Aerial warfare, drones and war crimes – time to revoke Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

The Washington Post, the liberal mouthpiece of the US empire, carried a story in May 2013 detailing a speech by US President Barack Obama in which he declared that a crossroads has been reached in the ‘war on terror’. Obama announced that the terrorist threat to the United States has receded and that it was time to redefine and recalibrate the ‘war on terror’ in order to bring it to an end.

One of the main tactics that the Obama administration has used with escalating intensity is the drone warfare, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), so called Predator drones, to carry out lethal strikes against ostensible terrorist targets, assassinations of individuals deemed security threats to the United States, and for general intelligence-gathering in areas of heavy combat. Obama vigorously defended the use of drones in his May 2013 speech, and while he made a commitment to ending the ‘war on terror’, he made clear that key policies of that war, like the use of drones, will continue unabated. For instance, targeted assassinations with armed drones would continue, Obama insisted.

So while speaking of a general winding down of the ‘war on terror’, Obama is actually redefining its scope and application, and continuing to use the central plank of his administration’s counterterrorism strategy. In July 2013, the Washington Post observed that while the use of drones has decreased in combat hotspots like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, the use of drones is being redirected into non-combat areas, and their application is being expanded.

The present author has covered the ever-increasing use of drone warfare by the Obama administration, their utility for corporate profits, and the erosion of democratic safeguards that has accompanied the construction of the scaffolding of a US police state. The expansion of drone spying and warfare into new, non-combat areas indicates an escalation of the US ruling class’ efforts to extend its imperial overreach into new markets and acquire control of new resources at the expense of its competitors.

Obama, the first African-American president, has certainly devoted more attention to Africa, but not exactly for the benefit of its impoverished populations, or to alleviate the scourges of famine, war and disease. Africa is the site of renewed competition between the United States on the one hand, and Russia, China and other powers on the other for resources, markets and clients in that continent. The US has been losing out to its competitors, mainly Chinese investors, from expanding into various African ventures. Obama is countering growing Chinese ‘soft power’ in Africa in two ways; by building and expanding alliances with US clients in the region, such as Uganda’s dictatorial president Youweri Museveni, ignoring Museveni’s horrific human rights record; and secondly by sponsoring the construction of drone bases and launching sites, such as building new secret bases in the Horn of Africa, conducting spying operations on people and political forces in the region that are judged to be opposed to US interests. As Lee Wengraf wrote in the Socialist Worker online magazine:

“IT IS no exaggeration to say that the U.S. is at war in Africa. The continent is awash with American military bases, covert operations and thousands of Western-funded troops, and responsibility for this escalation must be laid squarely on Obama’s doorstep.

Key to the Obama administration global strategy in the post-Iraq era is a shift from “boots on the ground” towards “alliance-building.” The idea is to cement American “indispensability” to African political stability in geo-strategically critical areas–from the Horn of Africa, with its proximity to the Suez Canal and Middle East, to West African nations, with billions of barrels of oil.”

The new drone bases in Africa are part and parcel of this renewed push by American imperialism into the heartlands of that continent. The UAVs are carrying out spying missions across Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mauritania, Mali and scores of other African countries. As the Washington Post reported in June 2012:

The U.S. military has largely kept details of its spy flights in Africa secret. The Post pieced together descriptions of the surveillance network by examining references to it in unclassified military reports, U.S. government contracting documents and diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group.

Further details were provided by interviews with American and African officials, as well as military contractors.

In addition to Burkina Faso, U.S. surveillance planes have operated periodically out of nearby Mauritania. In Central Africa, the main hub is in Uganda, though there are plans to open a base in South Sudan. In East Africa, U.S. aircraft fly out of bases in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Seychelles.

These clandestine intelligence missions and associated lethal air strikes are part of a long history of US intervention in Africa, whether directly or through the arming of proxy forces and US-friendly dictatorships. During the Cold War, the US was concerned about the political and economic independence of African nations, and the increasing role of the Soviet Union in backing anti-colonial, socialist and nationalist groups and forces in the region. The Soviet Union provided an alternative model of economic development, and the East-West rivalry had an impact on the politics and economics of the region.

