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Friday, November 2, 2012

Colonialism Palestine & Israel

The period following on from the end of the First World War and until 1948 was the period of release from old colonial rule for all nations. Note: I exclude non-Arab Africa because their independence did not become effective until after the Second World War.

It is more than a curiosity of modern history that the two bookends of colonial independence were Christian Greece (1830) and Jewish Israel (1948), both having suffered under Ottoman (Turkish) misrule.  And yet, when we rage against colonialism it is understood to mean Western (usually Christian) colonialism and not Islamic colonialism. In another bizarre twist to the historical narrative, Israel came into existence within the same movement for change that all of the Arab nations did, has treated its minorities better than any one of the Arab (or Muslim) countries have, but is the only minority nation under incessant diplomatic (and military) attack.  While many minorities have yet to achieve ethnic self-determination the historical treatment of minorities in the Arab world and beyond leaves no doubt as to the necessity for independence from ongoing colonial rule.

The founding myths / ethos of the Arab world are inextricably entangled with the foundation myths / ethos of Islam.  It informs every aspect of Arab society.  And this is the problem. A seventh century CE event rules the hearts and minds of a huge swathe of twenty-first century humanity.

The relentless drive towards self-rule that overtook many colonial enterprises coincided with the rise of radical political thought (both Left and Right).  Neither saw the colonies as worthy of self-determination but because intellectuals within the colonies inevitably spoke the language of ‘the masters’ they read and absorbed the intellectual currents of the time.

The Arab world was infused with a mixture of fascist and fundamentalist streams of thought. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, had elements of both ideological currents as expressed by the Left and the Right. When the Ottoman Empire disintegrated towards the end of the First World War it was seen as an opportunity by rival Arab clans to carve out family empires. The Arab rulers were granted independent statehood with their borders randomly drawn up by Britain and France. Clans inevitably had competing imperial claims.  Israel was viewed as part of the fantasy Jordanian Hashemite Empire, the Ba’athist Greater Syrian Empire, the competing Ba’athist Greater Iraqi Empire and the fantasy empire of the Saudi kings.

A drive for Islamic renewal following centuries of dependency on non-Arab rulers manifested itself in an extremist position that sought conquest and domination.

Add Arab nationalism and fascism to the mix then the possibility that Jewish self-determination was ever going to be acceptable was frankly delusional.

The concept of an Arab dominated Islamic global empire has existed since the founding of the Islamic faith in the 7th Century CE. It is fundamental to a theologically based Arab world-view.  Arab nationalism expressed itself successfully within a pan-Arab framework because in its denial of individual national aspirations it neatly tied into the theological underpinnings of Arab racial supremacy. It created a platform that was enthusiastically embraced by Arabs everywhere as rival potentates vied for leadership of the Arab world.  Competing arguments were difficult to summon except in theological terms.  In fact it is by riding on a theological juggernaut that adversarial racial groups such as Turkey and Iran have been able to successfully re-invigorate their geopolitical ambitions.

Communism embraced Arab nationalism because it provided a competing ideology to Western Capitalism and which, through Arab adoption of communist rhetoric made it a useful ally against the West.

From the great destruction by the Romans in 135 CE through the cataclysmic events of the Crusades and until the 17th century when Jews again began a mass movement of return, historically, Jews continuously inhabited the Holy Land. They never left the country but their circumstances did change dramatically over almost two millennia. As a minority they were sometimes massacred but usually tolerated.  Romans, Arabs, Kurds, Ottoman Turks and finally, Britain ruled Israel with an iron fist or malevolent indifference to the plight of the local population. Because discrimination is persecution whether it is institutional or physical, Israeli self-rule was an inevitable concomitant reaction to the anti-colonial movement. But it was a complication that communism did not need. Nevertheless, it was first and foremost the USSR that presented Israel with de jure recognition.

Israel would have come into existence as a modern nation state with or without the Shoah. The means of its tumultuous birth was an issue for diplomatic recognition only. It does not detract from the need for and therefore the inevitability of Jewish independence that Israel achieved on May 15, 1948.

Is Israel a modern colonial outpost of Western imperialism? The answer is a resounding NO!

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