Tuesday, 15 March 2016


by Alex Sligo-Young

This article is the script from my talk on Islamaphobia and the sources that I used. My main source was Adam Curtis’s documentary ‘Bitter Lake’ which is still available to watch on the Internet. To compliment this I used his three part series ‘The Power of Nightmares’ along with other news articles that I found online that helped to explain my point.  I recommend watching the documentaries but if you don’t have the time then it is probably quicker just to read this.

Obviously as I am not a Muslim it’s hard for me to speak about life as a Muslim in Britain. So I’m going to look at Islamaphobia from a slightly different perspective. After looking at how Islam has been portrayed over recent years, it appears that it has become the archetypal villain in the world, and the more we have defined it as this the more that Islamic extremists have rallied to meet this definition. This definition has also led to the degradation of the public perception on Muslims, making them a target for groups like Britain First, anti-Islam alliance and liberty GB.

I personally believe that this whole problem stems from the oversimplification of Middle Eastern issues in an attempt to be able to understand them. Isis is not the singular product of the Islamic religion, America’s quest for oil or the culture that they were brought up in, but a combination of every issue and ideology that has entered the Middle East. However, this is not a satisfactory explanation for those in power. How can you be a strong leader and simultaneously state that Isis is no ones fault? So to enable the public to understand these issues they are grossly simplified to provide a Hollywood style fight between good and evil, an Isis are the perfect pantomime villain: they release gory videos, kill women and children and reject any notions of westernisation.

So to go some way to demonstrating the complexity of the issue I will begin by looking at the Middle East after World War II. This dam was meant to be just the start of the development that The King of Afghanistan dreamt of. However, this is the Afghanistan we see today, Kabul was previously described as the Paris of the middle east and is now just another where battle field where a scrabble for power takes place. So how did a semi conservative country that wished to be modernised in a similar way to America in the 1930’s get to this situation? To try and explain this I am just going to have to ignore lots of different causes but hopefully by exploring only a few chains of causation you will be able to understand how unbelievably complex the situation is. This new dam raised the water table, bringing salt to the surface of the soil, which enabled poppies to grow. Many Afghans protested, but the American government stepped in and insisted that the project should be finished, as the scheme had now become a draw to get Afghanistan to side with America in the cold war. Latterly, the previously nomadic Pashtun leaders realised their position of power and got America to allow them settle near the dam. However, what the Americans didn’t realise was that they had unwittingly entered into a power struggle between different Afghani groups.

However, this narrative is over simplified and I want to introduce another one to try and demonstrate how complex the situation is. To do so you have to go back to the birth of the Saudi-American relationship. This began with Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia as America was looking for a partner that it could rely on for oil. They decided that Saudi Arabia would be that partner, In exchange for America’s power and money the Saudis asked for one thing, that their Wahhabi or ultra conservative Islamic faith was left alone by the Americans. This Wahhabism was a reaction against imperialist European forces, and was harnessed by Abdul Aziz in order to gain power. However, the soldiers he used wanted to establish a Caliphate across the whole of the middle east and Aziz did not agree with this so he machine gunned the soldiers that had given him power. But their ideology lived on. When King Faisal took to the throne the religious leaders that ascribed to this ideology put pressure on him to stand up to western modernisation. However, Faisal had plans of modernising Saudi Arabia, so in order to divert the religious leaders attention he turned against communism by setting up Wahhabi schools all over the middle east to turn Islam into a unified international force strong enough to stand up to communism. This created stability in his country and directed the religious fever outwards; here we begin to see his political power. Later on in his reign Egypt attacked Israel due to a hatred of the Jews (which Saudi Arabia shared). However, America stepped in, supporting the Israelis and causing Egypt to retreat. But the Saudis didn’t like this so raised the price of oil putting America in an economic headlock and social chaos, consequentially showing how the balance of power in the world had now shifted to the countries that controlled the supply of oil. This resulted in numerous problems such as friction between employers and unions that wanted raises to cover the increased cost, more expensive goods and regular protests.

I now have to return to Afghanistan to continue the narrative. 

