More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

The world is currently at a point where religious extremist organizations, which are often terrorist organizations as well, are successfully making their voices heard on a global scale. Along with this, they are instilling fear into much of the Western world. This success has led said organizations’ opponents to seriously consider the best approach to respond to the hostility of terrorists. Professor Phyllis Chesler, in her article entitled “The First Serious Push-Back on the West-Islamist Battlefield of Ideas,” Israel National News, 5 April 2015 describes Dr. Richard Landes argument that claims Western leftists are unintentionally promoting religious extremist organizations.

Richard Landes is a professor of history at Boston University. He specializes in medieval history as well as messianic and millennial movements. Landes believes that the progressive left are demonstrating their humanity by embracing the “Other,” but this embrace is not reciprocated. Indeed Jihadists believe that the very people that are embracing them must be annihilated. The article goes on to explain that Westerners are plainly promoting their own enemy by doing things like wearing tee shirts that read “We are Hamas.” Supposedly Westerners have mistaken Hamas as a religious and nationalist movement, when in reality they are a terrorist group who are relentless to their own people and have dedicated themselves to “the extermination of Jews.” Landes claims that many Jihadists are largely unconcerned by the United States and Western Europe, and that their main goal is the destruction of Israel. This would be a victory of strong symbolic power. “[Jihadists] envision the Queen of England wearing a burqa and the flag of Islam over the White House.” Landes states that in order to save itself, “the West must genuinely renounce its long romance with Jew-hatred which, right now, constitutes its single greatest vulnerability.” He also believes that America is “far more tolerant than Europe.” Chesler ends the article with an interesting view held by Landes. He believes that all non-Muslims are effectively Israelis. “Civilians anywhere, everywhere, are potential targets.”

I find this article to be very enticing. Its paints a picture that Westerners are misguided when it comes to the beliefs and aims of Jihadists. Landes raises an important issue that is commonly overlooked by Western media – the West has a history of anti-Semitism (Jew-hatred as Landes calls it), and that this view must fundamentally change in order to defeat religious terrorism. This article is very thought-provoking to me because it is quite conservative in its content, but I find myself agreeing with almost everything that Landes has to argue. For the most part I would consider myself part of the progressive left that he speaks of, and I had never considered the idea that more harm might be done by unencumbered embrace towards other cultures. The statement that I found most interesting is this – “In the name of anti-racism and anti-imperialism, the progressive Left has made common cause with the most imperialist and racist force on earth.” Perhaps it is time that the Western world take a step back and re-evaluate their position when it comes to “intensely tribal, exceeding barbaric” cultures.

Chesler’s article is ripe with issues discussed in our course. Most prominently, it claims Jihadists to be the most imperialist force on earth. These terrorists find their fundamental goal through interpretation of religious texts that were not written in the context of today. It is necessary to understand the context of the culture in which these texts were written, and to concede to the fact that they can be extremely dangerous when taken literally.


Identifier – JSrels348


Canadian Intervention in Syria (RELS 348)

The article I will be discussing is by Brian Stewart of CBC News, titled “Is Canada’s ISIS Mission ready for Syria’s moral maze?” In this internet news report posted on March 30th, 2015, Stewart goes into an analytical discussion of the potential consequences of Canadian airstrike in Syria, and gives multiple reasons as to why this may not be the most logical idea coming from the Harper government. He goes on to deliberate that we as a nation, and every other country, is blind to the full extent of dangers and negative consequences that lies within Syria, and that no one can fully predict what the outcomes of becoming involved via air bombings and warfare would entail. Not only would Canada and the U.S. have no idea what to expect from such action, but there is no guarantee that an airstrike would eradicate the Islamic State and rebel groupings out of Syria. It also has the potential to make a dangerous situation even more deadly, by helping Assad dictatorship, and causing more terrors and deaths for civilians. Stewart purposes the question that if we kill ISIS and move them out of Syria, who will take their position? And what does that mean for innocent citizens? There are hundreds of competing militias on the ground, as well as complexity and chaos. Stewart believes that there is some kind of “unspoken deal” between a Canada U.S. coalition, and if we were to get involved, it would be extremely unpredictable and multifarious, we would become mislaid in the metaphorical maze for quite some time.

