For a large number of people, merely raising the question, whether the Israeli Palestinian conflict is a Islamic ‘religious’ issue or not, may raise eye brows. Many take it for granted that the conflict is a religious one.
Well. That has not been always been the case. And for several decades, Palestine liberation from Israeli occupation and oppression was an Arab national cause, not an Islamic cause. Actually, until recently, non-Arab Muslim countries were not at all seriously concerned about the Middle East conflict, except for a supportive vote in the UN every now and then.
Of course Islam, both as a religion and as a dominant Arab cultural backdrop, was influencing the formulation of the ‘lingo’ of the conflict. But that was in the context of Islam being the major element of Arabic cultural foundation, even for many Arab Christians.
The frequent use of Islamic terminology was therefore not out of the perception that the conflict was a religious one. And for over 40 years after the Palestinian Nakba (Arabic term for the Palestinian disaster in 1948), both Muslims and Christians were intensely involved as Arabs in all the military conflicts, resistance, negotiations, etc. Some of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) figures were Christians, and one of the most militant Palestinian groups was founded by George Habash, a Palestinian Christian.
Of course that does not mean that the early (and short-lasting) involvement of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood group in the 1948 war did not have religious reasons, but for most Arabs, that is not how the conflict was viewed.
It was an issue of millions of fellow Arabs suffering from oppression and grave injustice, their culture was being destroyed, and their own existence as people was being denied. It was about Arab land robbed without any legitimacy – just because the other side could achieve land theft and population transfer by force – never effectively opposed.
I wish the conflict remained as secular as it was in the early decades. But, for different reasons, it was more practical for both Arabs on one hand and Israelis and their supporters on the other, to turn it into a religious conflict.
That was a grave mistake and to the detriment of Arab and Palestinian position in my opinion. And, consequently, it was to the great benefit of the pro-Israel crowd.
On the Arab/Muslim side, the transformation of the Palestinian cause from secular to religious started in the early 1980’s. Secular Arab governments have proven to be total failure in solving Arab world problems and, moreover, many of them started taking initiatives to surrender emotionally and materially to the US and Israeli demands.
And while that was happening, Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan were being hailed by the West as defenders of the World against the Soviet Union evil empire. The American and Arab propaganda machinery raised the stature of the ‘Mujahideen’ and their ideology to mythical heights casting them as saints. That was, incidentally, financed by Saudis and Americans, pumping the zealous religious emotions of Arabs and Muslims all over the world.
At a different level, Arab people were impressed by the success of another religion-based national liberation movement in Iran. The Iranian people succeeded in kicking out Reza Bahlavi’s regime, a bloody and very oppressive regime. And their ability to resist the pressure of military and economic war by Iraq and the West during the protracted Iraq-Iran war did not pass unnoticed in Arab Street.
It was not difficult to put the two together: success was based on how profound the religious feelings are, and how great the will to sacrifice was.
For Israel and its creators and supporters, religion has never been out of the picture from day one. After all, it was early secular Zionists that used the myth of God’s promise to his chosen people to promote their desire for a homeland. A promise that is laughable as backward unless you base it on religious ideology. But the surroundings were ripe for the plausibility of that silly claim of the Jewish people to a Jewish state the land of Palestine.
Secular Jews got the land that they felt would protect them for more destruction by Europeans. And religious Jews got what they thought was a fulfillment of God’s promise.
For Western Christian supporters (many with a long history of anti-Jewish sentiments) some saw it as a way to resolve the ‘Jewish problem’ but for others waiting for the second coming of the messiah to establish the kingdom of heaven, it was a step closer to making the end of times happen.
More recently, the pro-Israel voices, both Jewish and Christian Zionist, have taken a more explicit and advantageous religious direction with the ‘Islamization’ of the Palestinian /Israeli conflict by Arabs and Muslims. And over the last 10-15 years, the conflict has been framed by pro-Israel voices as a clash of religions. Fighting ‘Radical Islam’ real and imagined became the new hub of the pro-Israel policies.
At present, it is almost certain that enthusiastic pro-Israel voices would be fervently and irrationally anti-Muslim and explicitly Islamophobic.
Zionist Christians and fundamental Zionists have managed to create a powerful media network that regularly defends the blind support of Israel while foaming at the mouth about the dangers of Islam and Muslims in general.
For Muslims living in the West, most of the hatred and insults they face (in person, and in media pits like Fox News Network and Wall Street Journal, as well as a variety of Islamophobic online outlets) comes from the pro-Israel crowd while they are promoting Israeli points of view.
Framing the Israeli Palestinian conflict as a conflict between Islam and a ‘Judeo-Christian’ culture (whatever that means) has been very convenient for Israel and its advocate, and in my opinion has been extremely detrimental to Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians. But Muslims themselves take a lot of the blame for not resisting redefining the conflict in religious terms.
For Muslims, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be ‘re-redefined’. It is about seeking justice for Palestinians, a legitimate Islamic cause. It is not a conflict about defending Islam, because it is not.
Making it a war to defend Islam made us lose a very important and critical ally, but that will be the topic of another posting. In the mean while, your thoughts and opinions about this topic are appreciated.