Ever since September 11, 2001 there has been a lot of talk about a clash of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world. It seems like these two spheres never knew each other until the early 2000’s.
The reality is that Muslims and westerners (we’ll explain that term soon) have been at each others throats for centuries.
It didn’t begin with Al-Qaeda or Osamah Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.
These two civilizations have been clashing since the very early days of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Throughout much of these clashes, the two sides have been fairly even in power. There have been a few Muslim kingdoms and powers throughout history that were decidedly stronger than anything the West could put out. One example is the Ottoman Empire which conquered many parts of southern Europe.
And certainly, within the last three hundred years, Western nations have had the upper hand in terms of global strength, influence, and wealth.
But all told, the two sides were relatively equal in terms of military might.
That is definitely not the case now. In terms of absolute global power (which includes military, finance, and culture) the West is light years ahead of any Muslim nation.
And the Western world has made good use of this advantage. Throughout the past two hundred years, there have been many occasions when Muslims and the Islamic world have suffered a great deal from Western actions.
To illustrate how far apart the two sides are in terms of global power, the National Power Index ranks at least five Western nations in their top ten list of the world’s powerful nations. Not a single, predominantly Muslim nation is on that list. The highest ranking Muslim nation (as of 2010) is Indonesia at 12.**
Even Italy’s got us beat.
Let’s be clear of one thing however. This isn’t meant to drum up hatred for the West or convince anyone of some crazy, vast Western conspiracy against Islam (even though there is one.)
Nor is this to minimize the atrocities some Muslim powers, organizations, and individuals have committed against Westerners.
However, the global, historical, and cultural impact of these actions by Muslims against Westerners pale in comparison to those committed by the West against Muslims.
And to drive that point home, we’re going to list four major occasions when the West screwed the Muslim world.
To establish a little guidance, we’re describing the West as any nation in North America, Europe (except Russia), Australia and New Zealand.
So even though Japan and South Korea reflect a slightly warped Western culture, they are not included in this discussion. Likewise, even though Israel has screwed the Muslim world countless times, they’re not part of this discussion either.
This was perhaps the first, and maybe even the worst screwing over by the West against Muslims.
Some fundamentalist Christians may want to paint this whole thing as a war of religions, but that’s only part of it. The Crusades was an attempt by the Pope to extend his power and wealth into the Muslim world.
Here’s what happened in rough chronological order:
- The Seljuk Turks (a Muslim empire) conquered lots of land in modern-day Turkey from the Byzantine (formerly Roman) Empire.
- Pope Urban II, the Catholic leader, wanted to reunite the Christian world under one authority – namely his. Most of Western Europe were Catholics, whereas the Byzantines and Eastern Europe were primarily Orthodox.
- Since it would have been pretty difficult to convince people to fight for the liberation of Anatolia, Pope Urban instead encouraged Christians under him reconquer the Holy Land of Jerusalem from Muslim invaders (totally ignoring the fact Jerusalem had been conquered by Muslims 400 years earlier.)
- The Seljuk Empire fell into disarray just as the Europeans were marching into the Middle East (thanks to the Assassins.)
- The Europeans had no problem knocking over the individual Muslim kingdoms, eventually capturing Jerusalem and establishing the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
So, this ridiculous campaign of warfare against the Muslim world was based on a false pretense and territorial motives. In the process, tens of thousands of Muslims (and Jews, and Orthodox Christians) were killed by the Crusaders.
Eventually the Muslims kind of got themselves together and kicked most of the Europeans out. But it took them about a hundred years before they could do that.
This was perhaps the second biggest screwing over of Muslims by the West and it came at the hands of Great Britain.
In the 1910’s Britain and most of Europe were stuck in World War I with seemingly no way out. Millions of people were dying, and neither side seemed to be able to push the other to defeat.
Britain needed something, anything, to help give them an edge against Germany and her allies. The United States had not yet entered the war, and the Germans were doing a pretty good job of holding their own despite being severely outnumbered.
Enter British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour. One way to bolster the odds of his nation’s chances was to incorporate the financial support of Europe’s Jews. But what did the British have that wealthy European Jews wanted?
At the time, absolutely nothing.
But, one of Germany’s allies, the Ottoman Empire, did have something they wanted. They had Jerusalem which was in Palestine which was the original home for the Israelites about 2500 years ago.
Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to super wealthy Jewish financier Baron Walter Rothschild that the British government would support establishing a home for the all of the world’s Jews in Palestine. But first, the European Jews would have to help out with the war effort, and the British would have to win.
Long story short, the British won the war, captured Jerusalem, and after a long series of events, the modern state of Israel was born. And thus began one of the World’s most difficult conflicts that currently seems to have no end in sight.
The reason why this was a screwing over of the Muslims was that the British made these promises without seriously regarding the repercussions or the sensitivites of the people already living there. There were many British officials who opposed what the Balfour Declaration led to, but by then it was too late.
The Brits may get a pass for inadvertently screwing the Muslim world over when they issued the Balfour Declaration. They were in the midst of a horrible war and were grasping at anything that would give them victory.
They didn’t set out to screw Muslims over with that event.
They just incidentally did so.