With the Cold War finished, the US rushed to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of Soviet influence. However, intensified rivalry with China, Russia and the economic competition of these contending powers has been driving the US to escalate its involvement in Africa. The Economist magazine reported in June 2012 that responding to the alleged Chinese threat is the main priority for the US administration. The Defence Secretary at the time announced that by 2020 60 percent of American warships would be stationed in the Asia Pacific region, an obvious projection of US military power against China. Trade with Africa involves access to extensive natural resources, and these are a lifeline for US imperialism. Obama’s scramble for Africa, as Nick Turse puts it in a recent article, involves participating in shadow wars and mushrooming intelligence missions.

As Nick Turse elaborates on the US incursion into Africa in his July 2012 article:

Under President Obama, in fact, operations in Africa have accelerated far beyond the more limited interventions of the Bush years: last year’s war in Libya; a regional drone campaign with missions run out of airports and bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles; a flotilla of 30 ships in that ocean supporting regional operations; a multi-pronged military and CIA campaign against militants in Somalia, including intelligence operations, training for Somali agents, a secret prison, helicopter attacks, and U.S. commando raids; a massive influx of cash for counterterrorism operations across East Africa; a possible old-fashioned air war, carried out on the sly in the region using manned aircraft; tens of millions of dollars in arms for allied mercenaries and African troops; and a special ops expeditionary force (bolstered by State Department experts) dispatched to help capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders.  And this only begins to scratch the surface of Washington’s fast-expanding plans and activities in the region.

The New York Slimes, the pro-war lapdog of the imperial American empire, reported in July 2013 that a new drone base in the sub-Saharan African country of Niger provides the US military with a foothold in that part of the continent. The story was making the point that new threats, along with the tried-and-true recycled menace of Islamic ‘terrorism’, was compelling the US to rethink its counterterrorism strategy and push for new drone bases in Africa.

The article quotes Michael Shurkin, a former Central Intelligence Agency operative who is now working for the RAND corporation. Shurkin says ““The U.S. is facing a security environment in Africa that is increasingly more complex and therefore more dangerous”; he goes on to state that “Effective responses, moreover, require excellent knowledge about local populations and their politics, the sort of understanding that too often eludes the U.S. government and military.”

Note that the New York Slimes is unconcerned with minor issues like poverty, corruption, famine, and the lack of social services in a country like Niger, or Mali, or other western African countries. Niger has a life expectancy at birth of 55 years, and the Human Development Index ranks Niger 186th out of 193 United Nations member states in terms of human social and educational development. Never matter, the point of the article is to convey the perspective of US imperial empire-builders; new threats in the region require ever-increasing military responses. The Washington Post adopted a similar perspective in its article about the Niger drone base published in March 2013.

Two researchers, Linda Bilmes from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Michael Intriligator from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), have co-authored a research paper entitled “How many wars is the US fighting today?” The authors examine how most Americans, when asked about how many conflicts the United States is engaged in, will usually name Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the reality is much more stark; the US is fighting unannounced and undeclared wars across the globe through the use of drones and strategic aerial firepower.

Bilmes and Intriligator examine those countries where the US is conducting drone strikes but where war has not officially been declared; Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. They include drone strikes in a long tradition of covert warfare by the US imperial class against Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile and other Latin American countries. Not only is the global scope of US drone and military operations detailed, but the authors also attempt to account for the finance for all these military incursions and network of military bases.

The investigators take specific examples of the allocation of funds for military purposes because, as they point out, “The size of the budget for all these operations is difficult to piece together because Congress appropriates funds to line items for each force, rather than to individual activities. In some cases, however, we can estimate the amounts being spent.”

For instance, the US currently provides the Pakistani government, a US ally in the region, with four billion dollars of direct military assistance. Bilmes and Intriligator explain that this is on top of another four billion dollars-worth of ‘civilian’ assistance, plus the billions the US spends reimbursing the Pakistani military for the expenses incurred by the Pakistani military in assisting US military operations and forces. This is happening all the while in the United States, the major city of Detroit has been forced into bankruptcy, and its citizens will be forced to endure another mass reduction in the quality of life and cuts to badly needed social services. The people of Detroit, already struggling with the consequences of deindustrialisation, are expected to face another assault on their declining living standards and conditions.

