WHERE IS THE “UMMAH”?
Wednesday, 04 September 2013
Author / Source: Enayet Rasul BHUIYAN
One by one, countries with Muslim majority populations are getting devastated. First was the fratricidal eight years long conflict between Iran and Iraq in the eighties that turned into rubble two of Middle East’s and the world’s most promising and prosperous states. Then there was Iraq conquered and turned into a wasteland in 1991 by a US-led coalition of mainly western countries on the pretext of finding there weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the hands of a hated and unreliable dictator. The former Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan in 1979 for nearly a decade. After the Soviet withdrawl Afghanistan was again invaded by a US-led coalition of countries in 2001 on charges that it sheltered the Al Qaeda. The invasion, occupation and scale of the related destructions of Afghanistan by the two superpowers hardly have parallels in history.
The world witnessed foreign military intervention in Libya in August, 2011 that similarly led to great suffering of its people. That country is still in the throes of instability and conflict. Recently, Egypt, one of the world’s most populous Muslims inhabited countries has sunk into a whirlpool of violence and uncertainty. And now, another important Muslim country, Syria, that has seen the death of more than 100,000 of its people from its senseless civil war, is getting ready to suffer massive aerial bombardment by mighty USA supported probably by some of its allies on allegations of use of chemical weapons.
Some analysts are prone to seeing a huge conspiracy in this parade of Islamic countries getting so badly battered one after another. They contend that at the back of it is a Zionist conspiracy or a CIA conspiracy. But how valid would be these assumptions? The conspiracies are probably there. But it cannot be said either that leaders, elites and peoples of these Islamic countries have nothing to do with the creation of their own miseries. An impartial and truly dispassionate examination of the events that led to the bleeding of Muslim countries would reveal that notwithstanding suspicions of foreign designs against them, the jingoism of leaders and untamed passions or poor understanding and responses to issues by people of Muslim countries have been contributory in the main for their suffering and troubles. Take for instance, Egypt’s decision in 1967 to block shipping in the Gulf of Aqba and to deny Israel its right of passage to sea that precipitated the June, 1967 war between Arabs and Israelis that within a week reduced the otherwise proud, populous and resourceful Muslim Arab neigbours of Israel into humble submission. Tiny pre-war Israel emerged several times larger in territory and the entire Muslim Middle East became completely helpless or vulnerable before the might of Israel.
The insecurity of the Arab countries as a whole have not improved any since 1967. Only Egypt was smart and pragmatic enough to negotiate with Israel and get back its entire occupied Sinai Peninsula from Israel. But the West Bank of Jordan and the Golan Heights of Syria remain under Israel’s occupation and a systematic annexation process mainly due to the confrontationist posture with Tel Aviv sustained by these Arab countries.
The return of Sinai to Egypt was brokered by former US President, Jimmy Carter, in 1978, through the famous Camp David agreement. This happened because Egypt’s the then leadership was amenable to Carter’s constructive persuasion.
Another US President, Bill Clinton, came very close to clinching a similar deal between Palestinians and Israel in January, 2001 that would lead to realizing of Palestinian statehood from Israeli withdrawal from most of the occupied West Bank. But in the eleventh hour the deal was torpedoed by Yasir Arafat on the ground that it did not include full return of Jerusalem to the Arabs.
Clinton’s plan was for internationalization of Jerusalem’s status with control of their holy places respectively by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Needless to say, agreeing to that deal would have eliminated a great threat to Middle Eastern security and world peace. The Arabs and Palestinians are certainly no better off now.
A faction of the Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas is now engaged in a process of getting some territories from Israel and call it a Palestinian state. But that territory in size would be far smaller and humbled by other factors compared to the one that Israelis were ready to offer in 2001. As it is, the Arab-Israeli confrontation adds nothing to promoting the longer term interests of the Arabs. Israel is the only country in the Middle East which has nuclear weapons. If threatened physically, it would not hesitate to use them as a last resort. In that case, the Arab countries will have no victory to cherish. Also, if the US gets embroiled in an all-out military conflict with the Arab world to save Israel, then that would cause the greatest destruction in Arab countries and not in the US. In whatever way one looks at it, the Arabs stand no chance of sustainably humiliating Israel and the USA militarily. They will only compound their security problems in trying this and also contribute too dangerously to undermining international peace and security.
The Japanese were nuked by the US in World War II. But instead of settling on a course of taking revenge, the Japanese in the post-war period wisely embarked on a pacific policy and steps for economic advancement. The same paid off handsomely and within two decades Japan became an economic superpower next only to the US. The former enemies became the best of friends. Both countries profited from such a transformed relation in all respects. Also, the world as a whole gained from this drastic change from their previous adversarial relations. But can we expect such a change of hearts, minds and visions on the part of the leadership of many so called Islamic countries? If not, then who is to be blamed?
The Islamic Republic of Iran under its former President threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth in a surge of pan-Islamic emotion. Israel occupies Arab lands and the people there are Sunni Muslims whereas the Iranians are racially different from Arabs and they profess the Shia Islamic faith. But ultra Islamist Iran is seen not feeling any twinge of conscience as it extends whole-hearted military support to Syria’s Bashar-Al-Assad’s Shia dominated regime to carry out murderous attacks on the largely Sunni dominated population of the country. The Shia-Sunni factor is taking precedence over the Pan Islamic cause in this case. The Iran-Iraq war led to millions of deaths of Shia and Sunni Muslims on both sides of the borders in Iran and Iraq respectively. In this case also, the overriding Muslim identities of the peoples of the two countries got no consideration from their leaders. Earlier, Sunni Muslims led Iraq invaded and occupied Sunni Muslims inhabited Kuwait. The invading Iraqi troops engaged in large scale looting and also raping the women of their Sunni Kuwaiti brethren. So, one finds no trace of the concept of the vaunted Islamic ‘ummah’ in all these. The concept was thought of as Muslims peoples the world over (regardless of the religious factions such as Shia and Sunni in which they are divided) formed a single community with shared interests and values.
The concept of the ummah was reflected in the formation of the grouping of 57 Muslim countries forming a common platform called the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Rabat, Morocco in September 1969. Earlier the Israelis were alleged to have desecrated the holy Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the formation of the OIC was largely inspired by that event.
But apart from rhetorical and ritualistic denunciation of Israel in its meetings, this organization that later changed its name to Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2010, is seen as doing little or nothing to secure or promote the real longer term interests of Muslim peoples. It seems still anchored to a dream of mainly crushing Israel and the takeover of Jerusalem’s control by Arabs whereas it could do so much to really accelerate developments leading to human resources development in Muslim countries, full harnessing of the natural resources of these countries, the creation of an Islamic common market, a common defense policy, greater transnational flows of capital and labour among OIC members and so on.
The doing of these things well would individually and collectively strengthen the Muslim countries. But efforts to these ends still remain limited to tokenism while no slack is seen in vainly flexing muscles against Islam’s imagined and real enemies. The present Syrian crisis is now threatening wider regional stability. Some observers even prophecy a global conflagration of sorts over developments in Syria. But what the OIC has done so far to put a hard brake on this perilous drift in Syria and work for a permanent cessation of violence and destruction there? Nothing practically. So, one is rightly tempted to question: where is the ummah?