Although I am no military strategy expert, or anything related to that nature, we have seen throughout this semester in Dr. Hexham’s lectures that there are usually negative consequences that follow when another country thinks they know what is best for another nation. This may not be in a direct form of colonialism or imperialism, but there are remarkable elements of that nature in the purposed airstrikes by the U.S. and Canada. I believe that by going off the arguments provided in Stewart’s article and lectures given by Dr. Hexham, the U.S. and Canada are acting in a colonial fashion as seen in previous years, by assuming they will be helping and also thinking that they know what would be best for Syria, without thinking the entirety of the situation through. Going in and physically bombing a country does nothing to get to the root and cause of the issues at hand. Dr. Hexham has described the tension between original African inhabitants and the European traders and missionaries, which resulted in countless conflicts due to differing interests, with many lives lost. An example of this is the Zulu war in 1879, where Zululand wished to be independent, however the British wanted to keep it together, demonstrating the assumption they knew what would be best for a different nation. With the later invasion of Zululand, there were many causalities of innocent people, thus demonstrating the negative effects of such assumptions. Another example of this theme given in lecture is the Sepoy revolts in India, who did not wish to be a part of British intentions and their cultural insensitivity (by the use of pork fat to lubricate the bullets, as they were Muslim troops). In Uwe Siemon-Netto’s book titled Triumph of the Absurd, he accounts his time in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He continuously describes throughout his novel the ongoing war between varying countries, with little or no consideration for the people that actually lived in that country, and the unfortunate consequences and causalities of more innocent people this resulted in. This is not the first time we have seen more powerful countries assuming proper knowledge over another, with minimal regards to the civilians. Although the political aspect weighs heaviest, there is also religious aspects involved.

The Assad family in Syria is not extreme in their religion, but the Islamic State is in their religious beliefs, undoubtedly creating more tension within the country. There are a plethora of notions and ideas that need to be taken into account for such a precarious and delicate situation that resides in Syria. The Islamic State has taken control of an increasing more amount of land, altering the balance of power. Syria has become a battleground location for opposing interests in the Middle Eastern nations by mainly Gulf monarchies and Iran allies. Consequences for Canada, Syria, innocent civilians, religion, and culture, all need to be heavily considered before Canada as a country can intervene in such a complex situation. The fact that airstrike has the potential to not help the people of Syria at all is a serious notion. Do the interests of such actions benefit Canada or Syria? I agree with Stewart that this is something that I believe needs to be heavily considered in all aspects.

Religious Interpretations: Demographic Threats or Citizens? (RELS 348)

The creation of the state of Israel was based on the Zionist idea of a Jewish homeland for all Jews as described in the infamous Balfour Declaration. Links to the Jewish religion, as well as an attempt to escape persecution in Europe were used to justify the colonial project that has resulted in the Israeli state at the expense of the indigenous population. The Jewish state for the Jewish people has since been used to solidify Israel’s legitimacy on both the domestic and international levels. Even up to this very day, Israeli policy makers brandish the fear of Israel loosing its Jewish character in order to shore up votes from Israeli citizens. In recent years, specific emphasis has been put on the domestic threat that Arab citizens of Israel pose to the Jewish character of Israel. Despite claiming to be a democracy, the idea of non-Jews comprising the majority in Israel is something that troubles many Jewish Israeli policy makers and citizens. Palash Gosh’s (Feb 1, 2012) article “Israel’s Demographic Time-bomb: An Arab Majority State?,”( discusses the issue of increasing numbers of non-Jewish Israelis in Israel and the implications this may have for the future of the state.

Initially, Gosh points out one glairing contradiction in Israeli domestic policy – the expansion of settlements in Palestinian territory. As Jewish settlements within the West Bank and Gaza increase (despite being in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention), the prospect of a two-state solution is less and less likely. The policy of breaking up the contiguity of Palestinian land with Jewish settlements could result in a singular Israeli state in which Arabs will greatly outnumber Jews. Gosh points out that despite continuing these practices, Israeli policy makers are also too worried about such an outcome. He goes on to cite Dr. Yitzhak Ravid who “proposed that Israel implement a stringent policy of family planning in relation to its Muslim population.” Gosh also brings attention to former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert who “warned of a demographic battle, drowned in blood and tears.”  As of today, even when excluding Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza, 25% of the population within Israel is Arab (Muslim, Christian and Druze). The latter part of Gosh’s piece includes an interview with Ben Moscovitch in which Moscovitch does well to summarize Israel’s dilemma: “A majority-Arab population would result in a one-state, bi-national solution, which would therefore eradicating the Jewish state…. This one-state solution is unacceptable and would destroy the modern concept of Israel and Zionism.”