Bilmes and Intriligator focus specifically on warfare conducted by UAVs. They note that:

“the US drone program escalated rapidly between 2004 and 2010, with no public debate. There are no international rules of conduct on when it is fair and just to deploy them. Under the UN Charter, to which the US is a signatory, member states may defend themselves from an armed attack (Article 51) but Article 2(4) prohibits them from choosing war as a means of settling disputes.”

This raises some pertinent questions about the conduct of the Obama administration. The current US government is using a method of warfare that violates the United Nations charter, something that many consider to be war crimes. These crimes violate the rules that govern, among other things, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. Not only that, but aerial warfare, the doctrine of raining down terror from the skies, is not something new. This doctrine has motivated imperialist states and their policy-makers to carry out war crimes, and crimes against humanity, crimes for which perpetrators have been charged, found guilty and punished.

Writing in the online magazine, and reprinted in the Huffington Post, Retired Lt. Colonel Professor William Astore states that drone warfare is neither cheap, nor surgical, nor decisive. The dreams of air power enthusiasts, Astore writes, has been to dominate the skies, bringing down death and destruction on the enemy below, sapping their morale and destroying their capacity to resist. Air strikes by UAVs is the latest incarnation in a long history of terror bombing by various imperialist states. Since the invention of airplanes, imperialist strategists have dreamt of overwhelming the enemy by the use of overwhelming firepower. As Astore relates, this fantasy is contradicted by the history of twentieth century warfare, where colonial powers, in attempting to demoralise their enemy, only succeeded in bringing more wanton cruelty and destruction, and air power failed to break the willpower of those determined to resist.

Astore points out that it was as far back as 1911 when the first modern air raid took place – by Italian aircraft in Libya, as part of the Italian effort at empire-building. One hundred years later, in 2011, NATO air power was a major factor in degrading the Libyan military’s ability to resist the organised contingents of NATO-backed rebels in that country. The other imperialist states, Britain, France, Germany, the United States and so on, were quick to follow suit and develop air war capacities themselves. The first advocate of unrestrained aerial bombing was the Italian Giulio Douhet. In his book, Command of the Air, published in 1921, Douhet advocated industrial-scale bombing that targets the enemy’s industries, using high-tech explosives and poison gas. Civilians were to be included in Douhet’s vision of aerial strategic bombing campaigns.

Such terror bombing, Douhet reasoned, would demoralise the target population, causing social dislocation, chaos thus bringing the war of colonial conquest to a speedy and successful resolution for the imperialist conqueror. One can see the fascist-inspired antecedents of the American 1991 ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign against Iraq. No concern at all for the fate of the people bearing the brunt of such untrammelled bombing from the skies. Today, we can see the tragic consequences of the drone strikes in countries like Yemen, where previously peaceful regions become zones of conflict, resentment against the occupier builds, and a flow of refugees is created. Drone strikes do not change the beliefs of the attacked – indeed, they foment even further opposition to the United States imperialist overreach and provide a fertile ground for extremist groups to recruit new members.

The British heeded the call by Douhet, and took up strategic bombing with enthusiasm. Hugh Trenchard, the founder of the Royal Air Force, adopted strategic aerial bombing as his preferred tactic and elaborated it for the purpose of protecting and extending Britain’s newly acquired possessions in the Middle East. In the wake of the defeat of the Ottoman-Turkish empire, several Arab states, such as Iraq, were passed over to the victorious English. If the people in these states resisted, they were to be met with terror bombing. One British politician at the time, writing in his capacity as Secretary of State for Air, stated that poison gas should be used to pacify uncivilised and rebellious tribes in Iraq and elsewhere, dismissing any ethical concerns about the use of such weapons. That politician was Winston Churchill, and he put the aerial warfare doctrine to good use as prime minister of Britain during World War Two.

