The Christian West’s ongoing quarrel with the Muslim East

It is difficult to predict how this cycle will end and where it is likely to take Western societies

Shahid Javed Burki July 22, 2019
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and has served as vice-president of the World Bank

In this Sunday’s (July 14) issues, two American newspapers reviewed two recent books that throw some light on the Christian West’s ongoing quarrel with the Muslim East.

One book looks at the purported violence visited by the Turkish Muslim leaders with the alleged purpose of cleansing their country of non-Muslim populations.

This occurred after the Western militaries had defeated the once-powerful Ottoman Empire. This is a cautionary tale with the not-openly-stated purpose of alerting why the West has to be mindful of the dangers posed by the growing Muslim populations in the countries of the area.

The other looks at the violence that has come to be associated with young men of colour and is committed for no particular reason. It blames society in which they are growing up for much of their behaviour.

In Trump’s America, the quarrel with Muslims and people of colour is acquiring a sharp tone. For instance on the day these reviews appeared, the US President issued a series of tweets aimed at four Congresswomen of colour who had become his vocal critics.

Two of these — Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — are Muslims. The other two — Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressely — were born in the United States in families of colour. He suggested that these four lawmakers were not needed in the United States but could well serve the countries of their origin.

They should “go back to the countries they came from, rather than loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States how to run their country”, he said in a Tweet. After they have fixed their countries, they could return to the United States, said the President.

The tweet left many in the United States speechless. “When it comes to race, Mr Trump plays with fire like no other President in a century,” wrote Peter Baker in a news analysis run by The New York Times.

“While others who occupied the White House at times skirted close to or even over the line, finding ways to appeal to the resentments of white Americans with subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions, none of them in modern times fanned the flames as overtly, relentlessly and even eagerly as Mr Trump.”

Two Israeli historians of considerable repute have provided their versions of how in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century deployed the resources of the Turkish state to halt the European move into the territories that still remained with Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

In The Thirty Year Genocide, Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi use the usual Western perspective to tell the story of how the Turks saved the rest of their large empire from total collapse.

The book’s sub-title, Turkey’s Destruction of its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924 displays the author’s bias in the way they tell the story. According to this telling account, genocide was the preferred instrument to save from Western conquest what was left of Turkey.

They examine three episodes: first, the massacre of perhaps 200,000 Armenians that took place in two years between 1894 and 1896 followed by the even large killing of Armenians that started in 1915 and continued for several years.

The third purported incident was the killing and deportation of the remaining Christians (mostly Greek) during the conflict of 1919-22 that the Turks call their War of Independence. The authors also refer to the fate of 250,000 Assyrian Christians who may also have perished during this period of extreme turbulence.

The authors mostly ignore the provocations to which the Turks were responding. As a result of these moves by the Turkish state, the Christian share of Anatolia’s population fell form 20 per cent to only 2 per cent. There is a suggestion that the Muslim rulers of Turkey were acting by conforming to the basic tenets of their religion to use violence against those not of their faith.

The other book that has relevance for today’s events in the West is Jamil Jivani’s Why Young Men. It explains why youths are so drawn to what appears to be senseless violence. Jivani has good credentials to write about the subject. He is the son of a mostly absent black father and a white mother who grew up in a tough Toronto neighbourhood where he faced law enforcement officials for no particular reason.

“Waiting for the bus, walking home from school and hanging out at the mall, sometimes they, the security forces, stopped me to ask questions; other times they looked at me with suspicion or intimidation in their eyes. I attributed their behaviour to their racism. I saw whom they stopped and whom they didn’t.”

Jivani says his response was predictable. It began with resentment, matured into anger and eventually found its violent voice. Resorting to violence landed many young men in jails.

There are many youths in the West who are similarly placed as Jivani in the societies in which they live. For instance, prison advocacy groups say that while Muslims are just 14 per cent of the French population, they make up more than 60 per cent of Frenchmen behind bars. Incarceration results in radicalisation.

Radical imams tell young: Just look prisoners around; all you see are Muslims. Several studies have shown that more than any other single factor, discrimination — not poverty — has a direct link to terrorism and violence. Several of these youths found their way into the ranks of the Islamic State.

A troubling conclusion emerges from a reading of these two books. Several historians believe that Islam as a faith encourages violent behaviour against non-believers. This belief, in return, encourages violence against those believers of the Islamic faith who are attempting to find a place for themselves in the West.

In this cycle of cause and effect, leaders such as Donald J Trump, the United States President, have inserted themselves, stoking anti-Muslim and anti-people-of-colour attitudes.

It is difficult to predict how this cycle would end and where it is likely to take Western societies. America is not the only affected country. Several nations in Europe are similarly disposed.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22, 2019.

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