It can be said that many Jewish Israelis, like the Boers, view much of history through the lens of religion. For example, the Boers do not see their victory over the Zulus in the Battle of Blood River as the result of superior technology and strategic planning, but as a miracle. Israelis who employ a similar religio-historic lens do not view the creation of the modern state of Israel as de facto colonialism (enabled by British imperialism in the Middle East), but as a miracle. This same logic applies to illegal settlements – settlers are not violating international law, but rather, they are securing land for greater Israel. Finally, a Zionist and religious interpretation of ‘democracy’ in Israel allows Knesset members to view to 25% of their population as a demographic threat, as opposed to legitimate and equal citizens of the state.

#uwreligions #demographicthreat

Yemen’s Unrest (RELS 348)

The article “Fighting grips Aden as Houthis continue to push South” published by AlJazeera, reports that fierce fighting is taking place in the coastal city of Aden where rebels known as Houthis are pushing South to claim power. At the same time Saudi Arabia has started air strikes to stop the advance, but this hasn’t stopped the rebels, and neither have the loyal fighters of the current president of Yemen, who are also battling the Houthis. In the past few days, 100 people have reportedly been killed due to the violence. Saudi Arabia has stated that the air strikes will continue until the Houthis put down their weapons, while the foreign minister said that their options would remain open on sending troops into Yemen. He went on to state the current objective is being achieved through air campaigns. Some of the air strikes being conducted are targeting the Houthis air defense capabilities. The article further talks about how air strikes were halted for a few hours to allow non-citizens to evacuate the country. The past president of Yemen stood down from his position after a violent uprising in 2011, but he still has a wide influence over Yemen. He appealed at the Arab leaders meeting in Egypt to halt the attacks and resume talks on political transition. He also promised that neither he nor anyone from his family would try to seek power within the country. His son also aired a proposal on television where he spoke about a plan to break with the Houthis, but it was rejected by the powers in Saudi Arabia and the air strikes have been continuously occurring.

The current emerging conflict that is taking place in Yemen can be seen as a religious war. Two different types of Muslims (Sunni and Shia) are causing this fight. Saudi Arabia is getting heavily involved because they do not support the Shia Houthis taking power in Yemen. Saudi Arabia prefers the power in Yemen to be Sunni, because most of the Arab states are Sunni. Yemen is also a strong religious symbol in Islam, and hence Saudi Arabia is very involved in this fight. The country has been divided politically into the North and South, with peace possibly only being possible with a full split.

The heavy involvement of Saudi Arabia and other nations, reminds me of the Vietnam War that is discussed in The Triumph of the Absurd. In this book the author speaks about how so many lives were lost just because of different countries stepping in and trying to reach peace. US and West Germany tried to help Vietnam, but instead lost its battle at the end and many lives as well before disappointingly leaving the country. The current situation seems like a reliving of this scenario, with foreign countries under the guise of “help” invading Yemen, primarily Saudi Arabia trying to keep a Sunni influence in Yemen. The story of Vietnam serves a good lesson that it is best to not step in and let the country sort out its own battle that exists within its own people.


Apology Accepted (RELS 348)

Nirpal Dhaliwal’s story “Britain has no need to make an apology to India for Empire…Daily Mail, 30 July 2010 presents an unconventional perspective regarding the empire that Britain once held over India. Dhaliwal does not believe that an apology is required from Britain to India for their imperial rule years ago. He back up this statement by pointing out various pieces of evidence that prove that India is now a better place as a result of the British Indian empire.

According to the article, India has the second–largest growing economy in the world and produces more English-speaking graduates than the rest of the world combined. This legacy left by the Raj has been profitable to India’s economy and has helped create jobs in sectors such as call-centers and software industries. The article goes on to state that India’s access to the rest of Europe is also improved by having a close relationship with Britain. This is important to India similarly to the way the British Empire made India more modern and civilized; it will mark how prominent both countries are in the modern world. Dhaliwal then goes on to express his admiration towards India’s tolerance, freedom, and engagement with the world. He does this by recollecting his visits to St. Thomas’s Cathedral in Mumbai. He goes on further to prove that Christianity is accepted in India when he saw a sign outside the Mahalakshmi Temple that proclaimed “Merry Christmas” to its Hindu worshipers. Dhaliwal boldly declares that modern Indian state simply would not exist without the callous and profiteering British Empire.

