It has been an interesting couple of weeks watching the reactions to the latest Islamophobia emanating from Western sources; first that film and then, almost inevitably, it seems, more cartoons from a French publisher. As has been usual over the years, the sacred cow of " freedom of speech" has been invoked to excuse, if not encourage, the offensive Islamophobes, while condemning simultaneously those Muslims around the world whose only outlet for their anger and hurt lies on the streets looking for scapegoats.
Some commentators on both sides of the religious fence have been calling for restraint while others have more or less told the Muslim world to shut up and accept that the West is dominant and Western mores rule. All, with respect, miss the point. While some have sought to place the latest manifestations of anti-Islamic tracts and their modern equivalents into the context of drone killings, invasions and general interference in the Muslim world by Western powers, the majority fail to see the crass hypocrisy with which the freedom of speech claim is made and that there is a long history of anti-Islamic abuse from a part of the world which insists that everyone must tolerate whatever it does to anyone else and yet has shown itself to be remarkably intolerant over many centuries.
For a start, absolute freedom to say what you think is an illusion, to which a whole raft of anti-racist, libel and similar laws testify. The French government insisted on the right of a satirical magazine to publish anti-Islam cartoons lampooning Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, while banning Muslims in France from demonstrating in opposition. A group of people can be insulted collectively but have no right to defend themselves collectively. Where's the freedom of expression in that?
Looking at the context of such attacks, they come at a time when the Western powers have been invading, bombing and killing Muslims in Muslim lands for decades. The West's pet state, that "bastion of European civilisation in a sea of barbarism", the state of Israel, continues to seize ever more land from the Palestinians – predominantly Muslims – and has an attorney general who claims that the site revered by Muslims the world over, Al-Aqsa Mosque, "is part of Israel". All of this is done with the complicity of Western nations which pay lip-service to equality and human rights while ignoring Israel's frequent, bloody and illegal human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
That the state of Israel is a colonial enterprise goes without saying; it fits in perfectly with past colonialism in terms of intent, practice and outcome, as do the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Talk of "freeing" the people of those countries from "evil" regimes makes a mockery of the thousands of people who have been killed as a direct result of the imposition of Western "civilisation" and "civilised values", a euphemism for securing Western "interests" which usually entails vast profits for oil, gas and military-industrial conglomerates.
Again, this is nothing new. In 1863, a senior British official at the Board of Trade commented on the character of the British expatriate businessmen in Hong Kong: "The class of Britons who press into this new and untrodden field of enterprise is mainly composed of reckless and unscrupulous adventurers who seek nothing but enormous profits on particular transactions and care little for the permanent interests of commerce – still less for the principles of truth and justice. These men always cloak their injustices under the guise of patriotism and civilisation." (Quoted by Jonathan Dimbleby in The Last Governor – Chris Patten and the handover of Hong Kong, Little, Brown and Co., 1997, page 30.)
A balanced reading of history discloses that European colonialism has always cloaked its injustices "under the guise of patriotism and civilisation", and still does so today. From North America to Southern Africa to Australia to India and beyond, cruel and barbaric treatment of local "savages" has been endorsed "for their own good" in the name of "patriotism and civilisation". European racism has spread across the globe and the results are being felt to this day, 50+ years after the supposed end of the colonial era. Neo-colonialism rules and it is the poor and defenceless who suffer in order to fill the coffers of Western big business; plus ça change.
Looking at the current unrest across the world from this perspective is something that Western politicians and the puppet regimes backed by the West in Muslim countries, are reluctant to do. They are either unwilling or incapable of seeing through the lies and cant that they espouse in the name of "freedom".
Freedom for whom, we might well ask? The North American tribes slaughtered and corralled in reservations? The people of Africa dispossessed in an unholy "scramble" which left post-colonial rulers able to line their own pockets so that Western businesses could continue to rape the land of its mineral wealth? The "aboriginal" people of Australia apparently doomed to live forever as second-class citizens in their own land? Or the people of Palestine dispossessed and oppressed by a regime backed to the hilt by Western governments to assuage Europe's guilt for the obscenity of the Holocaust?
There is bitter irony in the fact that Europe's colonial-style ethnic cleansing on an industrial scale on its own territory took place against European Jews in the Holocaust and that the survivors' descendants are now displacing the Palestinians in their own land. European guilt for the Holocaust is being assuaged by someone else paying the price; all in the name of patriotism and civilisation.
However, let us not be fooled into thinking that the state of Israel was created as a haven for Holocaust survivors. The seeds for its creation were sown at the height of European colonialism in the late nineteenth century as an antidote to rampant anti-Semitism in Europe and Tsarist Russia. It is true that the Holocaust hastened Israel's creation, but it did not spawn it.
An editorial in the New York Times claimed last week that "deeper forces" are at work in the current furore over the anti-Islam film on YouTube. History suggests that in the relationship between the Western world and the world of Islam there have been deeper and darker forces at work for centuries, especially in Europe. This is not a conspiracy theory but a conspiracy fact. Failure to acknowledge this and failure to overcome its insidious objective of a world of freedom, justice and wealth for the few at the expense of the many will condemn us all to an uncertain future.
It's time for those who support human rights, equality and justice for all to stand up and be counted against those who would deny such birthrights to the "savages" of the world, whose only crime is not be born European and white. Western mores promote injustice and turn a blind eye to the crimes of the state of Israel, for example; introduced extraordinary rendition to the world; or support dictators for material gains. Such mores recognise the cost of everything but the value of nothing and are worthless to people who actually care about their fellow human beings.
When that anonymous Board of Trade official in Victorian Britain spoke of "reckless and unscrupulous adventurers", he could not have known how relevant his words would be almost two centuries later. The world is ruled by such people.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.