June issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Books | News & Politics | Published 15 years ago

For the Obama administration in Washington, reading Eric S. Margolis’ American Raj: Liberation or Domination? is a must before finalising its policies for the Muslim countries. For the people of the Muslim world who are disgusted with US policies, the book provides enough material to fight the case for Palestine, Kashmir, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Margolis has traveled in this region both as a businessman and as a journalist, and acquired a good understanding of the quasi-tribal mindset of the inhabitants of Muslim countries. His previous book, War on the Top of the World, covered the struggle of the people in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet. His regular columns in the Toronto Sun and other journals are also narratives of these issues from a historical, religious and political perspective.

His sympathetic treatment of Palestine and other conflict issues is said to be influenced by his mother Nexhmie Zaimi, who spent many years reporting from the Middle East. Another person who seems to have influenced Margolis’ political views is the former US president, Dwight Eisenhower. He reminds the Americans that there was a time when Muslim countries respected them because Eisenhower had forced Britain, France and Israel to withdraw from the Suez Canal. He maintains: “After Suez, the Muslim world rang with praise for the United States. President Eisenhower was called ‘the great liberator’ who would free Muslim nations from foreign control as surely as he had freed Europe from German occupation.” This observation is not out of place as it is a well-known fact that in the late ’40s and early ’50s the US had pressurised first the British to hasten the process of giving independence to India and Pakistan and then the Dutch, to liberate Indonesia and Malaysia.

Today, the popular question in the USA and some Western countries is: “Why do Muslims hate us?” Margolis blames the US policies for provoking hatred against itself. He has come to the conclusion that the American Raj has replaced the British Raj and furthered the injustices inflicted by the latter. The wave of anger against the American Raj has turned into a tsunami in the Muslim world today. This, Margolis writes, is because American policies in the Middle East are subservient to the powerful lobbies of the far-right in Israel, which has been sabotaging all initiatives for peace.

Margolis terms the Pakistan-India conflict over Kashmir as one of the two “world’s most dangerous and intractable conflicts” of the 14 wars and conflicts he has covered. And “Kashmir was certainly one of the dirtiest, most cruel conflicts that I have ever witnessed,” says Margolis.

It seems a bit late in the day that the new US administration is realising how important it is to bring a resolution to the Kashmir conflict. As pointed out by Margolis, the pending Kashmir conflict has resulted in Pakistan encouraging a number of militant organisations to carry on the struggle across the border. On the other hand, India continues to suppress the movement in the valley by using the Indian Army’s brutal force. To push Pakistan to take on the jihadi Frankensteins, resolution of the Kashmir issue is imperative.

American Raj is a walk-through journey for readers who want to understand the anger in the Muslim world against US policies. How each conflict in the Muslim world is affected by the others; how thinly-veiled, oil-driven western policies affect its relations with the Muslims and how Al-Qaeda feeds on this across-the-board antagonism and whether it can be defeated.

Many books have been written in the post-9/11 period on the rise of militancy among Muslims. It is profitable to write on a subject which is current, fiery and affects people across the globe. But very few writers have managed to rise above personal biases. Mangolis has been trying to show the West that much of the Islamic militancy and its globalisation is a reaction to the foolish and selfish policies of the American government and its allies. Scholars like Oliver Roy, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and Giles Kepel have analysed the issues in their books. For a better ideological perspective, readers of American Raj are especially recommended to read Roy’s Globalised Islam and Kepel’s Roots of Radical Islam.

However, these books only imply solutions, whereas Margolis has outright proposed a solution for “fighting the fires.” He writes: “The solutions are perfectly clear; implementing them, however, will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, provided the various parties are patient and accept an incremental approach to East-West détente and an end to state-sponsored hysteria.”

Regarding the Palestine issue, the author points out, “So long as there is not a just solution to this half-century-old conflict, the West and the Muslims will remain at daggers drawn.” The key to this solution, according to him, is with the American Raj, which, like Eisenhower, is in a position to press Israel, and should support the pro-peace lobbies in that country, instead of people like Netanyahu and parties like Likud.

The author maintains: “The American Raj holds supreme dominion over most of the region. Almost all the players involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict are patrons and clients of the United States.” He notes, “Washington holds many levers to press Israel for peace: $3.6 to $5 billion of annual aid to Israel, supply of high-tech arms and vital spare parts, vetoing over 70 UN resolutions condemning Israel and ordering it to withdraw from occupied territories, continued privileged access to American markets and technology … granting of tax holidays to pro-Likud charities and think tanks.” Interestingly, the US is very hard on Muslim charities, while supporting the extremist Israeli lobbies by granting a tax holiday on donations.

Next, the author moves to the “festering wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and pleads for a speedy end. On the Iraq war, he opines, “The United States should not waste a moment in getting out of this $10-to-$12-million-dollar-a-month debacle that runs down its armed forces to the breaking point, and earned America a sea of hatred.”

On Afghanistan his solution is: “Better to pull western forces out of Afghanistan and offer Afghans large rewards to find bin Laden and company, which they might actually do once the onus of cooperating with foreign occupiers are removed.” He has warned that invading Pakistan’s autonomous tribal areas is a daft idea that would “only widen and intensify an already unwinnable war.”

Margolis has criticised the Bush administration for letting the Pentagon lead foreign policy and has pleaded for it to end the “hostility towards Islam.” And he has advised that all legitimate struggles of the Muslims against oppression in places like Kashmir and Chechnya should not be dubbed as terrorism, without making an effort to resolve these issues. He has argued that the Midwest televangelists who spit fire against the Muslims are taken by many Muslims as representative American voices.

Margolis touches the right chord when he demands that the American Raj should stop supporting authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world. By supporting such feudal rulers or military dictators, the US has distanced itself from the democratic forces, who should otherwise be its allies. He has concluded: “It is time for mankind to begin ridding itself of its two worst scourges, religious fanaticism and nationalist passions. This, not empire building, should be our goal in the new century.”

In one of his latest columns in the Toronto Sun, he has reminded the West of the British Raj’s famous writer Kipling’s lines: “Asia is not going to be civilised after the method of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old.”