At the time of the American reforms in Afghanistan many Afghan students were sent to study in American universities where they aligned themselves with the American left. They then came back to try and spread these views, but when they came to do this their views got mixed up with poorly translated Marxist books given to them by the Russians. They decided to rebel against president Daoud in 1978 and assassinated him and most of his family. After this they began to divide up the land and give it to the peasants that had previously been oppressed in the old feudal system. This led to a feeling of tension in rural Afghanistan as neighbours complained that others had been given better bits of land. These rivalries extended right up to the top, where different heads of the revolution believed that they should be the leader. In particular Hafizullah Amin believed that he should be the ruler instead of Nur Muhammad Taraki, so he had him smothered with a pillow and took control. However, the Russians thought that Afghanistan was falling apart and so told Amin that they were sending troops to uphold the peace. What Amin didn’t know that they were there to assassinate him. It took a number of comical attempts including a poisoning attempt where two Russian doctors who didn’t know of the plan came and saved him. Bu after the third attempt they simply threw a grenade at him.

At around this time Ronald Reagan was elected as president of the United States. He came after a period of economic turmoil caused by the oil price turbulence and offered a soloution to America’s problems. He did this by turning complex problems into moral fables where goodness and innocence would win over evil. For this to be true there had to be an evil to fight against and consequentially political conflicts were redefined as a battle of good and evil. This enabled the American neo-conservatives to rally behind Reagan in a fight for the freedom of the opressed. In Afghanistan Regan funded the struggle of afghan freedom fighters against the Russian, using the Saudis as deliverymen for the weapons. America believed that Saudi was doing this to help a Muslim country to fight against the communists but in reality it was a way of them exporting Wahhabism to a previously moderate country. One of the young radicals they encouraged to fight was Osama Bin Laden. However, as the communist regime in Russia collapsed during the early 1980s Afghanistan became a place where the Russian leaders could create a model society, free from the mistakes they had made in Russia. To do this they flew in soldiers, doctors, and teachers and installed a proxy head of state that would do as he was told. This set the scene for Afghanistan to be the battleground of the Ideologies of America and Russia, of capitalism verses socialism. 

However, the Mujahidin freedom fighters were not fighting for freedom at all, but for the Wahhabi ideals that had been taught to them by the Saudis. They pushed the Russians into the cities and then started targeting the Russian civilians in the cities with bombs.  When the Russians finally left Afghanistan in 1988 the Mujahidin were left to fight among their respective leaders for power, firing thousands of rockets indiscriminately into Kabul and destroying the city. This is because they believed each of their respective groups to represent the true version of Islam, and that any other was corrupted by the west and so could be justly killed. However, as the Americans had stopped sending money and arms they had to fund themselves, so they turned to the poppy fields of Helmand that were produced by the building of the American dam I talked about earlier. From this, two different groups that oversimplified the world were born; both united by their roots in Saudi Wahhabism. One of these groups was the Taliban. The Taliban came form Pakistani madrassas, a type of religious school that had been built using Saudi money from it lucrative dealings with America. The Taliban’s ideas were based of an imagined idea of how Islamic society was run in the past, music, film and the education of women were banned and communist bodies were dug up and burnt to cleanse the land. Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda followers shared most of these views but just had differing opinions of how the war should be fought. They saw that American money had corrupted Saudi Arabia, modernising them and moving Muslims away from their ideas of what society should be like, stopping Muslims from liberating themselves. Hence, to create a revelation, you must attack America and shock the masses to liberate them. America was evil and Wahhabi ideas were good.

However, this behaviour is not reserved for the ‘bad guys’ as western politicians used the same tactics. They continue to do what Regan did by turning complex issues into simple tales of good and evil, advocating intervention to save the ‘innocent victims’ that were being affected by this evil. This may be seen as the root cause of the ‘war on terror’. However, because the leaders had given away many of their economic controls to the banks during the economic crisis of the 70’s and 80’s they could no longer change a countries investments for political reasons. This means that billions of western petro dollars flowed into Saudi Arabia and then to supporters of Wahhabism. The west began to fight with an enemy it was indirectly funding, causing a state of affairs where every attempt to defeat the enemy reinforced the Wahhabi perception of the west as a oppressive corruptive force, resulting in an increase in support for extremist ideology. Hence, we have arrived at a situation where our tales of good and evil have led to the creation of something capable of truly evil acts, but unlike a story good actions will not lead to the demise of evil but simply its mutation into something worse.

I think that what I want you to take away from this is that the issue of extremism is not an Islamic one, it is a cultural and political one born out of the pursuit of both capitalist and communist ideology. More importantly I want you to go away and try and think more about what narrative is being created when you read something about how ‘evil’ Islam is, and will your support of this result in another deadly mutation. 

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