There is a new book
by Efraim Karsh, just coming out from Yale, which everyone who
feels entitled to an opinion about “the Middle East”
may feel compelled to read. The book is entitled, Islamic Imperialism:
A History, and supplies just what it promises with comprehensive
scholarly footnotes. The topic is so large, that I don’t
want to reduce it to a blurb. Some things require a book. And
the authority of Prof. Karsh’s previous book, Empires of
the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923,
is sufficient to promote the new one. The author, who heads a
programme at the University of London’s King’s College,
is among the few we may rank with Bernard Lewis as knowledgeable
interpreters of Middle Eastern affairs, from the deep historical
But some things can
be reduced to a sentence. The quest to establish “Allah’s
empire on earth” is not something that began yesterday.
Nor have the fundamental differences in outlook between the civilization
founded on Christianity, and the civilization founded on Islam,
recently emerged. Nor even the contrast in ideas about how war
should be fought, and how victories should be consolidated.
The specific terrorist
means used by fanatical “Islamist” secret societies
are a product of our times, but it is profoundly naïve to
look upon the ends which Osama bin Laden and others contemplate
as in any way foreign to Islamic tradition. For in that tradition,
the Prophet himself declared, “I was ordered to fight all
men until they say, There is no god but Allah.” And the
belief that every free-born adult Muslim male is called to advance
the domain of Islam, by force wherever it will be effective, has
been part of the teaching of all branches of Islam through 14
centuries. Any Muslim who denies this is denying the tenets of
his own faith, and there is no shortage of Koranic texts with
which to correct him.
And while it is true
that wars have been fought at one time or another in history,
to advance every known religion, including Buddhism, there is
no other known religion (except arguably certain forms of ancient
Persian Zoroastrianism, or early modern Japanese Shintoism) that
preaches imposition of belief by force.
Now, the reader will
recall that President George W. Bush of the United States is committed
to spreading democracy through the Middle East -- beginning with
Afghanistan and Iraq -- as the ultimate antidote to terror. Notwithstanding
what you have read, most days in the mainstream media, those projects
have gone surprisingly well. But this was under American direction,
in two countries whose peoples were exhausted by long intervals
of murderous totalitarian rule. Moreover, they were two of the
most secularized countries in the Islamic world.
A large part of the
shock of last week’s decisive electoral victory of Hamas
in Palestine is being absorbed under the surface.
On the surface, we
should now all be able to see that the “peace process”
with Israel is dead. Even those who are in no diplomatic position
to admit this, admit it by their acts. The Israeli, European,
and North American donors upon whose financial support the Palestinian
leadership have long depended, are now preparing to withdraw their
subsidies. These will most likely be replaced by less visible
funding from radical Saudi Arabian sheikhs, and Iran’s revolutionary
ayatollahs (who in turn get their money from what we pay for oil).
The additional co-operation that this will bring about between
Shia and Sunni funding sources, for the common project of annihilating
Israel, is worth a note in passing. That Israel’s enemies
are our enemies becomes a little clearer, to those in the West
for whom it was not already clear as daylight.
Hamas claims to be
acting, not as the broker for its constituents’ interests,
but as the popularly acclaimed voice of God. Its manifesto unambiguously
proposes to advance a strictly Islamic political order, and an
overwhelming majority of Palestinian Arabs believe that this is
a legitimate cause. Even the losing Fatah factions agreed that
Islam itself requires the “recovery” of Israel, the
gradual “restoration” of a Sharia theocracy, and the
imposition of Islamic authority upon subject Christians and Jews.
The only disagreement was over the tactics by which results could
This is what is more
fundamentally shocking, specifically to the Bush administration
and moderate observers throughout the West. Here was an election
in the Arab world, done to Jimmy Carter standards, but not under
American tutelage. And it comes a few weeks after a half-election
in neighbouring Egypt brought a large harvest of new Assembly
seats to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Democracy is not just
voting. Democracy is a whole bourgeois way of life, and a method
for resolving disputes peacefully. It is not essentially compatible
with millenarian religious schemes. We ask, “Can Islam and
democracy co-exist?” What if Hamas has given us the answer?
2006 Ottawa Citizen