For over two hundred years, Europeans who defeat Muslims militarily then claim they intend to restore, protect, and liberate their new subjects. I offered three examples of this phenomenon in an article published in 2001:
"People of Egypt," Napoleon proclaimed upon his entry to Alexandria in 1798, "You will be told that I have come to destroy your religion; do not believe it! Reply that I have come to restore your rights, to punish the usurpers, and that more than the Mamluks, I respect God, his Prophet, and the Qur'an."73 One of his generals, Jacques Ménou, even converted to Islam.
The history of Europe is replete with such statements. After Britain secured its rule over India, its officials made repeated professions of respect for Islam, so as to diminish Muslim hostility to their rule. …
A particularly bizarre instance dates to 1937, when the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini arranged for Muslim notables from Italian-ruled Libya to gird him with the "sword of Islam" during a visit to Tripoli. "Muslims may rest assured," Mussolini intoned on that occasion, "that Italy will always be the friend and protector of Islam throughout the world." His foreign minister declared Muslim values perfectly compatible with fascism: "The Islamic world, in accordance with its traditions, loves in the Duce the wisdom of the statesman united to the action of the warrior."
While recently reading Iraqi history, I stumbled across another statement that deserves to join this list. Soon after his arrival in Baghdad in March 1917 after having the defeated the Ottomans, the British commander, Stanley Maude, addressed "the People of the Baghdad Vilayet":
our armies have not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. Since the days of Hulaku your citizens have been subject to the tyranny of strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunken into desolation and you yourselves have groaned in bondage. ... the Turks have talked of reforms, yet do not the ruins and wastes of today testify the vanity of those promises?
General Stanley Maude leads the British forces into Baghdad in March 1917.
It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance, that you should prosper even as in the past. ... Between your people and the dominions of my King there has been a close bond of interest. …
It is the hope of the British Government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised and that once again the people of Baghdad shall flourish, enjoying their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws and their racial ideals. …
I am commanded to invite you, through your nobles and elders and representatives, to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army, so that you may be united with your kinsmen in North, East, South, and West in realising the aspirations of your race.
Eight months later, in November 1917, the Soviet conquerors of Central Asia announced in a missive titled "To All the Muslim Workers of Russia and the East":
Muslims of Russia…all you whose mosques and prayer houses have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled upon by the tsars and oppressors of Russia: your beliefs and practices, your national and cultural institutions are forever free and inviolate. Know that your rights, like those of all the peoples of Russia, are under the mighty protection of the revolution...
Comments: (1) These similar statements presumably owe a common origin in the correct sense that Muslim peoples are loathe to be ruled over by non-Muslims. (2) None of the conquerors for a moment convinced the bulk of their Muslim subjects that they had benign intentions. (August 5, 2009)
Jan. 20, 2012 update: The American-led expeditionary force to Afghanistan did not quite entail such grand statements of purpose, but "Operation Enduring Freedom" (first dubbed "Operation Infinite Justice" and referred to one time by George W. Bush as a "crusade") did present itself as saving Afghans from tyranny. Now, a decade later, things have their inevitably soured, as a 70-page official report, A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility, documents. Matthew Rosenberg writes about it for the New York Times in "Afghanistan's Soldiers Step Up Killings of Allied Forces."
American and other coalition forces here are being killed in increasing numbers by the very Afghan soldiers they fight alongside and train, in attacks motivated by deep-seated animosity between the supposedly allied forces, according to American and Afghan officers and a classified coalition report. A decade into the war in Afghanistan, the report makes clear that these killings have become the most visible symptom of a far deeper ailment plaguing the war effort: the contempt each side holds for the other, never mind the Taliban. The ill will and mistrust run deep among civilians and militaries on both sides, raising questions about what future role the United States and its allies can expect to play in Afghanistan.
Underscoring the danger, a gunman in an Afghan Army uniform killed four French service members and wounded several others on Friday, according to an Afghan police official in Kapisa Province in eastern Afghanistan, prompting the French president to suspend his country's operations here. …
The problems risk leaving the United States and its allies dependent on an Afghan force that is permeated by anti-Western sentiment and incapable of combating the Taliban and other militants when NATO's combat mission ends in 2014. … "Lethal altercations are clearly not rare or isolated; they reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat (a magnitude of which may be unprecedented between 'allies' in modern military history)," [the report] said. Official NATO pronouncements to the contrary "seem disingenuous, if not profoundly intellectually dishonest," said the report, and it played down the role of Taliban infiltrators in the killings. … the classified report and coalition news releases indicate that Afghan forces have attacked American and allied service members nearly three dozen times since 2007.
Related Topics: History
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