Although Dhaliwal raises some valid points in favour of the British Empirical rule over India, I disagree with him on account that India does not deserve an apology from the British. Yes, Indians have built upon what Britain has introduced to them such as the English language, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, and the protection of individual rights, which are all given credit where credit is due by Dhaliwal. However, I believe that the negative affects of the British Empire outweigh the positive legacies.

As mentioned in class, India held one of the largest economies in the world thanks to the spice trade, before the British East India Company seized control. Colonization and the British rule caused economic growth in India came to screeching halt. Colonization transformed India’s economy into a colonial economy. This resulted in deindustrialization that unemployed hundreds of thousands of craftsmen and caused farms to be working with an overcapacity of workers. The entire economic arrangement of India was in accordance with the interests of the British.

India underwent a series of famines and outbreaks of sickness during the British rule. Poor control and negligence by the colony is seen as the root cause of these famines. India’s growing population was largely not able to afford food because the British encouraged farmers to grow cash crops. This meant that a crop produced is for its commercial value rather than for use by the grower.

After considering the positive and negative affects of the British Empirical rule over India I am inclined to say that India at least deserves an apology from the British. Dhaliwal is quick to point out the fortuitous impacts that Britain had on Indian society but does not acknowledge the many atrocities, plagues, and lives-lost due to the empirical invasion. I believe that by recognizing both sides of an argument one is able to come to most accurate conclusion. By doing so, one can admit that the British should apologize to India.



Rewriting History: The Vietnam War (RELS 348)

On March 25th, The WND featured Chelsea Schilling’s (2015) article “Media’s Vicious Lies on Vietnam Finally Exploded: Eye-opening story finally tells truth of America’s most controversial war,” which addressed the release of a new documentary film: “Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Victory and Betrayal” that attempts to shed light on the controversy surrounding the Vietnam War. Botkin, the executive producer of the movie, expresses that the negative perceptions of the South Vietnamese and their U.S. allies’ efforts in the war need to be reinterpreted by the public. The movie attempts to show a different side of the War, one that the makers claim to be more truthful than what was portrayed in the media, and one that gives pride to those who fought in the war/those who supported it.

Schilling begins her article by reminding readers of events that played out in the media during the Vietnam War, such as: a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in protestation and an image of a South Vietnamese police chief photographed holding a gun to a prisoner’s head. She also reminds us how U.S. soldiers were often shamed and labeled as “baby-killers” and murderers while the South Vietnamese were cowardly and corrupt. Schilling (2015) asks, “But did these images and portrayals – splashed across Americans’ TV screens and newspapers – really represent the true story of Vietnam and the mission to halt the spread of communism?” – Botkin and his movie argue, no. Botkin points out that many Hollywood movies that deal with the Vietnam War are good for entertainment but not much else. Botkin believes that “they often grossly distort the reality of the warriors who fought courageously to stop the spread of communism”. Botkin hopes to rewrite history in the eyes of America, undo wrong perceptions of American soldiers and Vietnamese allies, and in the end prove that America’s presence in the war was justified/needed to combat the evils of communism.

The film uses a true story of Vietnamese Marine Maj and Le Ba Binh. The story chronicles his life in a communist camp, what the North Vietnamese called a “re-education camp”, while featuring flashbacks that show how Le Ba Binh courageously fought even in the face of hardship. Botkin argues that because Le Ba Binh was immersed first-hand in the war – he is a reliable source for information, whereas the American tabloids were not, “When the American went to Vietnam, they typically would go for 12 or 13 months… But Binh was there for the whole thing. It’s through him that we tell the story, hoping to make the Americans see that their sacrifice was justified”.

Schilling goes on to explain that many South Vietnamese and other oppositionists of communism fled the country in search of refuge. Although the U.S. received extreme prosecution for its efforts in the Vietnam War, Botkin wishes to change these allegations and show that he does not “think there’s any question that our effort was the right one”. The enemy was always communism.

This article and perspective from Botkin reminded me of Siemon-Netto and his mission to portray the South Vietnamese as the compassionate, strong and determined people he saw them to be. Botkin and Siemon-Netto also agree that the U.S. media is at fault for the misrepresentations of the realities of the Vietnam War. Throughout Siemon-Netto’s book, he is constantly frustrated by the absurdity and disconnect between the war reporters and the Vietnam War itself. Although there are many who believe that the Americans had no purpose being in the Vietnam War, it is also true that there are those who believe that any opposition to the communist forces and brutality was one that was needed.

