- 1 Summary:
- 2 Western Civilization as a Mirage
- 3 Zionism at Loggerheads with Mainstream Judaism
- 4 Muslims in disarray
- 5 The Osmanlis in focus
- 6 Muslims’ incompetence led to incompetent responses to the implementation of the Zionist schemes
- 7 First: Theodor Herzl’s “The State of the Jews”
- 8 Second: the Balfour Declaration
- 9 Third: the actual creation of the state of Israel
This article posits that Palestine - as a symbol and heart of Islam, and so, a prime concern of all Muslims – has constantly been betrayed by Muslim leaders. Now that the Palestinian issue has reached the tipping point, the role of Muslim leaders (governments) will be critical. Without them, very little can be done. The scourge of Israel is sophisticatedly institutionalized; hence, dealing with it must be in a manner befitting its character.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that the idea and phenomenon of Israel are framed by the un-civilization of the West and the un-Jewishness of Zionism, due to which neither reason nor moral accountability has a footing in the domain of the Israel-West axis of evil. That is why the first two sections of the article are titled “Western Civilization as a Mirage” and “Zionism at Loggerheads with Mainstream Judaism.”
After that, the subject of Muslim unity is visited, which is followed by the analysis of how Muslims’ incompetence led to incompetent responses to the implementation of the Zionist schemes. This has been addressed in three stages, which align with the three phases of the formation of the unlawful state of Israel, namely: the publication of Theodor Herzl’s “The State of the Jews” (“Der Judenstaat”) in 1896; the issuance of the “Balfour Declaration” in 1917; and the actual creation of the state in 1948.
In a nutshell, nobody took Palestine away from Arabs (all Muslims); they lost it. As per a more scathing assessment, they gave it away. Nonetheless, there is yet a chance for atonement; now is the opportune moment to take action. Muslim governments are encouraged to act boldly and decisively. It is time to regain some honor.
Western Civilization as a Mirage
To describe what is happening in Gaza these days as irrational and heartless would be an understatement. The events have exceeded all levels of human evil and impenitence. They have become a form of devilry. As a result of long-standing processes of serving devilish agendas, people themselves have metamorphosed into demons.
What has been suspected for so long has come to pass. With the West's true identity now exposed - through its unconditional support of the illegal and oppressive state of Israel, which keeps committing genocidal mass crimes against the innocent and defenseless Palestinians - it has become strikingly apparent that the West's claims of being at the zenith of civilizational progression were nothing more than an illusion. It was a skilfully fabricated mirage. It was a misconception that the West first deceived itself with, then, the vast majority of the gullible world.
When the declaration of the plan for the creation of Israel was made in 1917, and when the actual creation (infinitely expanding occupation of Palestine) took place in 1948, after which a precipitous descent into savage inhumanity was set in motion, the West was boasting of standing at the threshold of the end of history and of the Western man becoming the “last man” owing to him being the paragon of Western liberal democracy.
Under the guise of civilization, the West has morphed into the most sophisticated, manipulative, and oppressive machine. Within the scope of human history and experience, there is absolutely no precedent for the West’s collective behavioral pattern. If a person aspires to witness an example that the Qur’an portrays as “the lowest of the low” (al-Tin, 5), in terms of the extent of a person’s or a group’s degeneration, he needs not to search further than the West’s actions pertaining to the ongoing Palestinian catastrophe, where Israel stands as the primary player as the West’s “bastard child” and its engineered Frankenstein-esque geopolitical entity.
Moving past mere evil-doing, the West and its proxy Israel are no longer just nefarious parties but have instead become actual embodiments of evil; they have become evil incarnates. This status is reminiscent of the status of Prophet Nuh's malevolent son about whom the Qur’an says that he was not saved and was not of Nuh’s family because, instead of being just an evil-doer, he was “a deed” that was not righteous (Hud, 46).
Zionism at Loggerheads with Mainstream Judaism
The Zionist Israel state was the raison d’etre of Zionism as a philosophy and a nationalist movement, onto which, later, the Western anti-Islamic and pro-Zionist political interests were grafted. In passing the father of Zionism was Theodor Herzl, who died in 1904. He articulated his ideas in a pamphlet titled “The State of the Jews” (“Der Judenstaat” in German), which was first published in 1896 in Leipzig and Vienna.
