Unlike the books of Bernard Lewis, Huntington, author of “The Clash of Civilizations” back in 1993, or Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History and The Last Man” from 1992, this article does not discuss the viewpoint of the intellectual elites of the West with regard to Islamic societies. It rather reflects the other way round and how this vision was formed:
Is it a result of accumulations dating back to historical roots, such as civilizations’ jostle which accompanied the emergence of Islam, and the relations with the Roman Empire?
Or is it the result of the medieval wars, the preparations of which began after the Clermont Council (2), in which the Germanic tribes participated at a wide-scale, where Arabs back then called it Franks’ wars, not the Crusades?
Or is it formed in the colonial era, or because of a combination of all?
On the other hand, there were bloody conflicts, where millions of lives were claimed during the two global wars. However, the people of those countries overcame the tragedy and worked on building their countries according to the perspective of common interests, away from national and ethnic conflicts, which made the West occupy the first position globally in the field of human rights.
Thus, according to the basic rules of logic, we cannot look at the current West as to look at it before the Second World War. The West has gone beyond all previous historical tracks, and has established, on the cultural and humanitarian levels, a new world that all people still seek.
On the contrary, the possibility of establishing a state may be available for many eastern countries, but they don’t succeed in reaching the humanitarian or technical equation of the West, and we may consider the bloody conflicts in the Arab Spring countries as evidence. The whole thing may be attributed to the cognitive awareness of the differences.
When people deal with differences as adjustable views that may be changed according to time, place and influential political or social conditions, they might overcome all differences. But when differences of views become immutable, changing reality becomes extremely complicated, and changing opinions will require rehabilitating social structures to break the deadlock and rediscover reality, and thus, changing the stereotype.
So is the case when we see the others, it depends on how we see ourselves and accept the idea of our inner differences that we still attribute to external factors. We see that all what happened to us and what will happen, the ignorance, degradation, poverty, defeats and deterioration in all paths of development is caused by the West, and it’s not our fault.
We are innocent of our miserable reality, only the West bears all responsibility of that (3). Those conspiracy became our daily bread, so do we see the West from the right perspective?
There are always external as well as internal influences that affect the forming of the people’s consciousness of people in terms of how they see each other. The common stereotypical image of the West in our Arabic region is completely incorrect, and it is preeminently distorted and falsified (4).
Therefore, the oriental observation of the West (in current times) holds lots of problems, and is subject to different impacts due to the political changes that occurred in the region; resulting from the aftermath of the two world wars, the rise of the national state, the total happenings during the colonization era, the alliances strategy which divided the world into two poles, eastern and the western. Adding to that the years of cold war, the Afghan crisis, which provoked the idea of motivating the elements of religion and power in Islamic countries, then the political transformation in Iran, and finally the US invasion in Iraq.
These are all essential factors that worked on shaping several visions in the Arab countries, and drew the features of relations with the west, although there was no certain vision about the west from an eastern point of view.
The nationalization of the Suez Canal and the triple attack on Egypt in 1956 remains one of the most significant political effects in modern history; a period which made substantial changes in people’s knowledge about the west. At that time, the Soviet influence increased in the Arabic region, when the Soviet Union warned the United Kingdom and France to end the war, to which they responded and complied after the Soviet- American agreement on this regard.
After the war ended, the Soviets entered the region thanks to arms deals and development programs (5). A suitable moment for Gamal Abdul Nasser to rise – in Arabs’ eyes – and the term (Nasiriyah) to have echo in the world of Arab writers and thinkers, especially after the nationalization battle of the Suez canal, which Abdul Nasser led against the triple attack in 1956 (6).
In general, the decade in the fifties was complicated on the international level. During that time the Korean War took place between 1950 and 1953, where China intervened, and fears regarding a possible Third War began to spread. That was followed by the Cuban revolution in 1953, then the liberation war in Algeria 1954, after that the beginning of the Vietnam War 1955, then the launching of the first Soviet satellite Sputnik 1, followed by a massive military arming race.
This decade of international preoccupation coincided with the stage of Gamal Abdul Nasser, then the independence of Algeria and other Arab countries. But Algeria’s political divisions did not affect the formation of an Arab popular position as much as Abdel Nasser did, who, despite the defeat of 1967, kept the Arab masses around him. And although the Arab-Israeli conflict was intensifying, the voice of Abdul Nasser’s populist speeches was more heard in the East and West than the Palestinian cause.
