I wanted to write this article sometime ago but events and developments kept intruding and my attention taken away or stolen from the critical into the tangential. As more events unfold and the death rates in the Arab and Muslim world reach catastrophic levels and the region all up in flames. My pen can no longer remain occupied with brush fires while the interests and forces shaping this calamity remain aloof and unencumbered by much needed insights and analysis.
We are witnessing massive killing fields across the region from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Central African Republic, and Burma. However, the critical question is not asked, why is this taking place and what are the interests being served? What are the key factors that are shaping this massive transformation and causing this high level of instability across regions and among societies that have lived in relative peaceful and co-dependence existence for centuries. Could it all be reduced to differing religions or even among the same religious group to divergent interpretations!
Indeed, divide and conquer has been the best and most effective instrument utilized by colonial powers to first achieve control over societies and then further the domination in successive periods up to the present post-colonial period. How to dominate and conquer a territory inhabited by large populations with diverse languages, cultures, racial groupings, religious traditions and political worldviews! The order of business was to explore existing cleavages and work to foment divisions at every turn while pushing forth a colonial project.
Arguments as to what came first the company or the army are very rudimentary for the question fails to take into account that the colonial project was at once an economic, social, religious, political, racial and military project. We can’t and should not separate it into distinct parts for doing so will reduce the ability to critique the totality of the epistemic colonial structure and get the bigger picture lost in possible contradictions at the smaller or local details. Taking the colonial structure in parts will cause us to lose sight of the forest and become entangled in tree types and effects on each other. Colonialism always insisted on looking at tree types and not the forest or more importantly who owns it.
At the big picture, we have a daily massive transfer of wealth taking place from the colonized south to the colonial motherlands in the global north. The global north provides the arms and military hardware needed by the local despotic colonial guards, which are financed by revenues coming from raw materials, strategic minerals and oil. The colonized elites are connected to the colonial global north and place their resources in banks and corporations in the colonial motherlands. This was built into the structure from inception and not a mere smartness or cunning in the south.
Guns for raw materials, economic access for domination and possible success for the few at the expense of the overwhelming many in the global south is what colonialism offered in the past and continues to do so in this post-colonial period. The colonial project is centered on creating the appropriate conditions to constitute an elite ready to sacrifice the best interests of its own society for a narrow benefit that is never lasting or subject to control and manipulation by colonial powers. Local conflicts are part of the colonial structure for they provide the ability to extract sweeping economic and political concessions from colonized societies. Conflicts, fomenting divisions and exaggerating tensions are structural aspects of colonization and not to be viewed as part of the colonized inherent inferiority.
The same strategy worked during the European Slave Trade in West Africa: Guns for slaves, which accelerated and intensified local conflicts. Certainly, the demand for more slaves required creating the needed conditions to bring slave supplies into the coast to be transferred across the Atlantic. The more conflicts in West Africa the more slaves can be supplied and the more slaves are available the more depressed the prices get thus making the conflicting parties more violent toward one another so they can get more slaves traded for guns to protect themselves against another local competitor engaged in the same system. For sure, the need for labor force in the Americas’ plantations was the primary factor that shaped the history, society and conflicts in West Africa for over 300 years and the region still living the impacts of this catastrophic colonial project and strategy. This was not an accident; rather it was structural and set in motion by major powers involved in the colonization of the Americas and Africa at the same time since it was a major global economic, political, social, religious and racial project.
Studying history in a localized way, while is important, in this case would fail to account for this massive colonial project and its impact on Africa and the Americas’ as a whole. I have very little respect for works that spend so much time on looking at the local conflicts in parts of Africa and never asking the critical question about the forces and interests at play that continue to push these conflicts forward because so much exploitation of diamond mines, oil, uranium, gold, silver, cooper etc. Too much money at stake to leave it for the Africans to use! Thus, the present colonial mangers are sent to set the process in motion and to keep things the way they are by sending the wealth up to the global north. Africa is not poor; rather is impoverished by cunning global ‘civilized’ design.
Now one might say that I strayed away from the topic and the Arab and Muslim world with the many conflicts witnessed and cited above but also racism and discrimination toward Black Africa, abuse of foreign labor force, sexism, and ill treatment of minorities. However, this litany once again is taking the local context so as not to confront the global and the colonial powers and their continued robbing the southern hemisphere poor to enrich the already 1% of the global north even more.