The British empire, and their American counterparts, applied the doctrine of aerial warfare with ruthless efficiency in World War Two. Concerns about the civilian casualties of bombing were forgotten in the outpouring of outrage against the German bombings of Guernica, the blitz on Rotterdam, and other German and Japanese war crimes. The combined American-British bombing campaign against Germany was no less devastating – German cities such as Dresden, Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin itself were reduced to piles of rubble by the thousands of sorties flown by Allied aircraft.

In March 1945, not to be outdone, American Air Force Major General Curtis LeMay led the firestorm bombing of Tokyo city in Japan. The mainly wooden buildings and environs of Tokyo were ‘scored, boiled and baked’ (LeMay’s words) causing the incendiary deaths of 100 000 Japanese people. Sixty further Japanese cities were firebombed in this way, before this destructive campaign culminated with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Surely these bombing campaigns convinced the Japanese leadership to surrender, and crippled the German war effort in Europe?

Astore writes that:

“Yet, contrary to the dreams of air power advocates, Germany’s will to resist remained unbroken. The vaunted second front of aerial battle became yet another bloody attritional brawl, with hundreds of thousands of civilians joining scores of thousands of aircrews in death.

Similarly mauled but unbroken by bombing was Japan, despite an air campaign of relentless intensity that killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians.”

Writing in the Foreign Policy blog, Ward Wilson, historian and research fellow at the British American Security Information Council, argues that the single most decisive factor in convincing the Japanese leadership to surrender was not the destruction of Japanese cities, about which they were unconcerned, but the entry of the Soviet Union into the war. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, having finished the fighting on the German front, turned his attention to the Far East. The heavy battles between the Soviets and Japanese forces in mid-1945 finally persuaded the Japanese war planners that they had no option but to surrender, Japan’s military being incapable of fighting both the encroaching Americans from the south, and the Soviets to their north.

In the 1990s, aerial power advocates refined their vision of strategic victory with fantasies about ‘precision-guided bombs’ and much-ballyhooed ‘surgical strikes’. Targeted aerial power would bring about decisive military victories, and we were invited, by the compliant corporate media, to gaze in admiration at these new-fangled weapons bringing death and destruction. As William Astore writes, let’s not get carried away with these new, laser-guided ‘smart’ bombs:

“In the opening stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, for example, 50 precision “decapitation strikes” targeting dictator Saddam Hussein’s top leadership failed to hit any of their intended targets, while causing “dozens” of civilian deaths.  That same year, air power’s inability to produce decisive results on the ground after Iraq’s descent into chaos, insurrection, and civil war served as a reminder that the vaunted success of the U.S. air campaign in the First Gulf War (1991) was a fluke, not a flowering of air power’s maturity.”

It appears that the more recent acolytes of empire-building and colonialism, namely, the Zionist state of Israel, have adopted the doctrines of aerial bombing, but have similarly failed to absorb any of its historical lessons. The fact that strategic bombing does not produce the intended rapid victory but only heighten the resolve of its targets has been lost on the current Israeli leadership. Two researchers from the University of NSW, Clinton Fernandes and Craig Stockings, co-authored a paper on the subject of aerial bombing and the lack of its efficacy. Their paper “Airpower and the Myth of Strategic Bombing as Strategy” was published in 2006, just as the Israeli military machine concluded its strategic bombing campaign in Lebanon, for the ostensible reason of defeating the Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah.

The authors examine the impact of the Israeli bombing campaign on Lebanese society, stating that;

“The Israeli bombing campaign involved the destruction of highways, bridges, factories, sea ports, airports, the telecommunications network, schools, hospitals, petrol stations and military installations. At least 1181 people were killed in Lebanon, while the Israeli death toll was 157.”

What was the end result of this bombing campaign? Stockings and Fernandes write:

“Meanwhile, Hezbollah defied the region’s superpower with a combination of skill, courage, preparation, tactics, and organization. It has emerged from the conflict with its prestige – and that of its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah – enhanced throughout the Arab world.”

