Today's emerging pattern of religiously inspired anti- Western movements in the Muslim world cries out for comparison with a parallel trend in the 19th century.
Then an uncoordinated series of anti-imperialist movements, not confined to the world of Islam, swept Africa, Asia, and even the North American continent in response to the impact of Western domination.
Most revolts of that era were rural, and proved to be the last gasps of subjugated peoples before the climax of European and American imperialism, and the general acceptance of the imperialist process. The movements were both millenarian (bring back the "good old days") and messianic. Their religiously oriented leaders assured their followers of divine support in their efforts to drive out the "outsiders."
A few examples will suffice. The deeply religious (and racially biased) Boers in South Africa fought a losing guerrilla war against the British -- but who controls South Africa today? The Mahdi rose and fell in the Sudan. The Senussiya unsuccessfully resisted Italian encroachment in Libya. A joint expedition from Europe, Japan, and the United States crushed the anti-foreign Boxer uprising in China. Led by Muslim mullahs, the Pushtun of North-West British India fought a campaign a year against the British from 1880 to 1900.
The American Indian shamans, who precipitated the ghost-dance rebellions against those transplanted Europeans calling themselves "Americans," promised that the buckskin jackets worn by the braves would be bullet- proof; the "great spirit" would drive out the "white eyes," and the buffalo would return to thunder across the plains. Filipino guerrillas watched helplessly as the Yankee imperialists replaced the Spanish imperialists, but they fought back with skill and courage -- and lost.
Several decades into the 20th century, new post-World War I movements demanded independence. This time they were primarily urban, political, and materialist, rather than rural, millenarian, and messianic. Instead of attempting to restore a pre-colonial paradise (which in fact never was), the secularly oriented nationalists (ultimately successful after World War II) transplanted the political and economic models of their imperial predecessors into unreceptive peasant-tribal societies, which were largely held together by local religious leaders.
Yet again, the general pattern has been a failure. Abortive efforts to institutionalize parliamentary governments have exploded into military dictatorships, or evolved with civilian facades backed by military bases of power. Most third-world regimes have been set up by, overthrown by, replaced by , or browbeaten by the United States, the Soviet Union, and/or their satellites and sycophants. The mutually supporting processes of political neo-colonialism and economic imperialism are alive and well in the developing world.
Because of this, recipient nations have begun to view foreign assistance differently from the donors.The American public has generally considered foreign aid as "giveaway" programs. Recipient nations know better. Not only has foreign aid been used by donors as both carrot and stick, but a sizable percentage of US aid (even larger in the case of the Russians) never leaves the US, or is spent supporting US technicians and their families in manners to which they might otherwise not be accustomed.
Much of the appropriations remain behind in the US (and the USSR) as consultant, feasibility, and construction contracts. Also, much assistance comes as loans and must be repaid. For example, the major exports of both Pakistan and Afghanistan soon will be debt-servicing repayments to donor countries.
The fact (according to United Nations figures) that 10 percent of the world's population uses up 90 percent of the world's resources is another incriminating -- and sobering -- statistic.
So, in spite of 35 years of foreign assistance and indigenous development efforts, those who were supposed to benefit the most, the "masses" (whatever that may mean), find their overall condition little improved or uplifted. And the local governments responsible or irresponsible for these conditions have been propped up by either the Americans or the Russians -- sometimes by both at the same time, or alternately.
It is in this indiscriminate support of totalitarian regimes that we find the current kernel for the growing wave of anti-American feeling. The Americans have been more obvious and visible in their operations: military interventions; multinational and transnational corporations.
The Russians need not feel smug, however, for their turn is coming (witness Afghanistan), although their reactions may be quite different from those of the "born again" American administration. Indeed, no modern neoimperialist (Western Europe, Japan) can be sure of remaining immune to the new millenarian-messianic movements which may soon sweep Africa, Asia -- and even Latin America.
Recent events in Iran and Afghanistan illustrate these attitudes and trends. Most Iranians perceive Americans not as the "good guys" but as "blood-sucking capitalists" who have been supporting one of the "worst tyrants in modern times." Americans in general are shocked by such accusations, but the half-truths must be recognized.