The Zionism movement was not a mainstream Jewish undertaking. Rather, it was a misconstruction as well as a misapplication of some of the fundamental Jewish religious tenets. It was regarded as un-Jewish and signified an anomaly. It never gained full currency. Even today, many Jews inside Israel and beyond are not in favor of the Zionist version of Judaism.
People knew that Zionism and the West – led by Britain - stood for an unholy alliance. Its collaboration did not bode well either for the Jews or Muslims (Arabs). It was bent on giving something to the Jews - i.e., a secular state - which they neither wanted nor needed spiritually, historically, and culturally, and was also bent on taking much from Muslims – i.e., their land, freedom, and complete lives – which they needed and cherished, and of which, historically, they proved excellent custodians.
Engaging in a marriage of convenience, both Zionism and the West wished to use one another. Zionism wanted to launch a nationalist project aimed at the creation of a Zionist state, which nevertheless was viewed by Orthodox Jews as “a blasphemous human attempt to usurp God’s role” (for Israel can be regained only miraculously by God’s direct intervention). Having been opposed as much by Orthodox Jews as Muslims, the success of Zionism exclusively depended on the oversight of the West.
The West, on the other hand, wanted to use the creation of Israel as an instrument of perpetual disturbance for Muslims, to function as a cancer in the heart of the Muslim world and a major impediment to the prospect of Muslim unity and peace in the region. The move was also antisemitic, in that the West was desirous of getting rid of the Jewish predicament once and for all. It was easier to deal with, and manoeuvre, the Jewish problem when the Jews were part of “themselves” in another geopolitical milieu, rather than part of “us” and in our own backyard.
At any rate, what Zionism and the West were set to gain was of little value when compared with what ordinary Jews – Muslims and the rest of the world – were set to lose. Which nonetheless bothered neither the Zionists nor the Western leaderships, for none of them looked through the prism of ordinary people with ordinary concerns. Theirs were illusory and self-centred interests. They dwelt in the depths of their most unconstrained reveries. So wild and destructive are the schemes of the evil axis of Zionism and the West - some examples of their devastating effects are seen today in the unfolding Gaza tragedy – that every single chapter of theirs brings them ever closer to the catastrophic apocalypse.
At first, only a few people were concerned and took seriously Theodor Herzl’s “The State of the Jews” (“Der Judenstaat”). However, when in 1917 Britain officially revealed its sympathy with the Jewish Zionist aspirations, underscoring that it viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use its best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object”, things changed. The opposition of the mainstream Judaism was also officially put forward.
Representing the latter was a memorandum by Edwin Montagu, the only Jew then in a senior British government position. The memorandum was produced in August 1917, two months and ten days before the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration, when the latter was in the final stages of preparation and release. In the memorandum titled “The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government” Edwin Montagu stressed that he opposed the idea of a Jewish secular state in Israel as was envisioned by a coalition of Zionism and Britain. To him, the whole idea oozed a concoction of irreverent and antisemitic sentiments.
Of the things pointed up by Edwin Montagu was the illegitimacy of a secular Jewish state. He said that before Zionism was invented, all Jews believed that “to bring the Jews back to form a nation in the country from which they were dispersed would require divine leadership. I have never heard it suggested, even by their most fervent admirers, that either Mr Balfour (then-foreign secretary of Britain who signed Balfour Declaration) or Lord Rothschild (a figurehead of the British Jewish community to whom the declaration was addressed) would prove to be the messiah.”
Edwin Montagu concluded his memorandum calling attention to the fact that Zionists were outsiders to authentic Judaism, yet their presence caused unforeseen detriments to the faith, and that a Jewish state in Palestine was never his wish nor the wish of the mainstream Jews: “I feel that the government are asked to be the instrument for carrying out the wishes of a Zionist organization largely run, as my information goes, at any rate in the past, by men of enemy descent or birth, and by this means have dealt a severe blow to the liberties, position and opportunities of service of their Jewish fellow-countrymen. I would say to Lord Rothschild that the government will be prepared to do everything in their power to obtain for Jews in Palestine complete liberty of settlement and life on an equality with the inhabitants of that country who profess other religious beliefs. I would ask that the government should go no further.”
