|Emerging counter forces to US Unilateralism: Response of the Muslim World|
|Written by Khalid Rahman|
Policy Perspectives, Vlm 1, No.1
No doubt US unilateralism is today a reality. The developments witnessed during last more than a decade are indicative of such an emerging scenario. Now with the invasion and occupation of Iraq , US made it loud and clear and left no qualms about its intentions to continue with its unilateralist approach. With the amount of power US enjoys in political, economic, military and technological realms, no one in the world seems capable enough to pose a meaningful challenge to the threats coming from US unilateralism. Despite this, the responses are emerging – though for obvious reasons it may take some time for the counter forces to be in a position to really make an impact and check the unilateralist USA.
Muslim World is no different; rather taken as one unit, it lacks in leadership and direction. Expecting an immediate, unified and calculated response from it may therefore be too much to ask at this stage. However, a discussion on how the Muslims perceive the situation will help understand the emerging response from the Muslim World. This discourse therefore, covers the topic mainly in three parts: 1) Understanding the US unilateralism 2) Framework to respond to US unilateralism, and 3) The Muslim response.
Understanding the US unilateralism
Power has its own psyche; it asserts itself by being acceptable and self-evident. To preserve its inherent dynamic spirit to continue ceaselessly, Power aspires to crush all potential rivals. This ‘aggression to defend’ in its wake gives birth to a negative aspect i.e. the prohibitive use of power. Seen in this context, today’s power equation and the manipulative muscle game should surprise no one. On the other hand, history affirms that power is short-lived. Greatest powers in the distant past met disaster either because of the overpowering lust to dominate all peoples and lands or because they trampled upon human values and norms.
Big powers may avoid meeting the catastrophic ends provided 1) a system of checks and balances exists in the form of rival power, or 2) the dictates of a higher moral code based on justice and equality are observed.
In today’s world, one finds that while the first recipe is not applicable since the world is uni-polar and is practically devoid of a rival, the second is being followed but with gross violations and selectivity; not only the super power but also the smaller powers have adopted a code of international conduct that is based on self-interest rather than justice and fair play.
No doubt all sovereign states have the right to define and then apply strategies to secure their interests. There is nothing wrong the way this principle has been recognized in world politics and made part of international foreign policy. Trouble starts only when after recognition, this principle is applied willy-nilly for achieving the expansionist designs. This trend definitely gives absolute sway to the powerful nations over the weaker ones and that is actually what is happening today. While it is mandatory for the weaker nations to respect international treaties in the name of human and world concerns, the sole super power seems to have no bindings .
United States (US) enjoys superiority not only in terms of politics, defense and technology, it has a virtual sway over weaker nations by way of virtual monopoly over the world financial institutions like the IMF and the WB . Similarly, despite claims of a fair, free press and complete freedom of speech, it has control over its media in matters of strategic importance . This hold on media adds to influencing power that American regimes frequently employ to brainwash people and to create an environment helpful in achieving its designs.
American unilateralism as a phenomenon emerged gradually, taking shape spanning years; creeping silently without evoke an alarm. Compared to its formative speed, whatever meager response it generated had always been very slow and lacked any direction. This absence of response especially in its initial years has now pushed the entire world in alarming situation.
It goes without saying that if the prosperous and developed Western world had been so slow in responding to the phenomenon of US unilateralism, one cannot expect a cohesive and immediate response from the mostly underdeveloped and chaotic Muslim world. The sporadic incidents of anti-US sentiments can in no way be termed a Muslim response. These acts indicate a kind of rage that is natural since Muslims are among the first victims of US unilateralism. A look at some major developments in this regard may be helpful.
End-20th century saw quite a few instances that reshaped the entire world politics and American political thought in particular. In this perspective, four milestones are worth consideration: 1) 1972-3, when oil was used as weapon, 2) 1989, when Afghans humiliated USSR, 3) September 11, 2001, when US claimed it has been attacked, and 4) March 20, 2003 when US invaded Iraq. Instances are interlinked; one sets the ground for the other and therefore need a little more discussion:
The initiative to apply oil power as leverage to secure interests leased a new life to the developing nations in general and the Muslim World in particular. The idea bolstered their confidence to play a pivotal role in world politics and to avail opportunities for development. The road to progress was not mere figment of imagination rather it was crucially needed since long in all the Third World countries. But, instead of taking this as a wake up call, the idea was taken differently by the developed world. Instead of coming forward to actually do away with inequalities and injustices so rampant in the world, it felt threatened and alarmed. This set into motion a wave of policy formulations and designs which the developed world in general and US in particular thought fit to curb and in fact control the conditions that lead to the very propagation of such ideas.