The Russians, on their part, were stunned by the intensity of anti-Soviet feeling among the Afghan populace during the current civil war, particularly after the slaughter of Soviet men, women, and children in Herat in March, 1979.
The Khomeini revolution in Iran and coming revolutions will try the patience and wisdom of the great powers, since revolutionaries usually throw out internationally accepted norms of diplomatic behavior. But, one must ask, who developed those norms and for what purpose? Basically, the 19th-century imperialists developed the codes so that they would not stumble over each other's striped pants as they divided up the exploitable world.
As for European revolutions: Who remembers how long it took to restructure diplomatic niceties after the French Revolution shook up the European monarchies? And how much time lapsed before the US finally recognized the USSR? And the People's Republic of China?
So, more and bigger explosions could take place as once-colonized peoples strike back at what they believe to be the systems which have exploited them economically and perverted their cultural values in the process. The new round of millenarian-messianic movements are made more dangerous than in the late 19th century by the ubiquitous transistor radio. News of riots or disasters can be transmitted from Rabat to Rabaul in minutes, and cause violence to spread.
Example: the storming of the United States Embassy (and other installations) in Pakistan within a few hours after Islamic dissidents seized the Haram al-Sharif Mosque in Mecca. The fact that the reports blame Americans and Israelis for the seizure is irrelevant. The lesson is in the end result. In these days of instant communications, facts are not important: What people believe is.
Several years of upheaval could sweep the Muslim world as, in their last gasp , the conservative elements in Islam attempt to curtail the modernization of Islam (however defined). Modern Muslim thinkers play down the legalistic, punitive aspects (such as flogging), so widely publicized, though little practiced.
The modernists emphasize the positive universals of Islam, such as belief in God and equality of all when before God. These are practically identical with the universals of the Judaic-Christian tradition, out of which Islam evolved in the 7th century of the Christian era.
If the patience of the great powers holds, and they do not clash with each other in the areas of discontent, the millenarian-messianic, conservative elements are likely to overstep themselves and be overthrown by the modernist groups waiting in the wings.
The end result will not be a unified, overall Islamic renaissance, because Islam is not necessarily a politically unifying factor -- any more than Christianity was in Europe. Other factors must contribute to unification before Islam can effectively work in the same direction.
Pakistan offers an eloquent example. East Pakistan broke away from West Pakistan to become an independent Bangladesh, in spite of a common Islamic background. Political, economic, and social disparity between the two regions could not be overcome.
Also, to introduce only one of the several Shariatm (or schools of Islamic law) into any given country would deny the rights of the other Shariat,m because interpretations do vary from school to school. Since most Islamic countries have more than one represented in their populations, it is virtually impossible to emphasize one school over the others.
Therefore, after the conservatives have had their innings, the liberal Islamic socialist doctrines of such thinkers as Allama Muhammad Iqbal (the visionary, religious founder of Pakistan, who died in 1936) or of the more revolutionary Ali Shariati (the Iranian lecturer and ideologue who died in 1977) may well ultimately triumph.
After three decades of experience in Central and South Asia, this writer sees the following as the minimal prerequisites for the establishment of eventually stable and viable societies in the Muslim world -- societies able to adapt to the speed of change as the world moves toward the 21st century:
1. Constitutional guarantees that nothing repugnant to any one of the schools of Islamic law be introduced into a secular legal and democratic political system.
2. A foreign policy nationalist in outlook but tolerant internally of a localization of power in both rural and urban areas. This means encouraging development and decisionmaking from the local level upward -- and a parallel ending of the omnipotence and assumed omniscience of imperialist-oriented centralized bureaucracies.
3. Political and social justice under Islam, which would entail a kind of "mixed economy" socialism.
4. Nonalignment in great-power military pacts.
5. The forming of regional economic groupings to present common fronts to the developed world, and to pool available resources.
6. Reliance on local resources (as far as possible) for development.
If the West fails to give the Muslim world sympathy and support in the direction of these prerequisites, only the Soviets can benefit. The current interlude of 20th-century millenarian messiahs, now vying for center-stage, will then drag on into worsening turmoil without the prospect of eventual stability coming from within.
Such a situation is an invitation to Soviet intervention -- and Soviet gain at the expense of the West. Afghanistan is but a harbinger of what could happen far beyond the Hindu Kush.