The US invasion of Iraq has been widely described as the latest stage of a new American imperialism. It has also been described as intended to create a new regional order in the Middle East, often compared to the Sykes-Picot agreement after the first world war, which created the Muslim nation-states. Some American right-wingers are already talking about taking over and ‘reforming’ Saudi Arabia, Iran and and the Gulf Arab states once Iraq is conquered. The emblem of the US force in the Persian Gulf certainly does nothing to dispel suspicions of American ambitions, showing as it does the American eagle with its wings spread over the heart of the Muslim world.
Since the attacks on New York and the Pentagon in September 2001, the US government has taken the opportunity to realise the aggressive, imperialistic vision outlined by senior members such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle in policy documents published during the 1990s. The projection of American power by militarism, the marginalization of institutions such as the UN, and preference for allies who are willing to accept American leadership over those with ambitions of their own (such as France, Russia and Germany) are all elements of this vision. In truth, however, American imperialism is not particularly new. A thirst for power and the exploitation of the rest of the world has been characteristic of the West since it began its drive for imperial domination several centuries ago, and so too has competition between Western powers over how the spoils should be divided and administered. (The ‘Cold War’ between the Soviet and Western blocs can be seen as such a competition.) Although Westerners in the last century or so have spoken proudly of promoting "universal", "liberal" and "democratic" ideals, and of creating an international community of equal and independent nation-states, relatively few in the non-Western world were fooled by such self-serving rhetoric, even before the aftermath of September 2001 revealed the West’s true colours.
Today there are two main factors militating against the success of the American enterprise. One is the overweening arrogance of the Americans themselves, and the divisive effect their behaviour is having on the Western alliance. For more than half a century the UN and the international order have stood as major legitimating institutions of the West-dominated world, a framework through which the world could be ordered and administered while ensuring that the superpowers and their interests remained pre-eminent. For 18 months the Bush administration has shown such contempt for both — from a position in which others were falling over themselves to support the US — that it is now opposed over Iraq by some of its closest allies, and its true nature is apparent even to those who were previously its keenest supporters. The fundamental thrust of American policy under another administration—a Democratic one, say—might not have been substantially different, but few would have done themselves as much damage as Bush and co. have done.
The other main factor is the alternative that the Islamic movement offers the non-Western peoples of the world. In the quarter of the globe populated predominantly by Muslims, ordinary people have long looked to Islam and Islamic leaders for the liberation of their societies from Western hegemony, and their remaking in a form that offers real independence and greater social justice for all. Our problem is the existence and institutional dominance of tiny elites — political, economic, social and intellectual — who have effectively colonised our lands and societies on the West’s behalf. Today, with the West’s cover blown, these elites also stand exposed as offering only subservience.
Today no one can have any illusions left about the nature of the modern West, or doubts that Islamic movements offer the only road to the true liberation of Muslim societies and—eventually—of non-Muslim victims of Western imperialism. In some ways the present time seems to be one of the darkest in our history, but it is from such darkness that the light of Islam must emerge to guide humanity to a better future, insha’Allah.