Why Realpolitik matters to the Muslim World

Category: World Affairs Topics: Iran Views: 1938

Over the weekend there were more killings in the occupied territories of Palestine, as Israeli settlers went on the rampage, shooting at Arab civilians indiscriminately. Among those killed was a fourteen-year old girl who happened to be standing at the wrong spot at the wrong time.

In Iraq the people find themselves trapped in a country that has been cut into pieces, with no-fly zones in the north and the south. Ordinary civilians no longer enjoy the right to travel freely in their own country, for their own airspace is no longer theirs.

In Iran, a similar fate awaits the nation as a whole. Despite the spectacular achievements brought about by the reformist movement led by Ayatollah Mohammad Khatami and his followers, the country is about to be put into the so-called 'Axis of Evil' and branded a threat to world peace.

If any other country in the world had to suffer a similar fate, one would expect an overwhelming chorus of dissent and disapproval to be heard. Imagine, if you will, the reaction if Japan was suddenly split into three parts, with no-fly zones in the north and south. Or if India was suddenly described as part of an 'axis of evil' simply because it possessed nuclear technology and weapons of mass destruction. Or if America invaded a neighboring country and began setting up illegal settlements there.

But when such things happen to the Muslim countries of the world today, such aberrations are regarded as normal and taken for granted. Instead of an honest and open critique of the contradictions and injustices in the present world order, we have been fed with a staple diet of platitudes and apologia instead. Peace, we are told, can never be achieved in the Arab countries because they are inherently unstable, undemocratic and dysfunctional states anyway. All sorts of excuses can be (and are) found to explain away the political impasse that we see in the Middle East today. Ranging from theories of auto-genocide, structural collapse, and intellectual dependency to traditional forms of 'native' corruption and misrule, the nations of the Middle East have been pathologised and recast as the basket case of the world. The bottom line is that they are unable to govern themselves.

This sort of casual racism has taken root and become sedimented in the world we live in today. So deeply rooted have these prejudices become that many of us don't even bother to question the logic behind it. The more charitable and open-minded among us might admit that such a skewered picture of Arab-Muslim politics is a faulty caricature at best or an instrumental fiction at worst, but few voices of protest have been heard over the years.

Two major factors inhibit Muslim states from getting their point across, and both of them relate to the dominant culture of realpolitik, which governs the world today.

For a start, nobody takes the Muslim world seriously anymore - least of all the Muslims themselves - for the simple reason that no two Muslim states can ever get to agree on the simplest of things. Witness how the governments of the Arab world continue to undermine each other's efforts at development and progress. It is shameful to see how some Arab governments can stand by while another Arab country is cut into pieces and dissected into blocks the way Iraq has been. Yet they sit by without uttering a word of protest for the simple reason that it suits their strategic interests to do so: a weakened Iraq would mean more leverage for other Arab countries hoping to gain an advantage in the costly battle for hegemony and dominance in the region. The same was the case when Libya was bombed to smithereens in the 1980s, and the Arab states sat on their seats while looking the other way. Another case in point is the demonization of Iran today. Few Arab leaders would like to speak up in defense of Iran for the simple reason that they would be risking their own first-class tickets to the White House in the near future. In any case, there is also the age-old Arab prejudice against the Persians to fall back on, and the Iranians have never been welcomed in the capitals of the Arab world.

Such disunity points to the existence of very real cleavages within the Muslim world and makes a mockery of the often-lauded claims to universal brotherhood among Muslims. What kind of ummah sits by while others are being slaughtered, dispossessed, marginalized and oppressed?

Thanks to such short-term thinking and selfish interests, the Muslim world remains disunited and at odds with itself. This means that there is no singular, united voice that comes from the global community of one billion souls, and it means that all of us count for nothing as far as realpolitik considerations are concerned. A community of one billion carries less clout than rotary clubs meeting if that community can't even get its act together.