These acts brought a negative shift in international real politick in two ways, one; to justify a strong hand’s aggression against the weaker on legal or moral grounds was no more needed and, two; to secure interests, use of force was legitimized. This is in effect rewriting of law and reshaping of the entire global system that has so painstakingly been carved out during more than two hundred years.
If seen in Muslim perspective, the problems that the uni-polar world posed are nothing new; the new political setting have simply aggravated these problems. Neither bi- nor the uni-polar worlds could settle Kashmir or Palestine issues pending on UN agenda since the last over 50 years. Rather by mere use of force and blatant disregard of UN resolutions, Israel during the 1967 and 1973 wars occupied more of the Arab lands . Despite this, America openly vetoed any and all anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council. More so, it was the bi-polar world amidst which Afghanistan was torn apart by the powerful nations. The Central Asian Muslim States could not nudge world attention despite enduring worst 70 years under yoke of a powerful nation. Similar had been the fate of Muslim independence movements in Arakan, Philippines and other regions of the world. With shift in world from bi- to uni-polarity, some of the problems may have changed in nature but there has still been no resolution of issues in sight. In Somalia, Bosnia and Chechnya problems compounded for Muslims.
It must be made clear while discussing American Unilateralism that the present American conduct is new form of globalization patronized by a handful but powerful American interest groups. The process to alter world political process started initially in the form of free movement of goods, services and capital. With passing time, the element of militarily pushing and pinning was added into it as a form of coercive apparatus to pressurize the weaker nations. The process is gradually attaining its ultimate form – unilateralism from unipolarism made possible courtesy the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and bypassing the UNO.
In order to maintain the power it now enjoys in the world, US has chalked out clear goals, i.e. control on energy resources in the world in particular ; military presence in areas of vital strategic importance; promotion of defense technology and control over its trade along with clear military domination of air and land; complete freedom in space technology; sway on world financial institutions; direct command over information technology, and last but not the least; employing the military and economic power to alter world map according to its interests and to further consolidate its power as world superior .
The presence of a sole, secure Israeli state in the hotbed of Middle East help materialize all the above-referred US goals and that’s why US-Israel nexus is so imperative for US. This way, preservation, protection, promotion and maintaining peace in Israel all by itself become another major goal of US world policy. These goals though threatening for the entire world, hold special significance for the Muslim world. To approach these goals, following strategy is being propagated:
“…The United States must and will maintain the capability to defeat any attempt by an enemy - whether a state or non-state actor - to impose its will on the United States, our allies, or our friends. We will maintain the forces sufficient to support our obligations, and to defend freedom. Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States …”
Framework for response to US unilateralism
It is evident from the above analysis that difficulties of today’s world stem from the absence of a world order based on justice and equality and not from bi- or uni-polar worlds. This is the vacuum that has to be filled in most urgently to achieve the objectives of sustainable peace, harmony and development in the world. This needs efforts by all the key players both in the short and long-term perspective. A framework for these efforts should focus on the following:
The American administration itself is hostage to the powerful big trade and the mega business groups’ monopoly that virtually hold sway over the process of policymaking. These groups’ stakes lie in vicious circle of promoting conflict that in its wake leads to use, trade and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the world . The same groups also possess the capability to modify and influence human conduct and behavior largely due to vast production resource base and immense media power at their disposal. Because of this, over a period of time these groups have achieved the capacity to convert all and every emerging situation around the world into a yet another opportunity for enhancement of their trade and commerce. The element of fear at home is inevitable part of environment so conducive for promoting conflict in world. Steps are taken at once whenever the American policy makers feel that there is relative toning down of the feeling of unease, insecurity and alarm among the public. In this context, there is need to mobilize public opinion against this powerful vested interest group and let American people know that if they hold their freedom and constitutional liberties dear and wish to play role in world peace, they have to get rid of the same element of fear and insecurity and for this other nations of the world have to help them.
That world conscious and public opinion lies over and far ahead and has the power to counter and negate political, economic and military superiority emerged as an undeniable fact in the most recent period of unrest and turmoil right before the Iraq war. Hail to the Muslim world that came out in unison at least at the popular levels. Though different groups reacted differently yet their protests against US policies and policy makers were loud and clear around the world. Muslims resented and in fact displayed intense feelings of hate against the US policies despite lack of freedom of speech and a democratic environment in most of the countries.