Muslims in disarray
While all this was happening, determining the destinies of Muslim peoples and the Muslim ummah (community) as a whole, Muslims were to be found nowhere in the global corridors of decision making. Even though the developments concerned them more than anybody else, Muslims were conspicuously absent from the positions of influence and actual authority. Britain and its Western cohorts behaved as though the majority of the Middle East was theirs and they could do as they pleased. They were masters and Muslims their devoted subjects, dutifully rendering them service.
Frankly speaking, only partially was the West to be blamed. The Western protagonists were but themselves; they could not act differently. Their dispositions were evil from the very beginning, so whatever they did at any point of time and to anybody was consistent with their innate genetic makeup. It is unfair to hold a wild beast responsible for an attack or harm, as they will always be subject to their natural inclinations; yet, it is wise to be aware of what one is dealing with and take the necessary precautions.
For example, as far as interacting with the Muslim world was concerned, Britain’s intentions were always clear: to conquer and exploit as much as possible of its most effluent and most strategic territories, and to subjugate them to its own insatiable colonization interests. When Richard Francis Burton - a British explorer, bigoted orientalist and spy, who secretly as a pilgrim visited Makkah and Madinah in 1853 – was in Egypt on his way to the hajj pilgrimage, his last words about Egypt, before leaving it, portrayed the country as a prize to be won by any competent and “lucky” European power. Egypt denoted a true treasure with infinite potentials. It was a jackpot, with every effort invested both militarily and imperially being well worth it. Burton concluded his wishful thinking thus: “Briefly, Egypt is the most tempting prize which the East holds out to the ambition of Europe, not excepted even the Golden Horn.”
The end of the 19th and the outset of the 20th centuries was a time when the Muslim world, especially the Middle East whose nucleus was Palestine, was in disarray. It was breaking up into fragments with novel political ideologies and average political, plus intellectual, protagonists routinely emerging on the regional socio-political scene. They were in a bitter contention, desperately trying to outdo one another and to establish a purported legitimacy for their claims by whatever justifiable or otherwise means.
For many, the West was the direction and source of inspiration. There were two reasons for this: Western military prowess and technology in general, and the appealing framework of its liberal thought and practices. In the past, the West was seen as an embodiment and home of Christianity (Christendom), which effortlessly presented itself as an obstacle to any serious cooperation with it. However, as the West was gradually shedding off its religious garb in favour of secular science, enlightenment and industrialization, championing such attractive and at a first glance universally acceptable ideas as freedom, justice, prosperity, democracy and equality, the West all of a sudden started emerging as not-so-distant or atypical. It soon became an alluring proposition. It was now possible to deal with the West, and be influenced by its progressive thought, without compromising the beliefs and traditions of Islam.
However, with the increasing Westernization and ostensible empowerment due to the alignments with the West, more intense alienations and deeper divisions were taking place internally, which in turn called for more external influences and even interferences in order to smooth over tensions. The situation resembled a vicious circle, akin to being stuck in a quagmire with no means of escape. The more one strove to improve his condition, the more inextricably entrapped he became.
Undeniably, Islam and Muslims found themselves at a critical juncture. But due to various political and ideological divisions, little were Muslims able to do. The majority of Muslim leaders were busy with themselves, investing everything they had in securing or preserving their own positions and warding off at once internal and external oppositions. In doing so, most of them sought help from powerful Western players. The initiative assumed the forms of purchasing weapons, engaging human resources, acquiring protection and intelligence sharing. The central characters in the heartland of Islamdom were the Osmanlis (Ottomans) and the Arab national as well as reformist leaders whose main agenda was to get rid of the former’s rule; whereas the main protagonists in the West were Britain, France and later the US.
Certainly, it was not a coincidence that Theodor Herzl put forth the official Zionist intention of creating a Zionist state in Palestine on the back of the dramatic failure of the Osmanli tanzimat (reorganization or reforms) (1839-1876), which signified the last-ditch attempt of the Osmanlis to survive and continue being a force to be reckoned with, and at the time when the Pan-Islamism movement, which was spearheaded both by the Osmanlis, above all Sultan Abdul Hamid II, and some of the leading intellectual lights of the Muslim world, like Jamaluddin al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh, was slowly but surely making its way towards a cul-de-sac.
