If 2016 proved an annus horribilis, can Muslims look forward to something better in 2017? Not, it would appear, if present trends continue. Consider.
The Muslim world has been hard done by, first at the hands of colonialism, later by the post-colonial global power structure. The period after the Second World War delivered almost universal humiliation, subjugation and repression at the hands of the global powers that be. Despite struggles for independence and national liberation, the results presented a mixed picture.
The dawn of the 21st century has not improved matters but arguably made things worse. In our region, the unending tensions and conflicts between Pakistan and India, the consequence of events surrounding partition and the unfinished agenda it bequeathed, show no end in sight. In the Middle East, Palestine remains a bleeding wound at the hands of Israel and its western backers led by the US. Afghanistan is still roiled by the longest war in post-Second World War history, with little sign of a resolution or peace.
If Palestine represented the first humiliation of Muslims in the second half of the 20th century, a humiliation that continues through all the twists and turns, victories and defeats suffered by that unfortunate people, the 21st century has delivered the phenomenon of western direct or proxy military interventions and overthrow of regimes by the post-Cold War triumphalist west. The response of the Muslim world can be roughly divided into three segments. One, challenges to the humiliation and repression; two, collaboration with the oppressing western powers, and three, some combination of the first two. About the first of these responses, the falling back on religiously-motivated millenarian movements that seek to restore Muslim power as in the past and have no hesitation in interpreting the concept of jihad (essentially a defensive doctrine) as licence for terrorist methods, has arguably visited the worst outcome thinkable on Muslims generally.
One only has to glance at the geopolitical map of the contemporary world to see the truth of this argument. The Syrian conflict, the result of a proxy intervention by the US-led west to bring about regime change and see the back of Bashar al-Assad and the secular Baath government (just as was carried out in Iraq), has produced one of the largest refugee exoduses of modern times. Joining this flood, and under its cover, has been an accompanying flood of immigrants to Europe.
If the Syrian cauldron was not enough, the proxy overthrow of Qadhafi in Libya produced a no less horrifying human wave from North Africa across the Mediterranean to more salubrious shores. This tsunami of human beings washing up on Europe’s shores was received with sympathy (at least initially) in many countries (Germany standing out in this regard) but hostility in many others. Even in the former, the subsequent hate based on race, ethnicity and religion (anti-Muslim) has seen as the other side of the coin; groups like Islamic State (IS) sneaking in operatives who have wreaked havoc in a number of European countries through terrorist attacks.
This phenomenon has brought grist to the mill of the far right, which has unleashed a torrent of hate against refugees and immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular. Even Germany’s Angela Merkel, who stood out among European leaders in her humanitarian concern for the refugees, is by now suffering from the backlash in public opinion because of terrorism linked to IS or ‘lone wolf’ terrorism.
To return to the question at the beginning, can Muslims in their own countries, or in countries where they have been, forced to take refuge, hope for better things in 2017? One ray of hope is provided by the Russian counter-intervention in the Syrian conflict, which has not only turned the tide of war in Bashar al-Assad’s favour but also opened a door of opportunity to bring peace to the war-ravaged Syrian people.
The conference on the conflict planned for this month in Kazakhstan could provide the follow up momentum to the cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey. If the corner is turned to peace in Syria, some if not all of the ruction of waves of refugees washing up on Europe’s shores could be helped to abate.
However, given the rise of the far right in Europe and the continuing conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East, South Asia and further abroad, Muslims can hardly be sanguine about their prospects in the new year. -Business Recorder