** Periods of Upheaval — defining moments: **
Nations, religious groups and ethnic groups exist — there is no denying that. Such groups go through upheavals — also known as moments of truth. African-Americans lived in oppression for 400 years, and the few years between 1963 and 1967 were their defining moments. Russians in 1917 and 1989, Americans in 1776 to 1786, India in 1857 and 1947, etc. Living through these moments of upheaval is risky business — the uncertainty is palpable and comfort zones are violated. Some members of the group get depressed and go negative, while others go forward into uncharted territory. In India between 1857 and 1947, we can see the initial reactions of Sir Syed and Hali and we can see the reactions of Iqbal and Jinnah towards the end of this period. We can see both of these forces at work in these people. The creation of Pakistan was a miracle and for better or for worse, the creation of Pakistan altered geo-political balance – but it was the vision, conviction and seizing of opportunity at the right time that made it happen.
These days, the entire Islamic world is undergoing such an upheaval. The pessimists and the optimists are out in force. Religion is being abused but I say that the real abusers of religion are the accusers — the people parroting the mantra, ‘religion is causing this upheaval’. Muslims are as guilty of abusing religion as the Bush and Blair are guilty of being ‘crusaders’ for a Christian cause. Yes, religion on both sides is being used to create momentum, but it is a fuel, and not the culprit and nor the beneficiary. Let us pick an arbitrary time to start and dissect the facts of the events to gain a perspective.
**The question of religion in the modern world: **
With the exception of Ireland, European religious causes failed to be politically significant somewhere in the mid-19th century. So we fast-forward to 1914 – the year the old world was no more. European expansionism had reached the limits of the earth — there were no new lands to be conquered — so the Europeans turned on each other as hyenas fight over a carcass after they have co-operated for the kill. The defeated Turkish empire was carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey, and protectorates set up all over the Muslim world. Europeans directly ruled most of Africa, the whole Arab world and the Indian sub-continent. After the end of WWI, Russia was changed forever too.
Arabs were happy to be free of the Turks, but there was a religious revival throughout the Islamic world, from the Wahhabi movement to the Khilafat movement. The concept of Christendom was replaced by ‘Western values and culture’ but the Muslim world sitll identified itself by religion. Lately, the term ‘Judeo-Christian values’ has also been used.
Very surprisingly, Iraq and Palestine were front-page news in 1918, just as they are now. However, the enmities of Europe were not settled yet, and first the Nazis, and then the Soviets pre-occupied Christendom, and the ultimate ideological battle that had been going on since 700 AD was put on hold by the Cold War.
The creation of Israel resulted in a delicate balancing act in the Islamic World. During the Cold War, the USSR set up dictatorships in its allies and the US did the same. With the defeat of the USSR, the people oppressed by the Russian-aligned dictators have been somewhat liberated, while the victors see no desire to do so among their allies. Add to this Kissinger’s famous statement ‘Oil is too important to be left to the Arabs’ (footnote 10), and the stage is set for the complex political, economic and social problems of the Islamic world.