Much has been made of George W. Bush’s throwaway characterization of the US’s “war on terrorism” as a ‘crusade’. To be fair, he was probably using the word in the sense of a determined, even zealous, pursuit of a cause, rather than in any specifically anti-Islamic sense; it is unlikely that he knew the origin of the word when he used it, although he has undoubtedly been told since. To balance that single careless comment, Bush can boast of numerous statements in praise of Islam; indeed, he even visited a mosque in Washington to reassure Muslims that he knows Islam is a civilized, peace-loving religion, and that the US has nothing against it. At the same time Bush has repeatedly said that, in the US’s war against terrorism, people must be with the US or be counted as against it.
If all the US’s propaganda about itself, its values, its democracy, its promotion of freedom, human rights, justice and the rule of law, and its desire to establish all these in the world, were true, Bush’s comments on Islam and his ultimatum to Muslims would merely be arrogant. This, however, can safely be dismissed. So how do we take Bush’s us-or-them stance? Taken with all his comments in praise of Muslims and Islam, the message is clear: we don’t mind Muslims provided that they are willing to support us in our war against terrorism; otherwise their version of Islam is the ‘extremist’ one, the one we are determined to eradicate, and they can expect no mercy. It is, in other words, a declaration of war on any form of Islam that refuses to accept Western political, economic and cultural hegemony, and refuses to bow down before Western power.
This is not new, of course; the west has long been at war with all anti-western political movements, in Muslim countries, Latin America, southeast Asia or elsewhere. The ‘coalition against terrorism’ that Bush has brought together includes some of the most terrorist regimes in the world, including Russia, China, India, Israel, Britain and of course the US itself. What they all have in common is that they are perfectly willing to join in a war against political Islamic movements, many being individually involved in struggles against Islam, in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. Numerous Muslim regimes are also part of the coalition, openly or not, having been bribed, threatened or blackmailed into it.
What is new is the brazenness and intensity with which this war will be fought from now on. The West’s claims to represent civil and human rights have long rung hollow, but the pretence has been set aside in relatively few cases, that of Shaikh Umar Abdur-Rahman being the most obvious. From now on we can expect many more such cases in Western countries, as well as assassinations and disappearances of Islamic movement leaders, and the general toleration of brutal repression of all forms of political Islamic activism on a far greater scale all over the world. What Islamic movement activists in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are used to will soon become equally familiar to Muslims elsewhere, including Western countries.
The dangers and difficulties facing Western Muslims as the Ummah’s struggle for independence from Western hegemony becomes more open have often been discussed in these pages. We will now be expected to be more loyal than the loyallest non-Muslims, and continually to demonstrate our acceptance of Western values. Those who comply will be accepted as ‘good’ Muslims, and promoted and rewarded for helping to maintain the West’s claim not to be anti-Islamic. Among other things, they will be recognised as the ‘legitimate’ leaders of the community, and provided with resources with which to establish their positions and buy the community off. Those Muslims who criticise the West’s role in the world, meanwhile, and on speaking up for Islamic movements that the West takes as enemies, can expect to have many problems, even if they say and do no more than non-Muslim Western dissidents.
There are already signs that many Muslim organizations and ‘leaders’ will decide to be ‘good Muslims’. In Britain, the five Muslims in Parliament (three in the House of Lords and two in the House of Commons) have all supported the West’s ‘war’ in Afghanistan; all, coincidentally or not, are members of the ruling Labour Party. Few organizations have had the courage to condemn the war as strongly as they did the attacks on the US. As the West’s war on Islam intensifies, more and more Muslims are going to feel the pressure. The prospects of many holding out and continuing to serve the movement are not good.