Nor was it a coincidence that the creation of the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration was only one year after the Amir or Sharif of Makkah, Husayn bin Ali, revolted against the Osmanlis, conferring upon himself the honourable titles of “King of Hijaz” and “King of the Arab Lands.” Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje - a Dutch orientalist who in 1917 published a book titled “The Revolt in Arabia” as a result of the latest developments in the Arabian Peninsula - was explicit that Arabia was generally “hopelessly divided by conflicting interests and by century-long feuds. The place was not ready for great undertakings.”
However, the revolt in question against the Osmanlis was able to generate shockwaves and cause serious trouble to the Osmanli government, first because its epicentre was in Makkah “familiar to, and cherished by, the entire Mohammedan world”, and second because Sharif Husayn bin Ali was aided by Britain whose primary concern was to dismantle the Osmanli Empire.
Interestingly, when Sharif Husain bin Ali realized that he was used and that his actions in a way paved the way for the escalation of the Middle East pandemonium wherefrom the Balfour Declaration emerged, he objected, but it was too little too late. Consequently, the relations between Britain and Sharif Husain bin Ali deteriorated and the support of the former rapidly dwindled. The original subsidy from Britain to the new “King” was 200,000 pounds a month. However, in the wake of the breakdown in relations, the amount was reduced at such a rapid rate that, within a mere nine months, from May 1919 to February 1920, it had been completely eliminated.
The initial support for Sharif Husain bin Ali was such that he was given even aeroplanes for his military adventures. In 1925, Eldon Rutter wrote that in the city of Taif he saw “the walls of a large and lofty stone shed, the roof of which had collapsed and fallen to the ground.” That “was once the hangar which housed the aeroplanes belonging to King Husayn.” It goes without saying that whoever at the outset of the 20th century in the barren Arabia was given aeroplanes by Britain, such a one had to be “special” in the latter’s eyes. He was needed to be assigned some exceptional duties on behalf of the two-faced Empire.
The Osmanlis in focus
There were hardly two groups in the heart of the Muslim world that were on the same wavelength. Old rifts were widened and new ones created. Everyone was at everyone's throat, with no side willing to give ground. There were Turkish nationalism, Arab nationalism, pan-Islamism, pan-Arabism, Sunnis, Shi’is, Sufis, Salafis, Wahhabis, and the nascent Muslim manifestations of quite a few Western ideologies. At the apex of the pyramid stood the Osmanlis as the official torchbearers of Islamic civilization. No wonder that they were targeted the most before and after the abolishment of the caliphate institution in 1924.
By way of illustration, Jamaluddin al-Afghani had a low opinion of the Osmanlis, and of all Muslim rulers of his day. To him, “they were not worthy of their position; they cared about nothing except their own pleasures and caprices, and so had fallen easy victims to the guiles and craft of the British (and other Western powers). They had allowed foreign officials, linked with the nation neither by religion nor by race, to insinuate themselves into their counsels.”
In the same vein, Muhammad Abduh believed that the Muslim rulers of his time - above all the Osmanli sultans - were the pillars of “unintelligent conservatism in matters of religion.” He further held that Islam was corrupted by its rulers; “intellectual anarchy spread among Muslims under the protection of ignorant rulers.”
Abdurrahman al-Kawakibi, who was Muhammad Abduh’s disciple, shared the similar thought. To him, too, the Osmanlis eventually turned into a corrupt, incompetent, dishonest and devious leadership. He spoke of three fundamental and secondary causes of Muslims’ malaise: religious, political and moral causes. As to the political causes, al-Kawakibi laid most of the blame at the door of Osmanli sovereigns. He decentred their primacy and transformed them into an internal, problematic other. He called for the establishment of an Arab caliphate instead.
If there was any good in the midst of the prevalent turmoil in Muslim societies, it was quickly discredited and myriads of efforts were made to obliterate its potential effects. As far as the West was concerned, Muslims were entering a stage where nothing but negativities had to be associated with them. The ground had to be prepared for the Western projects of not only material, but also immaterial colonization and “mission to civilize.” Measures also had to be put in place for the facilitation of the creation of Israel.