The Obama administration’s policy of drone strikes is only the latest technological application of the old, discredited, nightmarish and criminal practice of strategic aerial bombing. Its enthusiasts have proposed its supposed ‘surgical’ feature, ignoring the mass civilian deaths and casualties that accompany such bombing. This doctrine is an essential tool of the imperialist states in their quest to build and expand economic empires, and has nothing to do with minimising the loss of lives or damage to property. The liberal commentators who are still cheering for Obama, must now realise that the current Obama administration represents a redesigned continuation of empire, not a decisive break with it. Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize must be revoked, because he has continued to apply a predatory, criminal doctrine that violates the very principles upon which international human rights and peace efforts are based. What kind of political and economic system is it, which fails to acknowledge the people that have died as a result of all the aerial bombing campaigns, and then applies the central doctrine of their killers?

Breaking down stereotypes, Islam, and Google Searches

The majority of people in Australia, the United States, Britain and other developed capitalist countries rely on the corporate media for information about non-Western regions of the world. News and analyses about Islam and the Islamic world are presented mainly in the broader context of terrorism, political violence, border protection, and values that threaten ‘our way of life’. The Islamic faith, more so than any other monotheistic religion, is presented as a unique and irrational menace, incompatible with our ostensibly rational and democratic underpinnings. Islamic people in Western countries are smeared as a potentially treasonous element, refusing to integrate, and intent on taking advantage of our pluralistic values and democratic mechanisms to sabotage and eventually overwhelm ‘our’ western-liberal democratic values.

There are many examples of Islamic clerics issuing fatwas and condemnations of terrorism, too many to recite here. However, a simple experiment will suffice to bring us to the next point; Google searching has become an indispensable part of writing and blogging in this age of social media and electronic communication. Performing a Google-search of the term ‘Islam and terrorism’ produces 54,200,000 results. A large amount; but consider the following comparison – a Google-search of the terms ‘Islam and science’ produces 216,000,000 results. That’s right – two hundred and sixteen million, as compared to fifty-four million. The quality of the search results can be disputed: some are of doubtful veracity, some are not verified by peer research, some are openly partisan creationist web pages – all that is not in dispute.

The important point here is that the interaction between one of the world’s fastest growing religions and science is of such profound importance, much more so than the purportedly close relation between Islam and terrorism that the corporate media routinely suggests. The conflict between religion and science, its philosophical underpinnings and social implications, is the subject of much scholarly and journalistic research. This research is woefully ignored, swamped by the outpouring of Islamophobia that pervades much of our media and society. The debate between the philosophical platforms of secularism and religion has been poisoned by a political agenda that seeks to marginalise and demonise a segment of the population, with contemptible ridiculing headlines like this one a commonplace occurrence in the mainstream corporate media, in between the sports news and celebrity gossip.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas is without doubt the gambling capital of the world, epitomising the expression of greed, gluttony, drunkenness and fornication. It stands as a towering rebuff to the old-fashioned biblical values of modesty, temperance and frugality. Yet only ten minutes drive from Las Vegas boulevard there is one structure that invites people to turn away from the sinful vanity of American casino-capitalism – the Masjeed-e Tawheed. The latest of four mosques in Las Vegas, it is home to 10 000 Muslims living in the Las Vegas vicinity. The mosque’s founder and leader is ‘Rocky’ – the nickname used by Ahmadullah Rokai Yusufzai, a successful immigrant who calls Sin City his home. After working with the Afghani mujahideen fighting the Soviets in the 1980s, Yusufzai was dismissed from his chosen profession as an engineer in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He now works as a court interpreter, helps train young Marine recruits who are being posted to Afghanistan, and volunteers as a soccer coach for the local team.