But the Sykes-Picot Agreement was a totally different animal. After all, the Balfour Declaration would not have even been possible without the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
Once again, we go back to World War I (that war seemed to have led to a lot of crap, not the least of which includes the rise of Hitler, the Jewish Holocaust, and global sympathy to establish a home for Jews in Palestine.)
Once again, the Brits and French were looking for an edge over Germany.
And, once again, they say a weak link in the Ottomans.
This time it would be in the thousands of Arabs living under Ottoman rule during this period.
Britain and France needed these Arabs to rise up against their Ottoman rulers and help bring that already faltering empire to its knees. Most Arabs at the time really didn’t have any reason to fight against the Ottomans, but there were a few powerful local rulers who did.
There were some (like the Saudis) who resented the Ottomans partly because of religious reasons, and partly for political reasons. The Saudis and Ottomans were both Sunni Muslims but the Saudis felt the Ottomans were not practicing “true” Islam.
Also, the Ottomans had destroyed a fledgling Saudi state about 150 years earlier.
Other rulers who wanted to break free of Ottoman rule included Hussein Ibn Ali, the Sharif (Sheriff?) of Mecca.
In Hussein Ibn Ali and the Saudi’s defense, there were a lot of things going wrong with the Ottomans at this time. They were extremely secular, had relegated the Caliphate to an honorary position, and were more interested in being Turks than Muslims.
Hussein and Abdul Aziz ibn Saud agreed to help the British and French fight against the Ottomans. In return, the British and French agreed to assist the Arabs in establishing their own, independent nations. Hussein Ibn Ali was even promised that he would be the Caliph of the Muslims.
What the Arabs didn’t know was that the British and French had their own agreement going on.
The British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot secretly agreed that if the war ended in their favor, they would continue to rule most of the lands conquered from the Ottomans. This included modern day Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine.
When the dust settled, the Arabs living in these territories were no longer under Ottoman rule.
Instead, they found themselves subjects of the British and French.
Support of Brutal Dictators
This is by no means an exhaustive list. But to go through all the dictators of Muslim lands who were supported by Western powers would take way too long.
Most of the time, these dictators wouldn’t even be able hold on to power were it not for support from the U.S., Britain, France, and others.
Furthermore, since we’re not including Russia or the USSR in our definition of “The West”, there are many other potential candidates to this list.
What follows are some of the most notorious and brutal dictators in the Muslim world.
Iran – Mohammed Reza Pahlavi
The U.S. supported this guy with unwavering zeal up until the very end. The U.S. government overlooked the fact that his own people didn’t like Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, that he was only in power due to CIA intervention, and that he violently suppressed all dissent.
Iraq – Saddam Hussein
This one is my favorite because of that famous picture of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein (Rumsfeld was not Secretary of Defense at the time of that picture.)
When Saddam went to war against Iran and the Ayatollah’s, he was America’s favorite Arab. They gave him weapons (to be fair, they secretly sold arms to Iran also), loaned him lots of money, and helped him in many other ways.
During this period, the U.S. didn’t say anything about Saddam Hussein gassing thousands of Kurds, ruling Iraq through fear and intimidation, and killing almost a million Iranians.
It wasn’t until Saddam became the American bogeyman that all these atrocities suddenly became hot topics.
Pakistan – Yahya Khan
Since this happened so long ago, and the reverberations aren’t really felt these days, most people aren’t aware of this guy. But in terms of numbers killed, Yahya Khan was right up there with the big boys.
His most notorious act was the East Pakistan Genocide of 1971.
At this time, the modern nations of Bangladesh and Pakistan were one country. Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan back then and they were separated from each other by India.
With Indian instigation, East Pakistan wanted independence from Pakistan.
The Pakistani President Yahya Khan decided it was time to put an end to all that so he initiated a military campaign in East Pakistan to wipe out any resistance. What resulted was almost a quarter of a million deaths, mostly civilian.
But since the U.S. needed Pakistan as a buffer against Communist China back then, they turned a blind eye to Yahya Khan’s atrocities. In fact, President Nixon authorized military shipments to Yahya Khan to aid in the war against East Pakistan.
Egypt – Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak is famous for being the central figure in Egypt’s version of the Arab Spring back in 2011.
During his rule, there were lots of secret trials, summary imprisonments, suppression of dissent, and widespread allegations of torture.
During this time, Egypt continued received billions upon billions of dollars worth of U.S. foreign aid. For decades, Egypt was the second largest recipient of American assistance after Israel.
In fact, some of that torture spoken about above was on behalf of American espionage agencies.
When America needed someone tortured in ways unlawful on American soil, they would ship the suspect to Egypt where they weren’t so averse to such things.
This Isn’t It
There are many, many instances of Muslims getting screwed over by the west, and for the apologists, yes there are a few times when the Muslim world turned the table (here’s looking at you Ottoman Empire.)
But for the most part, especially in recent years, Muslims have been getting the short end of the stick.
**These rankings have varied over time and based on the author’s methodology. At the time of this posting US News has released a report ranking Saudi Arabia as number 9.
***This article was part of a bonus podcast episode with this article about Umar ibn Al-Khattab and Saint Paul of Tarsus.