In the last two decades, Islam and the Arab world have been under an increasing number of attacks from western far-right politicians and even discussed in motions of debates in several houses of parliaments around the globe discussing measures and restrictions to impose on their Muslim citizens. Those attacks and policies intensified between 2016 and 2021, with the rise of far-right extremist politics to power in all corners of the west and the deterioration of the liberal speech at the expense of xenophobic sentiment and the return of nationalism and populism.
Those kinds of rhetorics and practices are not new in the history of humanity. In the mid-1930s, nationalism was the dominant ideology that would unite millions of individuals for a common goal, against a common enemy. Many sociologists and theorists attribute its return to inextricable elements that laid the ground to such situation, we can name for instance the 2008 financial crisis and the failure of the global system to meet people’s expectations, also the identity crisis that Europeans have been going through since the refugees’ crisis of 2015. All these ingredients feed the fear and anger of citizens and nationalism becomes the best alternative that preserves the western identity and its civilizational superiority. However, if we look deeper into the roots of the crisis it will certainly appear that the rise of violence and hatred around the globe is due to two main reasons; the accumulation of unilateral policies of the west in the middle east and the identity crisis the Muslim world is living for centuries.
The western policies in the east are built upon a poor understanding of the status quo of the indigenous population. This view is constructed upon the ideology of superiority and grandiosity of the western’s culture and civilization. And this is what brought the first wave of colonial power. It was the premise of changing the east to become the west, which results in a process of cultural alienation and othering. In that era, the west was the only reality that matters and the Arabs and Muslims are on the margin.
This ideology is omnipresent in the policies of the major colonial powers like France and the British empire between the 18th and 19th centuries. The abolition of the Ottoman empire and the forced establishment of a secular regime, the British mandate in Palestine, and reparation of zones of influence with boundaries that gave no consideration to the diverse ethnicities and to the cultural and historical dynamics that shape the region; all these actions inflicted harm on the region and created a complicated reality.
This idea is the cornerstone upon which the west has built its foreign and military policy in the middle east specifically and in the east in general. surprisingly, despite the end of the colonial era, this policy and view are perpetuated in “the modern free world”. Today the US and its allies undertake policies that are only aligned with their interests with a glaring lack of knowledge of the status quo. For example, the US decision to invade Iraq was, among others, taken as it goes with the American interest and interventionist behavior as a world policeman. Then the Bush administration appointed Paul Bremer as the governor of Iraq, a diplomat with an enormous lack of knowledge about the Iraqi social and political dynamics who would be responsible for establishing a democratic regime.
The chaos and instability characterizing the Arab and the Muslim world today that brought its shadow into the western society with terrorism is partially due to western ideology and own definition of the east.
Today, the US and its major allies in Europe completely surprised about their failure in the east, imposing xenophobic policies against immigrants ignoring the fact that these are the fruits of the seeds they implanted for years.
The second main reason behind the rise of islamophobia in western societies and the spread of xenophobic policies is the identity crisis Arab and Muslim countries are living in. The deterioration and then fall of the Caliphate system in 1923 and the institutionalization of constitutional and secular regimes in many states in the middle east have been a major blow to the face of the Arab middle-eastern identity that has Islamic rule and state at the core of its essence. for this reason, during that period, the region witnessed numerous attempts to find an alternative; nationalism, pan-Arabism, Islamism. and to that period, we can date back the proliferation of many ideologies that continues to shape the arabe world and global politics. we can find wahhabism with Ibn Abd El wahab in 1702-93, which is the source of many terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Al Shabab, alsa the egyptian islamic brotherhood with Hassan al bana 1906-1949. most of these doctrines refused the western hegemony in the middle east and used religions and nostalgic sentiments and dogmatization to obtain liberty and dignity, restoring the glories of a lost past. The denial of the present and the inability to deal with the current crisis with modern tools, the constant instrumentalization of religion are all symptoms of an identity crisis that hampers all real attempts for change.
There will be no long-term solution or peace in the world unless a concrete cultural dialogue is established and a reconciliation process with our own history in order to be able to move forward to build our future.