The Guardian newspaper covered his story in the article ‘Being Muslim in Las Vegas’, and is a humane portrait of a community struggling with issues of assimilation, identity, and maintaining their dignity in a country where the government agencies and media are hostile to their presence. Yusufzai faces criticism from other Muslims, opposed to the ongoing temptations that may lure people away from the Islamic values into the denizen of sin and corruption that is Las Vegas. As Yusufzai explains:

We are criticised by other Muslims. They’ll say, ‘You’re living in Sin City? You must have a gambling problem. You must be doing this and that.’ And we say, no. That’s what happens on the Strip, but two miles radius of that, there’s no casinos. It’s just suburbia, ordinary families trying to live decent, good lives. Most Muslims stay well away from the Strip. My house is about 15 miles away and it’s a different world. I see the lights way off in the distance

There is one mention of terrorism in the story:

The FBI visits him regularly to check up on what’s going down at the mosque and if he thinks any of the congregation, who range from doctors to taxi drivers, Somalis to Pakistanis, Sunni to Shia, might be terrorists intent on blowing up the nearest titty bar.

“I always tell the FBI guys that if there were, I’d be calling the FBI myself, but they still come by. We are trying to have a better image of Islam. We’re not going to harbour or support anybody who even thinks about that,” Yusufzai says.

Finally, a story about immigrants settling into a western country, a story that humanises its subjects and portrays the ongoing effort of Muslim immigrants to keep their faith while adapting to a frequently cultural inhospitable environment.

Read the whole story of being Muslim in Las Vegas in The Guardian newspaper here.

Science making a comeback

In January 2013, the Economist magazine online edition published a fascinating story, under the headline ‘The Road to Renewal’. It begins with a common accusation, namely, that the Muslim world is lagging behind the West in scientific development, and that this is reflected in the fact that the number of Nobel Prize-winning scientists of Jewish background far outnumbers the Muslim recipients of the Nobel Prize in the sciences:

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics. Both moved to the West: the only living one, the chemist Ahmed Hassan Zewail, is at the California Institute of Technology. By contrast Jews, outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims, have won 79.

An interesting comparison, however, the article goes on to provide an overview of how science is making a big comeback, and indeed is an intricate part of, Muslim-majority countries. While it is true that the Islamic faith strongly influences the education system in Islamic countries, it is too simplistic to denounce the alleged scientific backwardness of Muslim-majority countries on the purportedly innately irrational perspective of Islam to scientific investigation. The article then provides a crucial observation:

But look more closely and two things are clear. A Muslim scientific awakening is under way. And the roots of scientific backwardness lie not with religious leaders, but with secular rulers, who are as stingy with cash as they are lavish with controls over independent thought.

The simplistic caricature of backward Muslims impeding scientific inquiry is easily dispelled by a cursory knowledge of Islamic history; the Islamic Golden Age, lasting between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, was a time of unrivaled scientific discoveries, accumulation and extension of mathematical knowledge, and expansion in all areas of science from astronomy to medicine throughout the Abbasid Caliphate, until the Mongol conquest of the centre of intellectual life, Baghdad in 1258. The Islamic empire provided fertile intellectual commerce for the West, while Europe was still languishing in the Christian-dominated Dark Ages. Let us not forget that Moorish Spain was another comparative beacon of light for the peoples of Europe at the time.

What is interesting is that the article in the Economist details the ongoing efforts by scientists and scientific researchers to reinvigorate their areas of expertise in the Muslim-majority countries. All areas of science and technology are experiencing a resurgence. Evolutionary biology is the one area where scientists of Muslim background struggle to reconcile their faith with their scientific work – just like their Christian counterparts. The barriers between scriptural acceptance and evolutionary biology are enormous, but not insurmountable. As the Economist article explains:

Plenty of Muslim biologists have managed to reconcile their faith and their work. Fatimah Jackson, a biological anthropologist who converted to Islam, quotes Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of genetics, saying that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. Science describes how things change; Islam, in a larger sense, explains why, she says.

Others take a similar line. “The Koran is not a science textbook,” says Rana Dajani, a Jordanian molecular biologist. “It provides people with guidelines as to how they should live their lives.” Interpretations of it, she argues, can evolve with new scientific discoveries. Koranic verses about the creation of man, for example, can now be read as providing support for evolution.

When looking at the way in which biologists in the Islamic world are grappling with the philosophical and scientific divides between faith-based belief and scientific understanding, one cannot help but see the similarities in the ways that Christians in the West are wrestling with exactly the same philosophical and cultural issues. So why is the Muslim world routinely derided as more fundamentalist, irrational and closed to rational thought that the supposedly more advanced Christian West?