He, with no doubt, had completely affected Arab awareness of internal issues and relations with the West, so the east in the imagined reality became what’s different from the west. Therefore, the question of exploring the west was not as important as re-characterizing them in the Arab culture as invaders coveting the region.
The problematic issue today is that there are many sectors and intellectual elites belonging to different Islamic streams that went reinterpreting the historical events, whether those that happened at the beginning of last century in the colonial era, or those that occurred in the Middle Ages, whereas some of them went to link the relation with the west together with the emergence of Islamic message. All that doesn’t seem realistic at all, as we have become prisoners of many visions that were recently recreated as a kind of exploring the past to reproduce a new type of religious influence on the relation between the West and the East.
The owners of which visions try to install them within two scopes:
First: Relying on historical facts that occurred during the wars between East and West in the Medieval times, newly called the Crusades. While those wars, interruptedly lasted for 200 years, were called by Arabs as the wars of the Franks – as Arabs used to call the French and Germans. In other words, Arab historians did not use the names of a religious nature in their books, including Abu Yali Al-Qalansi (7) who lived in that era, first source for the researchers interested in that era.
The cities of Maarat al-Numan in Syria and Jerusalem in Palestine witnessed in the era the bloodiest blow in the region’s history, however, Arab historians didn’t write down the details of those events, unlike the Latin historians and writers, such as the well-known French Albert Dix, or Fultcher of Charters.
Mikhail Saburov says: “Western chroniclers describe those events in details (referring to what happened in Maarat al-Numan and Jerusalem), while eastern chroniclers such as al-Qalansi, Ibn al-Atheer and others, hint very briefly at opening Jerusalem without referring to the madness and barbaric brutality of the invaders.”(8)
Second: The Islamists recall the colonial era in the Arab East during and after the First World War, as there are some historical events that affected and still affect the tracks of culture and society. An example of which is what the French High Commissioner, Henri Gouraud did after the Battle of Maysaloon, when he entered Damascus and headed to the tomb of Salah Addin al-Ayoubi saying: “We are back, Salah Addin.”(9) Also what General Edmund Allenby underlined while entering Jerusalem in October 1917, saying: “Now the Crusades are over.”
In general, these are two significant events in our recent history, but the historical facts in Damascus and Palestine did not indicate that Arabs considered the conflict as a conflict between Islam and the West.
As the Qassam revolution erupted in Palestine, and at the same time the Syrian revolution was led by a number of followers of Sheikh Badr Addin Al-Hassani,(10) while in Libya the revolution was led by Sheikh Omar Al-Mukhtar. So, although those revolutions were led by influential Muslim leaders, they all believed that the aim of those revolutions was only independence and expelling the occupation, but how that period is portrayed now?
When the idea of unitary and nationalist projects had resolved, and after the death of Abdul Nasser, followed by political transformations in Egypt and openness policy, the emergence of political Islam had a profound impact on the region.
The idea of a religious awakening had raised and reformulated the historical events on new foundations, which indicated that the relations with the West are part of an inevitable conflict and permanent confrontation.
Let us try to read, what Sheikh Safar Al-Hawali wrote in his talk about the West:
“These deep-rooted enmities are neither a sectarian strife, nor political conflict, or economic ambitions; in short, they are not something can be settled and their effects cannot be eradicated.” (11)
On the General Allenby’s incident he says:
“General Allenby was not much outspoken when he stood on al-Zaytoon mountain in World War I and said: ‚Now the Crusades are over.‘ Reality confirms that these wars will never end ..” (12)
The problem, of course, is not with Sheikh Safar Al-Hawali alone, as there are hundreds of books, studies and writings that referred to the periods of the middle ages and the colonial wars. The Muslim Brotherhoods played a significant role in that issue, referring to a book of Sayyed Qutb, “In The Shades of the Qur’an“, where he said:
“These wars have never been buried by the crusaders.” (13)
“But the conflict has arisen, and had to arise between these Islamic resurrection movements and the Western ideology, or between those, who belong to the real Islam and those, who enslaved their souls to the Western thoughts. And this conflict may be protracted,”(14) Sayyed Qutb added.
The Islamists were inspired by the populist rhetorics known from the Abdul Nasser era, therefore, the most dangerous thing was that the political Islam created a dangerous turning point in the Islamic East, when they turned the Islamic religion from a monotheistic religion, calling for cooperation between peoples, “There is no compulsion in religion”(15) “and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another” (16) into a populist idea, imbued with a new historical formulation in the form of the historical materialism of communism, which redrew the world according to the Marxist vision.
The political Islam reformulated Islamic history in a way that serves its political whims, and with this false view, viewing the West was based on an open conflict that began with the rise of Islam, and these new names came in line with that stage, characterized by populist speech.
Returning the roots of the current eastern view in the West to the long wars of the middle century. Although this description is new and expresses a set of political interests according to circumstances and place, the party elites either left parties or nationalists, liked the idea of viewing the West as an enemy, justifying their political alignment during the game of political axes in the era of the Soviet Union.
With the collapse of communism, the political Islam found that adopting the idea of confronting the West might be useful to attract supporters, especially after the Khomeinist era, which obviously affected the region.
Despite the different circumstances of the Islamic movements in every country, the success of the Iranian revolution had a clear impact in strengthening the religious groups that invested the political vacuum, mass despair, economic suffering, alienation and dependency in all forms.(17)
Especially after raiding the American embassy in Tehran, and the emergence of slogans like “death to America”
No researcher in modern history can address the views of the peoples of the southern and eastern Mediterranean without going through the Iranian era, because it is the era which fueled feelings of hatred for the West, and prompted the currents of political Islam to embrace the hate speech that led to this distorted image in the east.
Consequently, we see that the goal of everyone, the Marxist and nationalist currents, the movements of political Islam, and the Khomeinist revolution in Iran, is establishing a new database in the minds of people, which indicates that the relation with the West is based on an ancient historical conflict dating back to the Middle Ages and the colonial period.
This problem between East and West cannot be solved without relying on the element of power, making it a burden on the people’s shoulders to justify the political systems’ domination on their minds in order to strengthen their hegemony over their people under the pretext of confronting the West.
The sensitivity of the issue is that the narrated details of these historical events, and the ancient writings of either side in any war are only viewpoints, and the viewpoints of both sides do not necessarily have to be identical, for example that the Arab historians’ view of the medieval wars between Europeans and East is different from the view of the Latin historians.
In that era, the Church needed to use the religion factor in the battle to compel the kings of Europe to postpone their internal struggles and direct their power beyond the borders of the continent. So when we – in the modern times – read translations of Latin historians, we see how they viewed the East at that time. These writings became a rich material to the streams of political Islam, and this is what happens when we read some books of orientalists, which we see as nothing but alienating messages, but we have never questioned ourselves about our internal reality, our culture and history, and about the differences in views.
If we assume that those writings say the truth, some very important questions will emerge: What’s the value of such writings? Why are we gaining from them now?
The answer is: Nothing!
By examining the Eastern view for that stage of the conflict, we find that they avoided using religious names for the conflict, and we see that historians ignored the historical horrors, especially what happened in the battles of Maarat al-Numan and Jerusalem; and this is for many reasons imitating what became essential for the modern media institutions like refusing to publish videos that hurt the feelings and fuel conflicts, and thus keeping these evidence hidden in their legal files, will prevent transferring hatred.
Historical events are being understood according to the interests and not according to preconceived ideas. What some people see as an absolute truth, the others may see as a point of view; and Salah Addin is an example, in our culture he is a symbol of power and Jihad, whereas in the Western culture he’s a noble knight (18), who sought peace, and this is what we ignore in our culture, showing him as Salah Addin the warrior.
The West has folded bitter pages of internal conflict in the European continent during the past century, and has reproduced a new culture with new modern features, and so did Japan and South Korea, while many countries, including Arab and Islamic ones, remained away from that.
But this does not eliminate the fact that millions of Arabs and Muslims immigrants became part of the societies in the West, they are in harmony with that civilization, that we cannot see the West without seeing them, and seeing the rights they got there, which we lack in all our Arab or Islamic entities.
This is what political Islam neglects by propagating false beliefs. For the first Muslims, when they raised their swords, they did not raise them to eradicate paganism, as advocates of political Islam claim, they rather allied with the pagans, and the deal with Khuza’a tribe is evidence.
Therefore, we say that the danger of Jihadist Islam comes from being eliminating, as it eliminates Muslims at the first place, eliminates doctrines and sects, and eliminates the whole world.
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