LONDON (JP): These are difficult times for Muslims worldwide but in particular for those of them living in Europe and the United States. Coming days may be as difficult for the Palestinians, whose cries of pain -- out of necessity -- need not be heard if the Americans are to wage their war of vengeance. In as much as the Palestinians did not need the Gulf war and were victims of Iraq President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, they definitely did not need the atrocities committed in America on Sept. 11 and are very likely to suffer as a result.
As for the Muslims in the West, although it would seem as if we have been through this before several times already (during the Gulf war, in the aftermath of the first World Trade Center bombing, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing, etc.), this is a crisis of unprecedented dimensions.
The symbols of Western capitalism and U.S. military might have been attacked, several thousands have been killed and the renowned U.S. systems of intelligence and reconnaissance have been humiliated and discredited. Worse still, the suspect is a shadowy elusive figure that takes shelter in a country suffocated by sanctions and ravished by war and tribal strife.
While most Muslims around the world condemn and regret the recent attack on innocent civilians in the U.S., the media coverage of the unfolding events since Sept. 11 has, wittingly or otherwise, been agitating Western public opinion against Islam and the Muslims.
Muslim mosques and schools have come under attack prompting some schools to send their pupils home and close their doors until further notice. Muslims in America have been advised to lock themselves in lest they are attacked as they walked the streets. The situation is less serious in Europe though several incidents of abuse and attack have been reported in the United Kingdom.
Muslim women in particular, conspicuous by their head dresses and vulnerable by their feminism, have been easy targets. One is tempted to think that what George Bush Jr. and Tony Blair like to call the "civilized world" is not so civilized after all.
The remarks made by President George W. Bush on several occasions, despite his assurances to the Muslims that this was not a war against them or their religion, included reference to a "crusade", and the "civilized world", the "free world" and "democracy" being attacked by the "evil ones".
Such remarks have not been helpful at all and have been criticized by many people both inside America and across Europe. If the West is waging a crusade are we to compare it with the one Europe waged against the world of Islam 10 centuries ago? If the West is the civilized world, are the Muslims the savages? If democracy in the West is what is under attack, why is the U.S. sponsoring and protecting a bunch of despotic regimes across the Muslim region against the wishes of the people who are struggling for democracy and freedom?
The Israelis and their Zionist propaganda worldwide immediately seized on the pain and sorrow of the American people by agitating against Islam and the Muslims. Former as well as present political figures were given ample space in the media to tell the world of their expertise regarding "Islamic terrorism".
The Palestinian people's struggle against occupation, which is a legitimate right in accordance with the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all UN Security Council resolutions adopted on the issue since Israel was founded in 1948, was being equated and likened to the atrocities of Sept. 11. Some Israeli figures, including former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could not conceal his delight because this attack on U.S. was a golden opportunity for Israel to mobilize the world against Islam and to regain some of the points it has lost since the Palestinian intifada erupted a year ago.
Without evidence of his involvement and without much talk about his background or likely motivation, right from the first day, Osama Bin Laden was presented to the world as the symbol of "Islamic terrorism" or, more mildly "Islamic extremism".
To bridge the gap between terrorism (or extremism) and Islam, the most frequently used term to describe the Bin Laden phenomenon, not only by people in the media but also by prominent politicians and decision-makers, has been Islamic fundamentalism.
Academics know quite well the danger of applying this term to Islam because to the majority of liberal or mainline Christians "fundamentalism" is pejorative or derogatory. Communal manifestation or personal observance of religious practice or symbols can easily be labeled as "fundamentalism".
No doubt, such treatment is exclusive to Islam and its followers. No other religion is labeled in the same manner when some or any of its followers are suspected of embroilment in acts of terrorism. You do not hear the terms "Jewish terrorism" or "Christian terrorism" or "Hindu terrorism" or "Sikh terrorism". One important factor compounds the problem in the case of Islam.
The U.S. and some of its allies in Europe are not liked in many parts of the Muslim world because of their foreign policies and what is seen as their imperialist attitude. The U.S. in particular is the most hated country in the Muslim world thanks to its unconditional, uncritical support for Israel, its role in perpetuating the suffering of the Iraqi people and the presence of its troops on Islam's holiest soil in Arabia.
The calamity of Sept. 11 may have been a source of joy for some Muslims whose hatred for America prevents them from recognizing the savagery and inhumanity of this attack.
U.S. policy makers may not be oblivious to this fact. They probably know, only too well, that if Muslims were actually responsible for the catastrophe, it is U.S. foreign policy that breeds and provokes such elements that are willing to go as far as killing themselves to inflict pain and humiliation on the U.S. The leader of world democracy and protector of international law and human rights is seen by many Muslims in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa as supporting dictatorships and military junta that resist political reform and that are up to their ears in corruption.
The real tragedy is that very few Americans know how their country is perceived and what their policy makers are doing to the rest of the world. Rather than asking questions about the failure of America in protecting its citizens from the menace of terrorism and seeking to call to account senior U.S. officials all the way from the president downwards, many Americans are rallying behind their government to launch war against "Islamic terrorism".
In light of this feverish and indiscriminate mobilization, the Muslim world is emerging as the enemy the scholar Samuel Huntington once depicted. Unless sensible people in the U.S. and Western Europe start speaking against such mobilization what Huntington prophesized may just come true.
We should all do our best so that a war against terrorism does not turn into "a clash of civilizations." A sensible war against terrorism may be won but a war against Islam can never be won.
As for the Palestinians, something similar to what happened in the early 1990s may be in the making. The Gulf war paved the way for putting an end to the first intifada and the U.S. war against Afghanistan may lead to putting an end to the current one.
In an unprecedented move, the U.S. administration used its verbal muscles to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into agreeing to a ceasefire that had earlier been agreed to by Yasser Arafat, also in response to U.S. demands.
Ironically, this shows, only too well, that the Americans can dictate to the Israelis what they want when they deem it necessary to do so. Just as the Americans were eager to build a coalition against Iraq in 1990, they are now so eager to build a coalition against "terrorism". The Americans know well that if Muslim governments are not on board such a coalition will have no chance of succeeding.
Like other Arab leaders, and in contrast with his position 10 years ago, Arafat has pledged support for the U.S. He has even placed all his resources under the command of President Bush. The best Arafat can do under the prevalent circumstances is settle with the Israelis so U.S. strategists and decision makers to can have the piece of mind they need in executing their war, a war which many Muslims fear will not be waged solely against bin Laden or the Taliban but against whatever America deems to be a threat to its interests and the interests of its alleged strategic ally, Israel, in the Arab and Muslim regions.
However, an imminent settlement is unlikely to be permanent. Palestinians have tried this before. The symptoms of the chronic Palestinian issue are impossible to do away with. Only hours after both Arafat and Sharon agreed to the ceasefire, clashes between Palestinians and settlers resulted in fatalities on both sides. The Palestinians simply cannot coexist with Jewish settlers who live on land seized from them by force.
The Israelis on the other hand cannot do away with their contempt for the Arabs whose presence next door is a continuous reminder to them of the crime they have committed against them.
Dr. Azzam Tamimi is a researcher at the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London.