I don’t think too many people would argue with my saying the the Presidential election in the USA coming up in November of this year will be one of the most, if not the most, signicant political events of this year and perhaps of this century. The fact that we will, for the first time in our history, have a President who is not white is momentously historic. But, that fact alone is not the only reason for the potential historical significance of this election. Barack Obama’s election, because of the fact that he is black, will certainly lead to some significant shifts in American domestic politics, which are sorely needed, but his election will also lead to some major shifts in American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. And it is the difference between Obama’s position on Middle East foreign policy and that of Senator John McCain that I want to talk about today.
The primary focus of current US Middle East policy has been a “holy war” against what the Bush Administration calls terrorism and which the current administration sees as a threat to our national security. The Bush propaganda machine presents its case for this “war on terrorism” as something that makes the targets, the former Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, the present government of Iran, the Hamas government of Palestine, the Taliban “rebels” in Afghanistan, the various militant opposition factions in Iraq, and the “international conspiracy” referred to as al-Qaida, some sort of evil cabal that has targeted the US for destruction through no fault of its own. But, if we look at the history of the relationship between the Islamic Middle East and the Christian West, of which the US is the currnet leader and symbol, we will find that this “war on terrorism” is nothing more than a long-standing religious war between Islan and Christianity that dates back to the First Crusade.
The Crusades were the various attempts, spanning several centuries, by Wextern Christianity to take back the Christian holy places, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, etc., from Islamic control. The various Crusades were inspired by, in my opinion, exaggerated stories of mistreatment of Christian pilgrims and desecration of Christian shrines. From my own reading and research on the Crusades, it appears the, prior to the First Crusade, there was little or no harrassment of pilgrims or desecreation of shrines. It was not until after the First Crusade that there was much harassment of Western Christians by Muslims, and yet, the Eastern Orthodox Church was allowed to maintain a religious presence at the various shrines. Most of the conflict over the shrines has, historically, been between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity rather than Christianity and Islam.
It seems to me that the attitudes and actions of the Crusades are what initiated this long-standing conflict. And, researching the Crusades using more objective sources that the texbooks used in American public schools, it appears that the Crusaders were much more guilty of deceit and depracations against the Muslims than vice-versa. In fact, the Western Crusaders were did not target just Muslims for their deceit and depravations; they also targeed Eastern Orthodoxy as well, as the sack of Constantinople in 1204 shows. And as for the so-called Children’s Crusade of 1212, modern research shows that the participants were not children, as we understand the word. nor were these “children” sold into slaver or enslaved by Muslims. Rather, none of the participants ever left Europe, some getting as far as Marseilles. where, perhaps some may have been sold into slavery. Those sold into slavery may have been bought by slave merchants who traded with the Muslim world. but it is more than likely that the original sellers were Europeans, even Christians.
After the Crusades ended in the late thirteenth century, relations between Western Christianity and the Islamic Middle East were fairly quiet and stable. The next major event in this relationship was World War I. By that time, the Middle East was controlled politically by the Turks, who although ostensibly Muslim, were not Arabs. World War I saw a rise in Arab nationalism under the banner of PrinceFaisal bin Al Hussein Bin Ali El-Hashem, who wanted to unite all the Arabs into one politically independent country. However, that dream, which actually became a short-lived reality in 1920, fell prey to the machinations of the European allies, mainly, I suspect, over control of oil. Faisal, interestingly enough, becone King of Iraq in 1921, pretty much a British puppet. His family ruled Iraq until 1958, when a series of military coups brought Saddam Hussein to power in 1966.
A note of interest: Britain invaded and took over Iraq in 1941 because the Iraqi prime minister at the time, who was an Arab nationalist, had been negotiating with Germany as a counter to British influence in Iraq. Britain invaded to guarantee, you guessed it, British access to Iraqi oil.
So, we see three intertwinded threads in the roots of the “war on terrorism” – religious war, Arab natinoalism and Western control of Middle Eastern oil. There is one more thread we need to discuss: the concept of a Jewish homeland, which we will take up next time in Part Two of this series. In Part Three, we will tie it all together to get a better understanding of the current situation as well as discuss future options for US foreign policy.