In June 2011, the present author wrote a book review of ‘The Muslim Revolt: A journey through political Islam’ by BBC journalist Roger Hardy. The book examines the various political trajectories and social conflicts of political Islam in a number of Muslim-majority countries. The most officially secular of these countries, Turkey, constitutes a chapter in the book, where Hardy elaborated on the cultural tensions between secular education and Muslim identity. Taking a long quote from my book review, the following illustrates the tension between religious identity and science education that is being played out:

Hardy describes his visit to a state-run school, which is well furnished, adorned by a bust of Kemal Ataturk, and the slogan “Science is the true guide in life”. Hardy asked the biology teacher how she deals with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, who peremptorily responds that it is in the state-approved curriculum, and so she teaches it. Many in the Muslim world (like many Christians) refuse to accept the theory of evolution, and there is strong cultural resistance to it. Hardy then visits another school, known as an imam-hatip school. This type of school was originally intended to produce imams and hatips, religious preachers. Upon asking the head teacher in the second school how it differs from the original state school, Hardy obtains the response that the curriculum is exactly the same, except they add religious instruction.

Hardy persists with his questioning, and asks how they handle the theory of evolution in the school. The head teacher says he disagrees with evolution, but teaches it anyway according to the curriculum. The students in the school then learn about Islamic philosophy, and how God created the world according to religious precepts. This underlying kulturkampf – culture-struggle is the word Hardy uses – is occurring throughout the Muslims world, and has familiar undertones in the West. We are undergoing our own kulturkampf, with the creationist/intelligent design lobby to push for strict biblical inerrancy to be taught in schools. The struggle is far from over. The creation-evolution controversy is hardly confined to the Muslim countries, and is being played out in Turkey paralleling the similar debates in Christian-influenced Europe, Australia and the United States.

Returning to the article from the Economist, there is one area of the life sciences where the Islamic countries are rapidly progressing, while Christian-majority countries are still bogged down in acrimonious debate: stem cell research. According to Islamic precepts, the soul enters the fetus between 40 and 120 days after conception. Embryos discarded before that time period are the source of pluripotent stem cells derived from the blastocyst. Scientists in the Islamic Republic of Iran have been making enormous strides in stem cell research, and have compiled a stem cell database bank. All this medical research is occurring while in the United States, scientists and legislators have had to battle Christian fundamentalist lawmakers and conservative advocates using their political clout to hinder, and in some cases completely ban, research using pluripotent stem cells. Biologists in Iran working on stem cell research do not face any official roadblocks or legislative censure, and are working on finding cures for diseases once considered incurable.

Tim Wallace-Murphy is an English writer and historian, and author of the book ‘What Islam did for us: Understanding Islam’s contribution to Western Civilization’. After exploring the enormous dependence of European culture on the contributions of Islam, the last chapter is entitled ‘A Common Heritage and Future’. Wallace-Murphy makes the observation we must stop regarding the Muslim world as one gigantic petrol station, inhabited by strange people with backward beliefs. He continues:

Our elected representatives in the West are our elected servants and not our masters. They should not have the freedom to initiate wars of aggression without the consent of the people they serve. Nor should they be permitted to prop up repressive regimes purely for commercial advantage. Trade is always to be encouraged, the subsidy of tyranny should be forbidden.

We must go further and denounce the harassment and intimidation of Arab and Muslim Australians. We in Australia must stop normalising relations with repressive regimes and countries that continue to persecute their citizens, or carry out wars of aggression against the Arab and Muslim people. When the current Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, shakes hands with the Burmese President Thein Sein joining the onrush by imperialist nations to develop economic ties with that country, and when newly-reinstalled Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declares that Israel is in his DNA, it sends a clear signal to the world that Australia stands with the imperialist countries in ignoring human rights and joining the oppression of Palestinians, Rohingya Muslims and other marginalised people in the world, in order to extend commercial interests. It is time to make human solidarity the main criterion by which we evaluate our political and economic conduct.