The core problems at hand are rooted in divide and conquer whereby local differences are instrumentalized for a present coloniality. In the past, the colonial companies, like the British East Africa Company, German East African Company, and Dutch East India Company, all worked hand in hand with the military and state powers to penetrate new territories and claim them as possessions for the sponsoring state. One must be clear on this direct connection between colonial commercial enterprises and colonial states and their pursuit of territorial expansion. The military protected the companies and in return the commercial enterprises managed and organized the colonies according to colonial state interests. Centrally to this organizing and management was a divide and conquer strategy as well as a conniving alignment with local elites and religious authorities, who opted to protect their narrow self-interest at the expense of resistance. At a certain level, the local elites and religious authorities were completely ignorant of the new global developments and acted from pre-modern understandings that were incongruent with rapid developments underway (this is separate article for the future).
When we examine the present colonial we confront similar alignment with military industrial complex companies selling guns to all parties, while petro-chemical companies move raw materials like oil to industrial economies to act as the engine for producing finished products for the captive colonized or if we may say open-market privatize neoliberal economies. On the other end, we find a set of global corporations coming with ‘development’ projects for the shakedown and clean up job for whatever is left in the pockets of elites who got paid for oil, raw materials and the robbing of local economies.
Guns for oil to further foment conflicts instrumentalized over a 200 years period and colonial development projects intended to shift resources from the local to the global while facilitating an administration of the local colonial structures. The existing elites are all acting to protect their assigned self-interest in the form of luxurious trade mark products and local dealerships, software deals, processing plants, tobacco concessions, percentage cuts on various deals etc. The local elite role is to facilitate the present colonial and in return they are given the guns to protect themselves from domestic opposition at the plantation level and external neighbors that are organized on the same principles but often belong to another colonially selected tribe, religious group or sect, and ethnic or linguistic groupings. In each case the borders and assignment of roles were set in motion in an epistemic colonial structure and not as often presented as a result of historical animosities or revelries.
The best Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Salafi, Ikhwani, Christian, Jew, Hindu and Buddist in the present colonial is a dead one if they are not ready to play and be part of this insidious dehumanizing structure. We all are caught with the news cycle but don’t stop to think of how the news became news in the first place! How did the Sunni-Shia conflict become the focal point! How did ISIS emerge, why and how politics framed around sectarian discourses came to the fore! How did Muslim-Jewish and Arab-Jewish conflicts become the frame by which relations are developed and constructed since the inception of a colonial Zionist project! Why is it that we look at one another through an otherization colonized lens and accept it to define who we are and what we should do on a daily basis!
Differences among human groups are foundational and present throughout recorded history. Some, however, maintain that the human state of nature is founded upon the survival of the fittest and as such powerful groups must work to overcome and take over weaker types. However, this particular thesis is founded upon a capitalist, colonial and racist reading of history that takes developments occurring as a result of particular human behavior and project it back unto all human groups and societies then articulate a forward looking policy and action plans based on it. This thesis views conflict between human groupings as the norm and an outcome of a pre-determined imprint on the human state of nature. Thus, colonialism and its economic underpinnings are rationalized as part of a norm rather than a particular distorted mode resulting in genocide and constant visitation of death and destruction on the vast majority of humanity to maintain the engines of greed and materialism humming.
The challenge for all is how to break away from this cycle and bring the colonial otherization project to an end. I do believe it begins by affirming the human collective differences and diversity as a source of enrichment and an endowed uniqueness that can contribute to building a better future for all. We all are better when we preserve, protect and cause each other to flourish in our unique and distinctive ways. Seeking to dominate and eliminate the other is a sign of weakness, not strength. For the Arab and Muslim world to flourish it must dispense with the colonial framing and reconstitute itself within a de-colonizing epistemology rooted in the strength within diversity whereby religious, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and regional differences are opportunities to learn and develop in ways that otherwise would not have been possible. Colonialism instrumentalized diversity and difference to propel a dehumanizing project. For me a de-colonization project in the Arab and Muslim world must be rooted in reconstituting our collective humanness with diversity and difference being the bedrock for the society. Today is the time for all to work toward hastening the dying colonialism!