This leads us to the second factor of realpolitik today. If the rest of the non-Muslim world couldn't care less about the Muslim world, it is because we do not count in the scheme of things. Why on earth should a non-Muslim country like China, Japan, Thailand, Brazil or Argentina speak up for Muslim rights when Muslims are not prepared to do it themselves? And why should any non-Muslim country in the world today stand up on the side of oppressed Muslim states and nations (and by doing do incur the wrath of the almighty United States) if the Muslim world cannot stand as a united bloc on its own?

The fact is that realpolitik predominates international relations, and countries - be they Muslim or non-Muslim - will act according to their own interests. No single country will risk upsetting the major powers of the Western world as long as there is no countervailing power to even up the score. In the present state of affairs where only one superpower predominates and all others have been scared into silence and submission, standing up to Washington will be political suicide, plain and simple.

So for Muslim nations to gain the support and respect of other non-Muslim states and peoples, we will have to sort out our own priorities first. Muslim governments and political leaders must abandon the Machiavellian logic of supporting other powerful states in order to undermine their own Muslim neighbors. Economic co-operation has to be intensified, so that the Muslim world can at least present itself as a united market with some economic power. We need to reach out and communicate our concerns before a wider international audience that is plural, multicultural and different. But most of all, we have to behave and think as a community and recognize that the interests of other Muslims happen to be ours as well. We cannot expect non-Muslims to care about the plight of Muslims elsewhere as long as we don't do the same ourselves. Until then, all talk of a global Muslim ummah should be kept to history books and fairy tales, as it obviously doesn't exist in the here-and-now.

Dr. Farish A. Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist. He has taught at the Center for Civilizational Dialogue, University of Malaya and the Institute for Islamic Studies, Frie University of Berlin. He is currently associate fellow at the Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), Malaysia.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Iran
Views: 1938

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Older Comments:
well said Zen

Does the cleavage in the Muslim world exist between peoples themselves or does it only exist among those who govern them. Me thinks it is the latter.

Name any issue of importance to Muslims and chances are ordinary Muslims share the same views - from issues on Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Kashmir, etc.. Sadly, the unity of their views are not reflected in the actions of their governments.

Why? Certainly, we cannot use the excuse that our rulers are less concerned about expressing and acting on the views of their people before international fora than they are about preserving their "first-class ticket to the White House". This is true with most countries nowadays. And yet none seems to be so helpless as the Muslim world. So scrap that excuse.

But one reason for this pathetic predicament we should consider is tha the fact that, even for those countries that have the usual badges of a representative government, few of our societies have truly effective socio-political machineries and institutions to prod our governments into acting the way we would like them to act. In many of our societies, we do not even know the concept of civil society or any other similar social mechanism.

I say Muslims have always been united on major issues. What we lack are governments that will reflect such unity. I mean let us look at the OIC. It is a joke of an organization - inutile, truly pathetic.

Dear Sir.

I find it telling that in your article you adress the fact that the Iraqi people find themselves "trapped in a country that has been cut into pieces, with no-fly zones in the north and the south. Ordinary civilians no longer enjoy the right to travel freely in their own country, for their own airspace is no longer theirs." Do you not know that since Sadam becan his reign that the Iraqi people have not been free to do much of anything?

You lament the fact that the Muslim community is not united. My concern for the Muslim community is for their freedom. Are you not even concerned that in your country of Malaysia, the Prime Minister holds power unconditionaly?

Regardless of how unified they are, Arab/Muslim states will continue to suffer from the difficulties that arise from a lack of democracy, which includes cronyism and a lack of human rights. Try being a female in Saudi Arabia, or a Christian in Pakistan.

By the way, I remember the bombing of Tripoli by Reagan in '86, but I don't remember Lybia being "bombed to smithereens" as you state.



In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Indeed, the reality of the Muslim world is a state of decay. Serious problems go unsolved, weaknesses go unaddressed, divisions are exacerbated.
But, our reality is: we, the Muslim Ummah, are a defeated people. We were defeated a 100+/- years ago and our authority and right to self determination were taken from us by our enemies.
Our enemies imposed nation states, rulers, and false identities on our backs.
But this reality does not mean that we should accept it and try to make the best of things.
We should seek our guidance from Allah, not from our reality. Al Anfal 8:73: "And those who disbelieve are allies of one another; if you do not do so, there will be fitnah and oppression on the earth, and a great mischief and corruption."
So what do we do?
An Nur 24:55: "Allah has promised those among you who believe and do righteous good deeds, that He will certainly grant them succession in the land, as He granted it to those before them, and that He will grant authority to practice their religion which He has chosen for them. And He will surely give them in exchange a safe security after their fear [given that] they worship Me and do not associate anything with Me. But whosoever disbelieves after this, they are the disobedient."
Thus are aim is not to just make do, but to work to change the foundation of our societies as Muhammad (saaw) did in Makka. Following his method, we must work to reestablish the khilafah state. Then can be solve our problems, confront or weaknesses, and reunite in Allah's name.

Noor Writes:
'...Peace, we are told, can never be achieved in the Arab countries because they are inherently unstable, undemocratic and dysfunctional states anyway. All sorts of excuses can be (and are) found to explain away the political impasse that we see in the Middle East today. Ranging from theories of auto-genocide, structural collapse, and intellectual dependency to traditional forms of 'native' corruption and misrule, the nations of the Middle East...'

I was kind of hoping that he was going to go on to show reasons why this was not true, but he never really did, did he? Instead, basically says that we are guilty on some/most charges, only in a slightly nicer way.

I support your idea,this is they time to the Muslim World work-up, rebuilt the are country and
them self on own idea not USA idea.


It does not matter if others do not care about muslims, what matters is that muslims do not care about muslims.

At the end of the day, it will be the poor who will rise to fight the oppressors and liberate the muslims, not the upper classes (with some exceptions).

In many ways it is 'realpolitik's that is the reason for all the divisions and differing interests of 'muslim' nations.

These leaders accept the New Empire of Rome as the 'most powerful' and basically will submit, and make whatever financial gains they can through it and its institutions. If that means oppressing their own....well I guess for them millions/billions in swiss bank accounts somehow make it acceptable.

If there is a lesson history teaches, surely its not to play by the rules of the enemy, not to play to its strengths, but rather to your own.

War will be thrust upon the muslim lands (Yemen, Iraq, Syria etc), whether muslims are ready or not.

Allah Hafiz

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious Most Merciful. By Allah, we only fear Allah s.w.t, the most high, the All-Mighty, and we do not fear the kuffar. For All Power is only with Allah.

My brother, I believe that your words has some truth in it, although, not in the whole situation. From my standpoint, the believers (those who enjoin good and forbid evil) are always deeply rooted with the brotherhood of Islam. In Surah Al-Hujarat, in close translation :

10. The believers are nothing else than brothers (in Islmic religion). So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allh, that you may receive mercy.

11. O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former; nor let (some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former, nor defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. How bad is it, to insult one's brother after having Faith [i.e. to call your Muslim brother (a faithful believer) as: "O sinner", or "O wicked", etc.]. And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed Zlimn (wrong-doers, etc.).

Insya-Allah, these are challenging times, but we believe in the promise of Allah. And we never lose hope.

I believe with the re-establishment of the khalifah, the ummah will again be united, and by the permission of Allah, Allah's word will be the most highest, and the kuffar will be made to submit to Allah's commands by da'wa and jihad.

May Allah have mercy on us, and may Allah forgive us, and guide us to the right and correct path, and make us among the believers who are alwasy in success in this world and the here after.

Clout needs to be underpinned by moral credibility. One important reason no one cares about what Muslim countries have to say about the de facto partitioning of Iraq (for example), is that none of them gave two hoots about Saddam's repression of his own citizens, except those such as Iran that found it in their national interest to speak up. When he was dropping chemical bombs on the Kurds, and torturing and killing people who were guilty of nothing more than dreaming of another form of government, even most individual Muslims were indifferent. Those who spoke up were immediately accused of being motivated by ulterior pro-Iranian sentiment, being against Arabs, being western agents...

Since our governments are worse than hopeless in the moral credibility department, we need to build independent, efficient, credible and highly visible Islamic NGOs to stand up for Muslims in every country who are being oppressed, regardless of who is doing the oppressing and what 'Islamic' or "national interest" excuses they put forth to justify it.