In the end whether or not the Vietnam War is viewed as a War for the People, a colonial war, or a War Against America, I think it is safe to say that it was ultimately a war of ideologies. Freedom is defined differently throughout Vietnam, the U.S., and around the world. The Communist sought freedom from imperial control, South Vietnam sought liberty from Communist restraint and from suffering, religious followers sought liberation from belief restriction, and the American Peace Movement sought liberation from violence and the war itself. I believe that the war, in its confusion, can be summed up in a quote from Uwe Siemon-Netto (2014): “nothing, not even the most irrefutable evidence, can trump an ideologue’s fixed ideas” (p.199).



The Influence of Imperialism on the Syrian Crisis (RELS 348)

Edward Dark’s article “How to Solve the Syrian CrisisThe Guardian, 13 November 2014 argues for the importance of international communities to work together to bring an end to civil war in Syria. He believes that there is no real consensus on how to resolve the Syrian conflict largely due to the international actors focus on their own self-interests as opposed to what is best for the Syrian people and ultimately the global community. The US has concentrated on toppling the current government since the beginning of the civil war, which began after the Assad regime’s brutal response to a popular pro-democracy uprising. The US approach of supporting, arming and trying to unite diverse factions to fight against the government has been largely unsuccessful.  Dark also feels that the main backers of the Syrian government, Iran and Russia, are also motivated by their own narrow interests namely Iran’s desire to increase their influence in the Middle East and Russia’s hope to prevent the expansion of NATO into areas where they have formerly been most influential. Dark notes that the unintended consequence of these political stalemates has been the growth of the jihadist movement, which is a threat to regional and global security.

Dark feels that a victory by either side is neither possible nor desirable. He also opposes the proposed break-up of Syria into sectarian subdivisions for political purpose. He proposes that in order to properly resolve the Syrian conflict the major powers backing both regime and opposition forces need to move past their own self-interest and engage in meaningful discussion that will lead to compromise. Dark pushes for the creation of conditions where ceasefires can hold and the peace process can genuinely begin. He suggests that a transitional government in Syria that is supported by the people, along with the aid of the wider international community, may eventually be able to defeat extremism in that country and help combat the spread of world-wide terrorism.

Syria is yet another example of a country negatively impacted by Imperialism. Although in the beginning Europeans may have believed that Imperialism was a policy of idealism and philanthropy it later became more accurately characterized by political, economic and religious self-interest. This is why according to Robert Irwin (2007), in his book For Lust of Knowing, there was a marked tendency for Orientalists to be anti-imperialist, even though they may initially have supported colonialism. Dark shares an anti-imperialist view in his article as he explores the impact of involvement of the current Imperialist Powers, the US and Russia in the problems of Syria.

Scott Anderson, in the article ”Why the Middle East’s Borders Will Never Be the Same Again,” The Guardian, 20 June 2014 reports that the seeds of conflict in the Middle East were planted after World War I, following the San Remo agreement of 1920, where despite the protests of Arab Nationalists, Greater Syria was divided into 4 parts – Palestine, Trans-Jordan, Lebanon and modern day Syria with the British controlling the first two and the French taking the later. He suggests that for three decades the Britain/French Imperialist Powers were able to weather conflicts of Arab rage by supporting their own complaint local leaders and employing military action when needed. In the 1950’s their influence collapsed and the Middle East came under the control of militant dictatorships. Now, after the Civil War in Syria erupted in 2011, Imperialist Powers are involved once again in order to protect their national self-interests. Interestingly, Dark points out that the US and many of its European allies, failed to grasp the full implications of their commitment to overthrowing an entrenched pervasive regime with a powerful army and unwavering support of its allies. This is reminiscent of the US involvement in the Vietnam War where Uwe Siemon-Nettto in his book, Triumph of the Absurd, clearly illustrates how the U.S underestimated the tenacity of North Vietnam.

Dark makes a valid point that it is time to move beyond these Imperialist attitudes of self-interest and work together in a spirit of collaboration and compromise if we hope to combat the growing threat of terrorism and bring greater stability to the world. Spagnoli in his book, Democratic Imperialism: A Practical Guide, agrees with Dark when he states, “Now and again, we have to look beyond the national interest. The human interest and the interest of humanity should become a fixed part of foreign policy…”(p. 100). If nations come together in a truly collaborative spirit then we may, as Kris Manjapra describes in his biography of M.N. Roy, be able to achieve the social order where the best of men could be manifest as Roy desperately hoped for.