Muslim world is in crisis:- but we've had a hand in it

The dust from killing fields far away drifting our way, says Haroon Siddiqui
Feb. 26, 2006. 01:00 AM

H owever much offence they might cause, cartoons don't kill. Yet Muslims have been on a rampage about the caricaturing of the Prophet Muhammad. Isn't their reaction wildly disproportionate?

And, why should the West take Muslims seriously when they routinely commit great crimes, such as blowing up the Shi'ite Golden Mosque in Iraq and killing Sunnis in retaliation?

The answer is that the Muslim world is in a deep crisis.

But Muslims alone cannot fix the mess, because it is not entirely of their making.

Most live in the Third World, much of it once colonized, and some of it still controlled by, Western powers. Not all Muslim shortcomings emanate from that but several do.

Millions of Muslims live in conflict zones, precisely in the areas of such meddling: Iraq (30,000 to 100,000 dead in the last three years), Afghanistan (an unknown number dead since the U.S. invasion), the Israeli Occupied Territories (one of the longest and most brutal occupations of modern times), and disputed Kashmir on the Indo-Pakistani border (65,000 dead since 1989).

Only the genocide in the former Yugoslavia (200,000 dead) and the Russian wars on Chechnya (200,000 dead) are not attributable to Western machinations though it must be noted that the latter has had the tacit support of the U.S.

Combined with the 1991-2003 U.S.-led economic sanctions on Iraq (at least 500,000 casualties), these conflicts have killed more than 1 million Muslims in the last decade and a half, and spawned the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

Why are we surprised that Muslims are up in arms?

Nearly 400 million Muslims live under authoritarian and corrupt regimes, many of them U.S. proxies: from Egypt to the oil-rich oligarchies of the Persian Gulf to the military dictatorship in Pakistan. Not only are the people there disenfranchised but also destitute.

Why are we surprised that Muslims have turned to Islam?

Mosques are full. The use of the hijab is on the rise. Madrassas, religious schools, are packed. Zakat, Islamic charity, is at record levels, to serve desperate human needs.

The greater the repression, the bigger the religious realm. The greater the injustices in Iraq, Chechnya, West Bank, etc. the higher the antipathy against the West and sympathy for jihad.

Unelected governments lack the legitimacy to challenge such militancy. To divert domestic anger abroad, many allow or encourage people to rant at the U.S and rave at Israel, or just Jews.

Sometimes even the elected leaders join in, as has Iran's Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

In reality, most Muslim states are helpless to address Muslim grievances worldwide. They have little or no clout in the U.S., the only power that counts. Or they are dependant on Washington for their own survival.

Islam being their last zone of comfort, many Muslims react strongly, sometimes irrationally and violently, when the Qur'an is desecrated or the Prophet is mocked or Islam attacked. They react in ways the angry dispossessed do, riots being the voice of the voiceless, as Martin Luther King said.

Their foaming words and frenzied actions, too hot for the cool medium of television, engender even more hostility in the West — and embarrass some of the more educated Muslims, who, for reasons of principle or PR, desperately want to separate themselves from the mobs.

But the crowds rampage on, harming their own interests. The aid-giving European Union office in the West Bank is closed. Danish aid workers in Chechnya are withdrawn. Worse, some of the protesters themselves are killed, 48 so far.

As tragic as all this is, it pales in comparison to the million innocent Muslims killed, and millions more maimed, in the name of fighting terrorism or finding non-existent weapons of mass destruction or other excuses.

Those who in recent days have been lecturing Muslims about violence seem strangely out of touch with reality, or to be riding the high horse of hypocrisy.

They would have had greater credibility had they not been the cheerleaders of, or silent partners in, the creation of the killing fields whose dust now drifts our way every once in a while.