a Muslim today - in the middle of America's 'war
against global terrorism' - carries some new hazards.
But it is not without its bright side for a few
Muslims who are eager to profit from this war.
Muslims need little tutoring in the hazards they
now face. Many tens of thousands are already dead
in wars imposed by the United States - on Iraq and
Afghanistan. The death toll is expected to climb,
perhaps steeply, as these wars are carried to Iran,
Syria or Pakistan. Iranians also face the prospect
- perhaps, imminent - of incineration in nuclear
Death or dislocation in wars are not the only hazards
that confront Muslims. In principle, any Muslim
can also become the object of 'ex-traordinary renditions.'
No matter where they happen to be, they could be
kidnapped by the CIA, hooded, and transported to
secret offshore US prisons, or delivered into the
hands of US-friendly regimes with exper-tise in
the fine arts of interrogation. No one knows how
many Muslims have suffered this cruel fate - or
how many of them are still alive.
By comparison, Muslims who are captured or bought,
and imprisoned in Guantanamo as 'enemy combatants,'
are lucky. After facing down several legal challenges
to these detentions, the US now brings these prisoners
before military review boards. Although many of
them have been cleared of any terrorist connections,
it is quite touching that the US is now refusing
to release them - it says - because they could be
tortured by their own governments. The prisoners
can now thank the US for of-fering sanctuary.
In fairness, America's 'war against global terrorism'
has also created a few hard-to-resist opportunities.
The chief beneficiaries of the new US posture are
the Muslim rulers eager to get the US more firmly
behind the wars they have been waging against their
own people. They are happy to torture Muslims 'rendered'
to them by the CIA, and, periodically, they capture
their own 'terrorists' and put them on flights to
The 'war against global terrorism' is also a war
of ideas. In order to defeat the 'terrorists' the
US must win the hearts and minds of Muslims. This
is where Muslims can help. The US needs a few 'good'
Muslims to persuade the 'bad' ones to reform their
religion, to learn to appreciate the inestimable
benefits of Pax America and Pax Israelica.
In the heyday of the old colonialism, the white
man did not need any help from the natives in putting
down their religion and culture. Indeed, he preferred
to do it himself. Then, the opinion of the natives
carried lit-tle weight with the whites anyway. So
why bother to recruit them to de-nounce their own
people. As a result, Orientalists wrote countless
tomes denigrating the cultures of the lesser breeds.
Today the West needs help in putting down the uppity
natives - especially the Muslims. One reason for
this is that with the death of the old colonialism,
some natives have begun to talk for themselves.
A few are even talking back at the Orientalists
raising all sorts of uncomfortable questions. This
hasn't been good: and something had to be done about
it. In the 1970s the West began to patronize 'natives'
who were deft at put-ting down their own people.
Was the West losing its confidence?
The demand for 'native' Orientalists was strong.
The pay for such turncoats was good too. Soon a
whole crop of native Orientalists arrived on the
scene. Perhaps, the most distinguished members of
this coterie include Nirad Chaudhuri, V. S. Naipaul,
Fouad Ajami and Salman Rushdi. They are some of
the best loved natives in the West.
Then there came the 'war against global terrorism'
creating an instant boom in the market for Orientalists
of Muslim vintage. The West now demanded Muslims
who would diagnose their own problems as the West
wanted to see them - as the unavoidable failings
of their religion and culture. The West now demanded
Muslims who would range themselves against their
own people - who would denounce the just struggles
of their own people as moral aberrations, as symptoms
of a sick society.
So far these boom conditions have not evoked a copious
supply of Muslim Orientalists. Irshad Manji has
made herself the most visible na-tive Orientalist
by cravenly playing to Western and Zionist demands
for demonizing Muslims and Palestinians. I can think
of a few others, but they have little to recommend
themselves other than their mediocrity. This must
be a bit disappointing for those who had pinned
their hopes on using Muslim defectors to win the
battle for Muslim hearts and minds.
There are some indications that this disappointment
is turning to des-peration. On March 11 the New
York Times published a front page story on Dr.
Wafa Sultan, "a largely unknown Syrian-American
psychiatrist, nursing a deep anger and despair about
her fellow Muslims." Deep anger and despair
at fellow Muslims? Are these the new qualifications
for Muslims to gain visibility in America's most
If the only Muslims that the United States can recruit
in its battle for ideas are at best mediocrities
or worse - nobodies - what chance is there that
it can win the battle for Muslim hearts and minds?
The short answer is: very little. Muslims are not
helpless children. You cannot molest them and then
expect to mollify them with trifles and protestations
of pure intentions. That may have worked for a while.
It will not work for ever.
Muslims are too large and too dense a mass to be
moved by wars. Military might could not break the
spirit of Palestinians, Afghans, Bos-nians, Chechens,
Lebanese, Moros and Iraqis. What chance is there
that wars will be more effective if applied against
larger masses of Muslims?
The United States cannot expect to change Muslims
unless it first thinks seriously about changing
its policies towards Muslims. Americans must stop
deluding themselves. Muslims do not hate their freedom:
they only want that freedom for themselves. The
United States and Israel seek to build their power
over a mass of prostrate Muslim bodies. Stop doing
that and then you will have a chance to win Muslim
hearts and minds.
Shahid Alam is professor economics at a university
in Boston. He may be reached at email@example.com.