The notion that the West plays by the rules, which sound great on paper, and works in accordance with established principles, has led to tragic consequences for Islamic movements in places like Algeria and Bahrain.
Despite making noises about human rights and adhering to the rule of law, when it comes to their personal interests, most Western officials discard these concepts quickly.
This was demonstrated once again during a meeting held on June 13, 2012 between opponents ofAzerbaijan’s autocrat ruler Ilham Aliyev and the co-Rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
During their visit to Baku to monitor the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, PACE representatives Pedro Agramunt and Joseph Debono Grech met several Azeri human rights activists. They tried to persuade them not to be too harsh in their criticism of Aliyev and to express their opposition to his regime within the parameters acceptable to the ruling family. According to a prominent human rights activist Leyla Yunus, who is director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy (IPD), Grech and Agramunt asked her to convince political prisoners in Azerbaijan to write letters to Aliyev pleading for mercy and for amnesty in order to be released from jail on terms favorable to the regime.
For many years the pseudo-opposition and even genuine opponents of the regime in Baku have cooperated with PACE, naively believing that it is a principled organization committed to justice and human rights. However, a large number of Azeri citizens never reposed much hope in PACE and viewed its involvement in Azerbaijan through the prism of its neo-colonialist agenda.
The hypocrisy of many PACE members regarding the human rights situation in Azerbaijan became so blatant that even European activists and intellectual centers could no longer conceal the pro-Aliyev agenda entrenched within PACE. In May 2012 the non-profit research and policy institute, European Stability Initiative (ESI) published a comprehensive report entitled “Caviar Diplomacy — How Azerbaijan Silenced the Council of Europe.” It detailed how the Aliyev regime co-opted and bribed PACE members. While the report outlined in great detail the corrupt behavior of many PACE members and shocked some Azeris, it revealed what was generally known within the Azeri public for a long time.
What is surprising about PACE’s attitude toward Azerbaijan is that it managed to convince even some members of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan into believing that the organization cares about principles. In 2011, this writer had a personal experience that demonstrated the point clearly. The simplistic, almost naïve approach of some members of the Islamic movement concerning EU’s role in Azerbaijan was evident during an encounter I had at a conference on Azerbaijan. A prominent activist of the Islamic movement and a journalist from Azerbaijan asked if I could travel to Baku. I explained to him that due to my family background and my work at the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) and Crescent International I would not go there, as it would be senseless for me to ease the job of the regime in Baku to arrest or even kill me. The response to my statement was: “I do not think they would arrest you, you are an EU citizen. Europe is behind you.”
This naïve approach toward Western power institutions is a fallacy that is found among many Muslims worldwide. The notion that the West plays by the rules, which sound great on paper, and works in accordance with established principles, has led to tragic consequences for Islamic movements in places like Algeria and Bahrain. Unfortunately, the journalist that I was conversing with has now experienced the double standard of Western power institutions personally, as Aliyev’s regime arrested him on fabricated charges. His case has received no attention from PACE. This stands in sharp contrast to publicity given to secular opponents of the regime. The reason is simple: a practicing Muslim is not what the West cares about. Ironically such double standards will further strengthen the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan by conferring credibility on its work and force its members to work independently of neo-colonial institutional frameworks.
The contemporary global situation shows that Islamic movements are most successful in achieving socio-political and economic results when these movements do not depend on PACE, the UN or other neo-colonial institutions. It does not mean that one must completely shun them, but contact must be based on mutual respect and mutually beneficial relations, not pious hopes about their good intentions.
The experiences in Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Azerbaijan and Palestine show that Western power institutions will try to back autocratic forces in the Muslim world that are subservient to them as much as the situation allows them and do their utmost to keep Islam at bay and the Islamic movement excluded from power. Today the legendary credibility of the Ikhwan in Egypt has suffered significant loss primarily because initially the Ikhwan chose to play by the rules of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that were designed and managed by Western power centers. The naïve assumption that if an Islamic movement demonstrates its popular support through means and policies deemed acceptable to the West, that they will be treated fairly has always proved wrong. The electoral successes of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria and of Hamas in Palestine are recent examples that show Western power institutions accepting elections only when the outcome benefits their imperialist agenda. Trying to please imperialist powers by claiming that one is “moderate”, pro-secular and “democratic” will eventually undermine popular support for any movement claiming to represent the interests of Muslims.
For 33 years the imperialist powers have mobilized their military, economic, political and media forces to undermine and ultimately destroy the Islamic system in Iran, but with no positive results. One of the principal reasons is that Islamic Iran does not rely on neo-colonial institutions to pursue its Islamic vision. Islamic movements worldwide must learn to design policies and take positions relying on the support of their own constituency, that is, the Muslim masses. The reaction of foreign powers is a secondary issue that can be dealt with once people’s trust and support is secured.