As Basil Mathews - an English scholar and evangelist - declared in his 1928 book titled “Young Islam on Trek: A Study in the Clash of Civilizations” that following the collapse of caliphate, as a result of a long process of Muslim civilizational degeneration, and following the creation of a gaping socio-political vacuum afterwards, Islamdom became vulnerable. Even though historically Islamic and Western civilizations were regularly on a collision course, the latest episodes presented the West with an opportunity. The world of Islam could easily be transformed into a realm of fascinating prospects for the Western colonization and evangelization crusades.
In passing, Basil Mathews’ idea of “the clash of (Islamic and Western) civilizations” preceded Samuel Huntington and his own concept of “the clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order” by 68 years. It was the harbinger of the latter. Obviously, the very idea was a reflection of the Western, not Muslim, state of mind.
Following in the same vein, despite the general opinion, Sultan Abdul Hamid II's ambition to unify the Islamic world in the name of pan-Islamism was an honourable one, notwithstanding its imperfections. The idea needed genuine support and as genuine contributions. Being well aware of the situation, the West reacted with fright, going to extraordinary lengths to sully the project’s reputation and impede its progress as much as possible. The Western world's reaction made it abundantly clear that the ambition was truly meritorious. Otherwise, they would not have panicked.
Thus, for instance, in his book “The Life of Abdul Hamid” - which was published in London in 1917, the year of the Balfour Declaration - Sir Edwin Pears, a British barrister and scholar, hurled all sorts of accusations and charges against Sultan Abdul Hamid II, including his notion of pan-Islamism. Sir Edwin Pears in a typical British arrogant manner claimed that the Sultan created and employed “pan-Islamism as a weapon against Great Britain, to oppose European, but especially British, influence in Egypt.” Sir Edwin Pears then concluded triumphantly: “England and France succeeded in getting rid of the rule of Khedive Ismail. All Abdul Hamid's pan-Islamic intrigues failed. His fatuous refusal to join England in sending troops into Egypt to co-operate with the British led to its occupation.”
Sir Edwin Pears also said, feasting on the sweetness of the eventual failure of pan-Islamism: “All attempts in the direction of pan-Islamism made by Abdul Hamid completely failed. Many Indian Moslems during the last forty years visited Turkey. Some of them were barristers-at-law, and the impression generally left was that, while they went to Constantinople as the pious Jew of old time might have gone to Jerusalem, they left it with far other feelings. They hoped to see Islam at its best; they went away greatly disappointed. They were often kindly treated and made much of by good Moslems, but the longer their stay in Istanbul the more completely did they realise the maladministration of government, and especially the disgraceful condition of the courts of law. Even in Turkey itself pan-Islamism as a living force can hardly be said to have existed during Abdul Hamid's reign.”
Muslims’ incompetence led to incompetent responses to the implementation of the Zionist schemes
The process of the creation of the illegitimate state of Israel went through three major phases: the publication of Theodor Herzl’s “The State of the Jews” (“Der Judenstaat”) in 1896; the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917; and the actual creation of the state in 1948. Muslims’ responses to these milestones were lukewarm to say the least, and were reflective of their progressively despondent condition.
First: Theodor Herzl’s “The State of the Jews”
When Theodor Herzl published his pamphlet, it has been reported that only Yusuf al-Khalidi - an Osmanli politician and mayor of Jerusalem, who was also a scholar that lectured at the University of Vienna - and Sultan Abdul Hamid II, officially responded. In a letter to Zadok Kahn, the chief rabbi of France, Yusuf al-Khalidi suggested “that, since Palestine was already inhabited, the Zionists should find another place for the implementation of their political goals.” “…In the name of God,” he wrote, “let Palestine be left alone.” Zadok Kahn showed the letter to Theodor Herzl, and on 19 March 1899 Theodor Herzl replied to Yusuf al-Khalidi assuring him that, if the Zionists were not wanted in Palestine, “We will search and, believe me, we will find elsewhere what we need.”
Similarly, Sultan Abdul Hamid II rejected Theodor Herzl’s proposal that Palestine be granted to the Jews: “I cannot give away any part of it (the Empire)...I will not agree to vivisection.”
