly attacks in Yemen (USS Cole) and the US embassies in Africa.

The USA attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan, and by dint of the use of technology and setting up proxies amongst the tribal groups there, cleaned them up quickly and comprehensively. So far so good, although the leader (Bin Laden) escaped.

Then it went pear-shaped. The Coalition of the Willing invaded Iraq on the pretext that the regime possessed weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to the west, and specifically to the state of Israel. The level of anger against the west escalated rapidly in Islamic communities across the world. There was a terrorist attack in Bali which killed many Australians.

A protracted struggle commenced in Iraq which killed (conservatively) over 110000 civilians. Literally millions fled the country, many of them Christians and members of minority groups. The coalition eventually extracted themselves but left a country destabilised and at risk of greater chaos in an already unstable region. Refugees from this conflict are a continual issue for many countries, including this one. Reports of bombing atrocities from Iraq continue to be routine.

As in other parts of the Middle East, there were demonstrations on the streets of Baghdad as a response to “The Innocence of Muslims”.

The question is – have we learned anything from this history?

To react with blanket condemnation of Muslims and to claim that they define themselves by their religion and won’t “assimilate” denies the course of history prior to 9/11 and the rise of radical Islam. As pointed out above there are generations of Australian born Muslims who weren’t really noticed as a minority group in years gone by. Let’s not conflate the thugs who kill and maim in the name of Islam with the vast majority who have contributed to our community and continue to do so.

History has shown that radical Islam feeds on violence. Military intervention resembles throwing petrol on a fire.

Remember the IRA? They too were violent thugs. They were also generally Catholics. Imagine the outrage if Catholics in Australia had been marginalised by association because of the bombing campaign in Belfast and elsewhere not that long ago. Nor did military intervention ultimately create peace in Northern Ireland.

That required patience, a political process and working towards reconciliation.

Whilst there is still tension in and around the six counties, the killing has effectively stopped. Maybe we should look at how peace was engineered in Northern Ireland before we advocate violence in the form of military action as a legitimate way of destroying radical Islam.

At the risk of sounding flippant, perhaps the fact that there were no reserves of sweet crude in Northern Ireland made peace-making there slightly more straightforward.

The first statement in the Downing Street Declaration which underpinned the peace process was –
The British government has no "selfish strategic or economic" interest in Northern Ireland.
I wonder if such a statement could ever be made by the USA in reference to the Middle East?

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...