The Muslim response
It is natural that flow of information and knowledge gradually alters the human perceptions. These perceptions subsequently transform into a set of beliefs, thoughts and faith. This ultimate precipitation reflects upon relations, likes and dislikes. One then starts recognizing his friends or foes through faith and beliefs and his acts affirm to what he holds most dear. Since today America has complete command over media and thus influences the perceptions, Muslim response to its aggressive designs is perplexing. American strategy also seems to be one of defocusing, complicating and in fact dissuading any such response by rapid bombardment of information. One should keep this in view while gauging response of the Muslim World. Also it is necessary to have a look at the Muslim World before we discuss its response.
It is a fact that Muslims constitute 1.3 billion of world population and that one out of every five people now inhabiting earth is a Muslim. This population mainly resides in 56 Muslim countries but a sizable majority also resides in other countries as well. Since Muslim countries are located in geo-strategically important regions of the world, their role and activity at once nudges the attention regionally as well as internationally. Seen in the economic perspective, though these countries are not technological advanced, yet their natural and human resource makes them a force to be reckoned with. Middle East and Central Asia in particular possess the largest known and present oil reserves on face of earth. But this is one optimistic side of the Muslim image. Other relatively pessimistic side of the picture should also be understood.
Most Muslim countries won independence after WWII but they still lack in perceiving the true meanings of freedom because of the persisting influence of their masters, psychologically and for all practical purposes. Out of the 56 independent Muslim countries, those that count in political, economic and defense realms are no more than 10 or 15 at the most. While 1/3rd of 1.3 billion Muslims live in non-Muslim countries , the majority of the rest 2/3rd lives in the same 10 to 15 countries. This much of the information necessitates we study the level and scope of response specifically focusing these countries only.
Domestic and regional stability are prerequisites that a country must meet to play an effective role of any sort on international level. Seen in this pretext, none of the Muslim countries today stands a chance to be worth consideration. On the one hand, majority Muslim countries are devoid of internal unity and thus are unstable. On the other hand, most significant countries are entangled in regional conflicts, i.e. Kashmir and Palestine. They are consuming their energies on resolving these conflicts of perpetual anxiety. Muslims thus face three-pronged threats; from Israel, India and now from America as well. In the same vein they now fear US-Indo-Israel nexus of a sort that stands a chance to emerge in future.
Certainly, Muslim response is one of shock, anger, helplessness and uncertainty. Muslim World is not monolithic. It is composed of diverse thoughts and different shades of conduct. With passing time, this silent world shall have to assume a position. Since on the one hand the whole world peace is in danger, on the other it is their brethren whose lives are at stakes today. So naturally Muslims are expected to be in a state of unease more than other nations and people. But seen as a whole their response and reaction is not different from other peace loving nations of the world.
A look at the Muslim societies shows that specific responses are emerging and may have an impact on the future developments provided these are well knit, well directed and well coordinated. At the moment there are various streams of thoughts resulting in responses having different dimensions: These are being discussed in the following.
The feelings of rage and hate due to oppression are natural instinctive notions that the Creator has crafted into man. To stop a brutal hand from committing an act of cruelty is part of self-defense that lies in composition of a rational man . Thus one can conclude safely that sense of rage may play a vital positive role in social life provided it is accompanied by intelligence and guided by a leadership. In absence of leadership or if intelligence is not discreet the rage transforms into infatuation. An infatuated group of men can create havoc for itself and the mankind. Today, there are people in the Muslim world who can be classified in such category.
There is no doubt that OIC barely met Muslim world’s expectation and because of this, criticism on its role seems justified to an extent. However, the intensity of rebuke lessens if one compares it with other world peace bodies. Even UNO has miserably failed to resolve major international issues pending on its agenda since quite a while now. OIC has a role to play for which strategies need to be framed to consolidate it.
Besides leadership, differences among people seem to lose their intensity in the new international political scenario. It is notable phenomenon that the conservative right and the liberal left have now ensued a harmonious, more frequent exchange of thought especially on the topic of American policies. This is expected to provide opportunity for unity among the largely bifurcated Muslim societies.