Moreover, several years before Theodor Herzl’s treatise, in 1891, Sultan Abdul Hamid II expressed fears that granting Osmanli nationality to Jewish immigrants in Palestine “may result in the creation of a Jewish Government in Jerusalem.” However, this was nothing but a desperate move on the part of the Sultan, because the Jews were already there and were systematically colonizing Palestine. It was impossible at that point of time to stem the tide.
The Western powers never stopped pressurising the Osmanli government to let the Jews in and to let them buy land. The only contentious point was whether that applied exclusively to the Jews legally residing in Palestine and whether the Jews were allowed to establish colonies on the purchased lands.
Despite the Osmanli government’s objection to the developments, in 1897, one year after Theodor Herzl’s treatise, the First Zionist Congress was convened in Basel, Switzerland, issuing Basel Program on colonization of Palestine and establishment of World Zionist Organization (WZO). The Osmanli government could only reply by initiating in the same year a policy of sending members of the Sultan’s own palace staff to govern province of Jerusalem. In addition, a commission headed by the mufti of Jerusalem was appointed to scrutinize – rather than regulate and if necessary, interfere with - Zionist land-acquisition methods.
In retrospect, and charting the chain of events – based on the book “Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians, 1876-1948” by Khalidi Walid - the first Zionist colony in Palestine was founded in 1878, and the first wave of Zionist immigrants arrived in 1882. In the same year a French Jewish millionaire, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, began his support of Jewish colonization in Palestine. In 1896 a German Jewish millionaire, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, established a branch of his Jewish Colonization Association in Palestine, while Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian Jew, published “Der Judenstaat.”
The following year in Basel, Switzerland, Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress, which created the World Zionist Organization, the institutional framework for subsequent Zionist diplomacy and operations. In 1901 the Keren Kayemeth (Jewish National Fund) was established in London to acquire land in Palestine that would remain inalienably Jewish and on which only Jewish labour would be employed. Between the 1880s and 1914 some thirty Zionist colonies were founded, and by 1914 the total Jewish population in Palestine had reached about eighty thousand, although the majority retained their European nationalities.
“The initial phases of Zionist activity in Palestine took place in spite of the mounting alarm and opposition of the Palestinians. The Ottoman authorities repeatedly tried to legislate controls on Zionist mass immigration and land acquisition only to be frustrated by the pressure of European powers, the corruption of their own local officials, the greed of individual landowners, and Zionist ingenuity in exploiting the Capitulations system” (Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians, 1876-1948).
It was obvious that the Osmanli government was losing Palestine to the alliance of Britain and Arabs, who then lost it to the devious Britain alone, who in turn on a silver platter gifted it to Zionists. Arabs were tricked by Britain into severing connections with Istanbul and into devising a new coalition focused on Britain, which would guarantee Arab freedom and Arab solidarity. It was agreed that Britain would recognize the independence of a united Arab state comprising the Arab provinces of the Osmanli Empire, including Palestine.
However, as part of its double-dealing plots with the naïve and fragmented Arab nations, Britain soon turned its back on its earlier promises. It realized how divided and weak Arabs were, so it knew it could do anything it wanted. Britain then assured Zionists of a Zionist state in Palestine, and when it itself occupied Palestine in 1917, completing the process in 1918, the path to the realization of the state of Israel lay wide open. All Zionist roads led to Palestine - and the rest is history.
Indeed, both Zionists and Britain were cognizant of what they wanted and how. At first, they were probing the ability and resolve of Arabs to resist the Zionist statehood idea and its potential translation into reality. When it emerged that the conditions were encouraging and were getting ever more favourable, the Zionist efforts were correspondingly intensified. How fluid and open-ended the Zionist plans were at the outset, so as to throw dust into the eyes of Arabs and the rest of Muslims, testifies the response of Theodor Herzl to Yusuf al-Khalidi that if the Zionists were not wanted in Palestine they will search and find elsewhere what they needed. However, from 1917 onwards, when the roadmap for the creation of Israel was clearly outlined, there was no more turning back. Flexibility, dialogue, compromise and reasonableness were progressively removed from the vocabulary of the British-Zionist pact.
