Bahai News -- Jerusalem Post - Western political energy By Mark A. Heller Aug. 1, 2003

Western political energy By Mark A. Heller

Last week Amir Taheri reported on these pages about a recent conference in Kuala Lumpur of 900 or so Muslim scholars and theologians in which the dominant theme, as in almost all such gatherings, was self-pity. According to Taheri, participants spent most of the time whining about how they were the victims of injustice, misunderstanding, and hostile propaganda at the hands of "the Crusaders, the Orientalists, the Imperialists, the Zionists, the Communists, the liberals, the secularists, and so on." None of this is really surprising. The most common complaint by Muslim intellectuals at any international gathering is about the West's application to them of a "double standard."

It is a universal human failing to blame problems and shortcomings on others, rather to look in the mirror. Perhaps the only unusual note in these proceedings was the inclusion of liberals in the list of victimizers, since they are normally quite adept at absolving Muslim leaders, or at least those who presume to speak on behalf of Muslims, of any criticism, not to speak of hostile action.

As for the rest of the West, it is true that it has actually been quite vigorous in intervening in Muslim affairs.

But it is not so obvious why so many Muslim scholars and theologians have tended to describe this involvement as hostile.

In fact, much of the West's political energy in the last decade has been devoted to support of the Palestinian cause, and most large-scale Western military operations since the end of the Cold War have been to aid Muslims in distress in Kuwait in 1991, in Bosnia and Kosovo in the mid- and late-1990s, in Afghanistan in 2002, and in Iraq in 2003.

The last of these was not only condemned by millions of (non-Iraqi) Muslims; it was opposed by millions of Western liberals for a variety of reasons, including the belief that the humanitarian disaster produced by excessive order in Iraq did not justify the use of outside force.

Curiously, many of the same people are now demanding Western intervention in Liberia on the grounds that excessive disorder there is producing a humanitarian disaster that does justify the use of outside force.

MAJOR WESTERN intervention is probably not in the cards for Liberia, any more than it was in the face of far greater humanitarian disasters in Rwanda or Congo or southern Sudan or half a dozen other places in Africa. None of these issues attracts anywhere near as much press space, air time, foreign assistance, or UN debates and resolutions, not to speak of active intervention, as do Muslim issues, especially Palestine.

No foreign correspondent in Africa has been heard to complain, as one reporter in Israel did to me this week, that the editors at home are always demanding something even when nothing is happening. Consequently, there is no Quartet road map for Liberia, no IFOR for Rwanda, no KFOR for Congo, and no UN Special Coordinator for Zimbabwe.

The easiest explanation for this imbalance would be that since the end of the victimization of Africans by whites in South Africa, few people in the West really care about Africans anymore. And there's probably some truth to that.

But it's not the whole truth. For few people in the West, least of all liberals, really care about anyone else, either, which is one of the reasons (but obviously not the only one) why there is no International Solidarity Movement for Tibetans in China or Bahai's in Iran.

Even Muslims are usually ignored if they suffer the double misfortune of being victimized by other Muslims, which is why there was no ISM for Kurds and why there is no ISM for Shi'ites in Pakistan, why there are no special UN or national peace process representatives for Aceh Province in Indonesia, and why there is no UN Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories of Lebanon or Western Sahara.

All in all, the general rule seems to be Western indifference to and neglect of everyone, with an exception made for Muslims victimized by non-Muslims.

Why that should be the case is a question that leads to speculation about factors ranging from oil (though there isn't any in Bosnia) to the consciousness-raising effect of terrorism (though there has been no shortage of that in Sri Lanka).

In any event, it seems to confirm the conviction of the participants at Amir Taheri's conference in Kuala Lumpur, and at hundreds of other such meetings, that the West does apply a double standard to the Muslim world but one quite opposite to that which they insist on seeing and lamenting.

The writer is principal research associate at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

©Copyright 2003, Jerusalem Post (Israel)

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