Unity among ranks and foils and consolidated efforts for development are the call of hour. Muslims should embark upon the projects of defense production, key industries development and must also look for instituting an alternate capital market. They should forge relationships with China and Russia. Efforts should be made to operationalize Dinar and Euro instead of Dollar. The times to come shall pose serious problems for survival of Muslims on globe what to talk of development in technical and industrial spheres. For this, Muslim leaders should put their heads together for a mutual defense shield of a sort. It is assumed that with the advent of unilateralism and its designs, Muslim fears and apprehensions shall likewise enhance, thus leading Muslims to work for unity and development. Muslim world is not scarce of human or natural resources, what they lack in is the management of these resources. If these resources are applied dexterously, the dream of Muslim bloc formation must not be a far cry any more. In fact, the present world condition has many similarities with post-WWII Europe, i.e. convergence of interest. This is doubtlessly a big opportunity. But no opportunity either waits to be fulfilled neither is it fulfilled by mere fantasies; one has to apply it with a doctor’s pincer like precision and at the most appropriate time.
From the above discussion one finds an emphasis on variety of Muslim thinking. They are overlapping and in some cases may seem to be a bit contradictory. This is not surprising in an emerging situation where the power equation is so disbalanced. How things would settle finally would in the main depend on the moves of other key players in the global politics as well as developments within Muslim countries. However, it should be noted that none of these streams of thought suggest deterring others; rather they are mainly for setting a just world order and the Muslims’ own house in order. There may be some elements in the Muslim societies who may have contrary views but they are in minority and do not enjoy any support at the popular level even in the Muslim societies.
Indeed when there is convergence of interests, healthy competition, positive cooperation and a search for a just order, pluralistic in essence and based on justice become the goals all by themselves.
US and coalition forces invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003 and completed their occupation on April 9, 2003.
The Bush Doctrine: Redefining Deterrence, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, situational paper 7, July 2002, pp. 2 & 3. The Bush administration has not only put an end to Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) but has also made a unilateral withdrawal from ABM treaty. It also stopped process of negotiations on an additional protocol, which was to be added to the Biological Weapons Convention to make it more comprehensive. Similar is the case of Kyoto, the treaty related to environment. Seeking immunity from the International Criminal Court for its civilians and soldiers and threatening to withdraw from peacekeeping missions around the world is another example. Surprisingly, the UN granted one-year immunity to the US personnel from persecution by the ICC in July 2002.
www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09; President Bush addressing the joint session of Congress and the American people said “Every nation, in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are with terrorists…”
In fact, the very American posturing and conduct that came to fore in wake of 9-11 necessitates that we know more about the incident and answer explicitly: What in fact was 9-11? Most of the popular critiques who view Muslims as a disturbing factor – a high risk for world security – have focused on the possibility that it was the September 11 that has changed the scenario all together. That this could happen should be a surprise because Muslim hand in the incidents has not been a substantially established fact till now. Although a growing array of information, circumstantial and otherwise, is presented as pointing to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network, no open trials have been held, or any guilt clearly established. However, without the apprehension of the accused and without a fair trial, which currently seems impossible, the charges will remain murky and the conspiracy theories will stand. Despite this, America not only implicated Osama but also made this allegation a ground to attack Afghanistan for regime change. At the same time, it coerced other nations to cooperate in its attack or be ready for reprisals.
Klare, Michael T. “For Oil and Empire? Rethinking War with Iraq.” Current History, Vol. 102, No. 662, March 2003, pp. 130; In their public pronouncements President Bush and his associates advanced three reasons for going to war with Iraq: 1) to Eliminate Saddam’s WMD 2) to diminish the threat of international terrorism, and 3) to promote democracy in Iraq (Liberating Iraqi people).
Israel made massive territorial gains capturing the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula up to the Suez Canal in the name of preemptive attack on Egypt on June 5, 1967 that drew Syria and Jordan into war. The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt as part of the 1979 peace deal. The rest is still occupied by Israel. It may be pointed out that UNSC resolution 242 asking “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the conflict” was passed on November 22, 1967.
op cit, Michael T. Klare…, pp. 133-4; US Vice President Dick Cheney noted in his August 26, 2002 speech before an audience of the veterans of foreign wars, “Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror and seated atop 10 per cent of the world oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail”. Earlier even in 1990 Cheney in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee said: “Who ever controls the flow of Persian Gulf oil has a ‘stranglehold’ not only on the American Economy but also on the economies of ‘the other nations of the world as well…’”
ibid, Michael T. Klare …, pp. 134; A single theme stands out in administration statement on United States national security policy: “the United States must prevent any potential rival from ever reaching the point where it could compete with United States on equal standing.”
US has recently recognized and entered into a truce with Mujahideen-e Khalq in Iraq, an otherwise declared terrorist outfit by US. This seems to have been done to employ the organization in propaganda warfare in Iran in near future.
It is interesting to note that American troops are posted in over 40 countries in the world and in almost the same number of countries, American consulates are performing duties with less than ordinary staff due to security reasons.
Military Balance 2000-2001, The International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, UK; Among the Arms suppliers, the US stands first in the world with around 50% (49.1% in 1999) share in the world market.
Scenes of WTC twin towers crash were repeatedly telecast lest anyone miss seeing them with his own eyes. Media made it binding upon the whole world to share the intensity of American awe these scenes produced. Other examples of media warfare are the spread of anthrax panic as aftermath of 9-11, sporadic reports of more devastating nuclear/terrorist attacks on America and lastly the world attention was fixed on Iraq’s possession of WMDs and media spin doctors crafted stories of these weapons’ possible use against America.
One should be clear that Islam and terrorism are worlds apart. As to the concept of Jihad it is an all-inclusive struggle for a just cause encompassing all spheres of human life; social, political, cultural etc. This includes struggle against ones own evil self and striving at all levels towards promoting good, virtue and justice. It is by all means of communication. Armed conflict can also be a part of it but it can never be a war of aggression. The concept in no way allows use of violent means against innocent people.
That the people of Iraq don’t like the highhandedness of America was made obvious when Iraqis refused to welcome Americans on their land. Gen. (r) Garner was met with protests and rallies chanting ‘out with USA.’ The largest Shiit congregation in Karbala – representative of the whole Iraq – showed its resentfulness with American presence in Iraq. It was only after depiction of such sentiments that even Iraqi opposition leader living in exile Mr. Ahmad Shalabi on his return to Iraq had to contend with the idea that Iraq may be left to be governed by its own people rather than the Americans. A distinguished American-backed Shiit leader was imported in Iraq to appease Iraqi people but he met a dreaded end.
“The Month in Review,” Current History, Vol. 102, No. 664, May 2003, pp. 235; On March 16 after a one day summit in the Portuguese Azores Islands British, Spanish and Portuguese Prime Ministers and US President issued a joint statement demanding that the UNSC approve within 24 hours a proposed US, Britain, Spain led resolution authorizing War. However, facing certain defeat the resolution was withdrawn the next day.
Shaikh Ahmad Yasin’s interview, first published in Arabic and reproduced in monthly Tarjuman al-Qur’an, Lahore, April 2003: Shaikh Ahmad Yasin responding to a question about suicidal attacks said: “The enemy is killing us. Did it ever ask us what weapons should it use or not use against us. Military aircrafts, tanks, missiles and what else it is not using. Then why we are being asked to follow certain methods. If the enemy is hitting our soft targets we have every right to hit its soft targets…”
op cit, Michael T. Klare…pp. 132; “Many of the top leaders of the current [US] administration, particularly Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney embraced Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in the 1980s when Iraq was the “enemy of our enemy” (that is Iran) … Under its “tilt” toward Iraq, the Reagan administration decided to assist Iraq in its war against Iran … President Reagan removed Iraq from the list of countries that supported terrorism, thus permitting billions of dollars … The bearer of this good news was none other than Donald Rumsfeld who traveled to Baghdad and met with Hussein in December 1983 as a special representative of President Reagan … Even though state department official were informed on Nov. 1, 1983 that the Iraqis were using chemical weapons against Iranians “almost” daily” … Cheney as Secretary of Defense in 1989 continued the practice of supplying Iraq with secret intelligence data…”
Though suspicions exist regarding the institution of Al Jazeera Satellite Channel (JSC) as a genuinely Arab channel and some quarters regard it as US graft in Arab lands, it has lately set a professional example. JSC is the Only Arabic Satellite Channel broadcasting News updates every 60 minutes with four main news a day offering high standards of independent journalism and unmatched coverage of correspondents throughout the world. JSC is practicing an overwhelming extent of freedom of speech making itself the first independent Arabic news and information channel in the World. Soon after its launch JSC have joined the club of the leaders of Arab satellite channels and started making fastest inroads in the Arab households achieving sizeable word of mouth influence. Today, Al Jazeera Satellite Channel is reaching millions of Arabs, especially Arab males as Al Jazeera Satellite Channel programs grid is skewed 67% towards male and 33% towards female making itself a niche TV.