This begs the question of why there was no intellectually comprehensive nor systematic Muslim response to Theodor Herzl’s bombshell. Patchy and unmethodical responses produced no tangible results. On the contrary, they proved counterproductive, underlining the Muslim incompetence and vacillation.
If the unfortunate Theodor Herzl incident proved one thing, it is that Muslims did not have what it takes, especially in the arena of intellectualism, to resist the ideological onslaughts of the West. The Muslim mind was yet to be configured adequately for the purpose. The issues of global significance – and impact – were yet to start preoccupying it as part of the increasingly complex local and international realities.
In a nutshell, the Muslim mind failed to recognize that there was more to the Western world than just weapons, technology and indulgence. There was a world of ideas and values which was more destructive and needed to be attended to more urgently. The effects of the French campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) led by Napoleon Bonaparte seem to have been short-lived. They failed to penetrate deeper into the core of the Muslim being and awaken the dormant consciousness.
Decades-long modernization of a great part of the Muslim world – starting with the efforts of Muhammad Ali in Egypt and culminating in the tanzimat reforms in Istanbul - should have focused, instead of blindly imitating the material progress of the West, on mastering – and possibly Islamizing - the Western philosophy and thought, in order to be able not only to withstand, but also prevail over the incessant attacks of theirs. Without question, the Western ideas and values represented the soul of its progress.
Hence, merely following the West in its physical development persuaded Muslims to become permanent followers and imitators, but if they conquered the ideological foundations of Western civilization, that would have placed Muslims at once in control of their own destiny and in a position to deal with the West confidently and on an equal footing. In the end, Muslims would have secured and owned both Orient and Occident. Having adopted a wrong course of action, though, Muslims now control neither.
Perhaps the only person that could live up to the presented challenge was Jamaluddin al-Afghani, who was known for his tackling of the modern intellectual conundrums of the West, doing so on the latter’s own terms and its home turf. However, Jamaluddin al-Afghani passed away in 1897, one year after the publication of Theodor Herzl’s history-making treatise. Whether Jamaluddin al-Afghani heard about the treatise, what his initial response was and whether he was preparing an official answer – something like what he had done to the French orientalist and scholar, Earnest Renan, and also with regard to the dogmas of Darwinism and Scepticism – remain a mystery.
Second: the Balfour Declaration
It is safe to say that the Balfour Declaration was possible only because of the success of Theodor Herzl’s ideologized “The State of the Jews” and the successes of the domino or cascading effects generated thereby, all of which however were accompanied by Muslim collective indisposition plus ineptitude. What transpired in the wake of Theodor Herzl’s “The State of the Jews” was basically the same as what happened following the publication of the Balfour Declaration. If truth be told, the latter might yet have been enfolded within a more favourable socio-political framework than the former. Indeed, the year 1917 and the years that followed denoted a period when Muslims en bloc were reaching the nadir of their civilizational output. Not even in their own pure religious matters did they fare better.
To demonstrate the point in question, al-Manar - an Islamic magazine in Arabic, which was founded, published and edited by one of the most influential Muslim scholars, Rashid Rida, from 1898 until 1935 – in its fourth edition of the twentieth volume released on November 15th 1917, fully reproduced a translated version of the Balfour Declaration. Immediately after that, a piece of news was published to the effect that following the announcement of the Balfour Declaration, the Jews, albeit in particular the Zionists, of Alexandria, Egypt, rejoiced heartily upon hearing the news. A huge festive gathering was organized as a consequence.
During the festival, triumphant speeches were made and Britain in particular and all other Zionist allies in general were wholeheartedly acknowledged for finally making the dream of having a Zionist state in Palestine a realistic possibility. Hopes were expressed that the dream will be realized smoothly and expeditiously. Accompanied by music and cheerful singing, the elated celebrants then marched through some of the city's major streets in order to publicize the reasons for their ecstasy as emphatically as possible.
Aside from the two aforementioned pieces of news, there was nothing else in connection with such an important subject that was destined to forever change the course of human history. There was no commentary, analysis, explanation or flashback of any kind, to inform the audience as to what the declaration exactly meant for the future of Palestine and Muslims at large, and what perils it potentially entailed. It was silence.
