A new apartheid in the making?

Hazhir Teimourian
26 September 2001

It would be a brave man who drew up a list of all the possible implications of the New Terrorism for the world. Some are obvious: a more serious economic recession, a deepening of the phobia for Islam among many nations, the overthrow of the Taliban savages in Kabul in the coming weeks, the landing of an Anglo-American army in Iraq in the spring, a wider license given to intelligence services in the west to watch everyone of us, and a strengthening of support for the far right in Europe.

But what else, and in the longer term, as if this preliminary list were not horrifying enough? We have no alternative to straining our eyes harder. Far too much is at stake.

My perspective is naturally dictated by my particular circumstances. I was brought up in the Kurdish highlands of western Iran, came to England in 1959 to study science here, fell under the influence of such distinctly non-Middle Eastern thinkers as Bertrand Russell, married a westerner, discovered the string quartets of Haydn, brought up two children.

But in the new world of populations milling around and settling down among their former rivals or enemies, I am not unique. In fact, my perspective may be shared by millions, and not only immigrants.

Islam or democracy?

Of the acres of comment that continues to be printed in the western press, I have found a column by Michael Binyon, the diplomatic editor of The Times, to be one of the most perceptive, and one of the most painful. As it happens, I know Michael well. Until several years ago, we were colleagues on The Times, with me specialising in the politics and history of Islam. In my view, Michael represents the best of old England: kind, restrained, highly educated. As a result, I think, he was slightly irritated by my belief that Islamic thought and democracy were incompatible, and that large-scale immigration was dangerous. It therefore reinforced my sadness to see last Saturday that Michael seemed to have arrived at my way-station.

Michael and I had disagreed about such Arab terrorists as bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. While I diagnosed them as charismatic psychopaths, Michael attributed the immense crime of September 11 to ‘the failure of the Arab dream’. He said, correctly, that for centuries all attempts to reconcile Islam and the modern world had been suppressed, and that Muslims felt belittled by the phenomenal prosperity, freedom and military strength of their old Crusader enemy, the west. This reminded me of the way I used to say that when many Muslims saw Americans walking on the moon, they did not think of them as Americans, but as Christians.

Now Michael was quoting sympathetically Ahmad Beshara, the former secretary general of the Gulf Co-operation Council: “Regardless of where the eventual blame finally lands, our society has a problem,” he had written in the English-language Arab Times daily newspaper, “for terrorist acts are nothing but a violent manifestation of the greater Arab-Islamic culture that is laden with intolerance and embraces violence as a means of change. It edifies terrorists.”

The diplomatic editor of The Times ended his column with these words of his own: “Since then [the 19th century], the dysfunction between Muslim societies and Muslim thought has grown. This is what has fuelled the extremists’ anger at the West. And this lies at the heart of Ahmad Beshara’s worries about where Islamic culture is going.”

Unfortunately, the sanity of Ahmad Beshara was all too rare in the Muslim press last week. I came across only one columnist, in the Saudi-owned London daily Al Hayat (Life), who objected to the widespread pleas of mitigation by Arab officialdom for the criminals. The abominable editor of the Egyptian weekly, Al Arabi, expressed a sentiment that was more typical of the Muslim masses. He wrote: “Yes, we have the right to rejoice [over all those American dead]. This was the first step in the thousand-mile journey to knock out America.” The Cairo daily Al Ahrar (The Free), the newspaper of the ‘Liberal’ Party, echoed the sentiment. “We have been ordered [by the government] not to show the joy that we feel”, he wrote. “But in this case, rejoicing is a national and religious obligation.”

Five years of military conflict

Where do we go from here? In my opinion, if the western powers are serious about uprooting the new terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction – and I cannot see what alternative they have – we must prepare ourselves for at least five years of military conflict between those powers and some states in the Muslim world.

The overthrow of the Taliban regime in Kabul will be the easiest part. They are an isolated rabble and their morale is already collapsing. Remember how Saddam Hussein lost the war of 1991 the moment his troops heard that American and British troops were on their way to the region. Expect that in the next week or two, the forces of the recognised government of Afghanistan, just 20 miles north of Kabul and already receiving Russian and American aid, will walk into the capital to begin the recapture of the rest of the country.

The real challenge will probably come in the spring, when the west will find that bin Laden’s organisation has established a strong base in Baghdad, whether or not bin Laden himself will still be alive. Any serious attempt to remove Saddam will set off widespread riots throughout the Arab world and cause some political disruption here by such liberal newspapers as The Guardian and such pacifist politicians as Tam Dalyell, the Father of the House of Commons and a regular lunch guest in Baghdad. Something might also have to be done about Libya and Yemen.

Uncontrollable anti-Western rage

Will such confrontation set off other terror attacks against the West, even if only on a smaller scale? Probably. And what about the Muslims already settled here? Will they be further alienated from their new host communities by their solidarity with fellow Muslims in the Middle East, by the behaviour of western thugs towards them, and by the new, unavoidable decision of western governments to make them special subjects for snooping and espionage? Again, probably.

The greater danger, however, will come from the way that Muslim dictators will handle the new situation. Though many of them rely on American might or money for their very survival, they may feel so vulnerable to the anti-western rage of their populations during the coming confrontation that they might not dare to resort to repression to suppress their extremists. If this happens, Europe and north America will have no alternative to throwing a cordon sanitaire around the Islamic world to minimise the normal coming and going of individuals. At the same time, those of us immigrants here who are of Middle Eastern appearance would be looked upon increasingly as enemies inside the castle. The first iron curtain, the one that ran roughly along the Mediterranean at the time of the first Crusade in 1096, might well resurface, but this time it would also divide many western cities.

What Muslim immigrants should do now

Fearing confrontation of this type twenty years ago, I brought up my children in the Church of England, even though I myself had no faith. I thought that a thorough immersion in the dominant religion of their country would enable them to identify with Britain more easily and also understand where it came from in history. The fact that they are now completely at peace with Britain and relaxed about who they are may, nevertheless, not protect them now. I fear that, after all, they may one day be forced to leave the shores of the only country they have and love merely because of their appearance.

Is there anything that we can do to avoid such a future? Yes, there is. Immigrants could show their loyalty to their new nations by revealing to the police any information that they might have against the common enemy. Native liberals, too, ought to admit that they were naive in their embracing of the ‘multi-cultural society’ and all its flags of separatism. They ought now encourage immigrants to leave behind the ways of their original homelands and appreciate the emancipated culture of the west for which so many generations have fought.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData