Thursday, February 04, 2010

Why Pakistanis don't see the USA as an ally -- the long-range consequences of colonialism

US policy in the Middle East depends in part on the cooperation of the governments and populations in areas where unfriendly groups exist. But despite the fact that most Muslims in the Middle East mostly oppose people who claim to represent "Islamic government," there is very little enthusiasm for a US alliance. From a distance it looks a lot like sheer crankiness. Juan Cole at Informed Comment tries to explain, using a current example, of how Pakistanis like others with a recent history of colonial occupation, see US and NATO intervention as the same old, same old, and deeply humiliating.

Juan Cole writes

Opinion polls show that many observers in Pakistan already feel that the US is humiliating their country and sowing discord there, and this revelation of the presence of US troops on the ground, along with the Department of Defense role in building girls' schools, will further raise hackles (and risks making girls' schools unpopular even among non-Taliban).

The USG Open Source Center translated an editorial by Dr Hussein Ahmed Paracha: "How Much Dignity is Left?", published in Nawa-e Waqt in Urdu on January 18, 2010, which exemplified this point of view:

'The United States has been attacking within Pakistani land with drones for the last four to five years and is also killing innocent people. . . There were 44 drone attacks in 2009 alone in which more than 700 innocent people, majority of whom were innocent children, elderly, and women, were killed. According to the statistics provided by various agencies, those who belonged to "Al-Qa'ida" or the Taliban could not be more than 18. . .

Having made sure that the wealth of our national dignity has turned to ashes and the last flame has burned down, the US Administration has now announced a program of naked screening for the passengers coming from a few countries. All these countries are Muslim countries, and Pakistan is one of them. Yes, the same Pakistan, which is the frontline US ally in war against terror. Pakistan has danced to death in others' parties and has made fun of itself. It is the same Pakistan, which left its citizens starving and spent $35 billion in others' war. . .

The United States is bent on treating us shamelessly. Moreover, we pay too much regard to anyone coming from the United States. The Blackwater operatives, who committed heinous and inhuman crimes in Iraq, come wherever they please in Pakistan without visa or travel document. They keep on roaming around in vehicles with fake number plates with dangerous weapons. These US officials point guns at the security people if asked to reveal their identity. During a few minutes debate, there is a series of phone calls from the high officials, and they, who consider Pakistan as their playground, are allowed to go with honor.'

In an opinion poll done last summer, 64% of the Pakistani public said that they saw the US as an 'enemy,' and only 9% saw it as an ally.

The previous post on robowars with robotic bombers is relevant here.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East, by Juan R.I. Cole

This book is not a general discussion, but is focused on Egypt in the 1870s and early 1880s, as indicated by the subtitle, Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt's 'Urabi Movement. Ibn 'Urabi was an Egyptian army officer who led an uprising against the European-dominated Viceroyal government of Egypt and the culturally-Turkish upper-class, in the name of "Egypt for the Egyptians." His revolt had many causes, but was particularly inspired by the crushing taxation that European governments insisted that the Viceroy enact and enforce, to guarantee that holders at home of Egyptian government bonds would be paid on time. The revolt was aimed as much at European infiltration of Egyptian life as it was at a cruel and unresponsive government; the two things went hand in hand. The revolt was also a failure; the British invaded Egypt and imposed a "viceroy" of their own who could control the Viceroy who supposedly ruled the country for the Ottoman sultan. Britain continued to occupy the country in whole or in part until the 1950s.

This book is not an action-packed narrative like Cole's more recent Napoleon's Egypt -- it doesn't tell the story of Urabi's revolt or much about Urabi himself -- but I found it, given my interests, a more valuable book. In my course on the History of Islamic Civilization, I've lectured on this period, using standard books, but I learned a great deal from this treatment.

First, the relationship between Ottoman reform in Istanbul and what might be called Ottoman reform in Egypt is well drawn-out. It's easy to treat Egypt as not really part of the Ottoman Empire, given its undoubted autonomy and its diverging history in later time, but there was lots of interaction between Constantinople and Alexandria and Cairo.

Second, I had no idea how strong the European influence was in Egypt, though I knew it was strong. Details of influence by elite Europeans and expatriate European workingmen add up to a fascinating if rather gruesome picture. (Can you say, "hit by a runaway locomotive"?)

Third, Cole's big contribution here is to discuss different Egyptian social and political movements that led to the explosion of the 'Urabi movement, many of which are entirely ignored in more general accounts. I was particularly interested in the role of the urban guilds and their internal electoral institutions, institutions which may have by example encouraged the push for parliamentary, responsible government at the level of the state.

Finally, I found little to object to in the style of this book, unlike Napoleon's Egypt. Did in fact NE's editor urge Cole to repetitively explain what I found obvious.

I think as I find time I'll continue to read on Modern Egypt.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Jamestown 400th anniversary

A blogging historian I know has an interest in the early settlement history of North America and has been taking part in the 400th anniversary of the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia. Her post on this includes links to some of the best Jamestown sites, so I will link to her.

The image above is from one of those sites, Historic Jamestowne.

It's a silver seal showing a skeleton to remind the owner that life is short.

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