The magazine was instantaneously back to business as usual. Some of the topics the fourth edition and indeed the other subsequent editions dwelled on revolved around the religious edicts of photography, statues, acting, celebrating the Prophet’s birthday, prayer, innovations or bid’ahs, and the rituals of the hajj pilgrimage. The magazine's political section devoted considerable attention to the implications of Husayn bin Ali’s revolt against the Osmanlis.
The expected ramifications of the Balfour Declaration seemed irrelevant and just mentioning it quickly faded into the background. The Muslim mind was so preoccupied with trivial, contentious and trite matters that it was unable to perceive the brewing storm on the horizon.
Third: the actual creation of the state of Israel
Ultimately, after 52 years of meticulous planning, conniving and investing, both by Zionists and their Western allies led by Britain, the state of Israel was founded in 1948. If the occurrence marked the climax of the Western-Zionist cooperation, it at the same time marked the lowest point of the Muslim discord and overall debility. It was an unmistakable token of an institutional-cum-governmental malfunction. This is important to emphasize because the creation of Israel was the result of systematic institutionalized and governmental efforts. It required responses in kind.
There were many Muslim individuals and groups that tried to do whatever was in their power, but failed to varying extents, since they were overwhelmed by the sheer size and complexity of the challenge. For example, the Arab Revolt of 1936–39 was the first sustained uprising of Palestinian Arabs in more than a century. Thousands of Arabs from all classes were mobilized, and nationalistic sentiment was fanned in the Arabic press, schools and literary circles.
However, although the movement had assumed the dimensions of a national revolt, its mainstay was the Arab peasantry. The movement was led by the Arab Higher Committee which consisted of Arab political parties and was presided over by the mufti of Jerusalem. The outcome of the revolt was a failure, causing whatever traditional leaders the Muslims of Palestine had to be either killed, arrested or deported, leaving the dispirited and disarmed population divided along urban-rural, class, clan and religious lines (Britannica).
From the beginning, the onus was on Muslim governments, however they never really showed up for the task. Whatever they managed to “achieve” at any stage of the drawn-out crisis was a mere sign of disorientation and weakness. There was hardly anything that could bring dread to the formidable Israel-West axis. Which means that Palestine and its people have often been left to their own devices and exposed to the “jaws of the monster.”
Thus, the main reasons for the actual loss of Palestine to Zionists were regularly given as follows. There were numerous specific mistakes, such as “the lack of preparation, of unity, of a clear conception of what the war would be like, and of seriousness in waging it. But behind these mistakes lay other, more general weaknesses: the lack of a permanent and effective unity, defects in the machinery of government, and above all the absence of political consciousness among the people and of contact between them and the government.”
It was also said that the threats of Zionism could be neutralized only “if the Arabs were able to make use of all their strength in self-defence, and this would involve a transformation of their entire being. The basic cause of the disaster and the danger was that there did not exist an Arab nation in the real sense. A progressive, dynamic mentality will never be stopped by a primitive, static mentality; it could be stopped only if there was a fundamental change in the Arab way of life. This involved the creation of a unified State, and economic and social development; but these in their turn involved an intellectual change” (Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939).
In December, 1953, colonel and future president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, while speaking at Alexandria, summarized the Muslim culpability for losing Palestine to Israel like so: “We ourselves are responsible for the loss of Palestine, and our leaders were the principal agents in losing it. We did nothing but make speeches and hold meetings. We used to say that we would throw the Jews into the sea, but we didn’t do it.”
John Philby - a British scholar, Arabist and explorer who converted to Islam in 1930 and became an adviser to the first Saudi king Abdulaziz b. Al Saud – accentuated that it would be a mistake to blame solely the machinations of Britain for the loss of Palestine. “The real reason for the Arab collapse in a struggle was partly the lamentable fact of the divided counsels of the States concerned, but mainly the venality and corruption of the authorities responsible for the supply of serviceable weapons and adequate supplies to the forces engaged.”
In other words, nobody took Palestine away from Arabs (all Muslims); they lost it. As per a more scathing assessment, they gave it away. Nonetheless, there is yet a chance for atonement. The present crisis in Gaza is the opportune moment to take action. Muslim governments are encouraged to act boldly and decisively. It is time to regain some honour.