Thursday, May 04, 2006

Arab Imperialism

Here's a fun task: sometime sit down and try to make a list of all the people and nations who have not come under attack at some point from Anglo-Saxons. It's not a very long list. So far I've only been able to come up with Mongols, Khazaks, and Uighurs. Perhaps there are some others in the depths of other continents that can't be reached by boat.

As an Anglo-Saxon myself, it's a little difficult to think clearly about the imperial expansions of my conquistador ancestors. I wouldn't be living where I am with the power and wealth my civilization enjoys without it. I'm also in a limbo because I'm from the first generation, back in the 1970s, to get a broader outlook on Anglo-Saxon Imperialism. My parents generation, and all those before, were fed an all-glory, all-the-time version of history, a fierce triumphalism of the English-speaking peoples, How The West Was Won, and all that. Unfortunately by the time I came along, a silly dualism had taken over. Instead of a realistic view of these matters, when I was growing up the dominant view was Those Evil English and their Horrible European Cousins. One would have thought that Imperialism was invented by Europe and the world was a happy place until we came along and oppressed everyone, destroying the happy dark peoples and of course the whole thing started with The Evil Crusades.

My father was outraged by this sudden about-face and so were a lot of his contemporaries. We were revising history and dishonoring our ancestors, blah blah blah. Luckily as I've gotten older I've learned a habit of viewing people as homo sapiens, and not English or French or whatever, and have learned to remember the instincts we all have in common.

Anyway, remember that Imperialism only got a bad rap in the West very recently, within the last few generations. At the beginning of the First World War they still spoke openly of the imperial expansion they hoped to achieve. (By the end, they still sought imperial expansion but had learned to cloak it in public relations b.s.)

What has this got to do with Arab and Muslim Imperialism? The trouble is that hardly anyone recognizes that there is such a thing. Islamic Imperialism somehow gets a pass for the reason that it is sacred history. No one wants to admit how it is that so many formerly Christian lands became Islamic. Where did all the Christians of the East go? How is it that so many Christian nations have disappeared, apparently forever? (And Hindu, and Buddhist, and pagan--pagans are people too, you monotheists out there.) Bad as English conquest and colonization was, we didn't destroy their past and their culture, force them to speak English and face towards London to bow five times a day.

Can Arabs and Muslims ever be honest about the jihad? I don't see that they can. It's been hard enough for the Anglo-Saxons to do it, without the added burden of considering the whole business of empire-building a holy task from God himself. How can anyone critisize Muhammad or the Wrongly Guided Caliphs for their conquests, their murders, their mass murders, their burning, raping, looting, pillaging and mass enslavements? And their forced conversions? I know, I know, Islam forbids forced conversion. Don't make me smack you for stupidity. When the options given the conquered are death, heavy taxes, or conversion, that is what any sensible person calls conversion by force.

Can the Arabs, Turks, and other Muslims ever learn to honestly critisize the Jihad? Is there any way to be clear-sighted when these things are Sacred History? Can anyone say anything true about Islamic Imperialism when they won't even admit that it is imperialsim, and continue to view it as virtuous and holy?

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