Islamists are Imperialists

by Christopher Chantrill
Are the Muslim peoples helpless victims or ruthless imperialists? Should we treat their aspirations are worthy attempts to build an authentic Islamic culture or should we treat it as a naked imperialist quest?

In an article in Commentary Efraim Karsh reminds us that Islam has always organized itself upon the model of the desert raiding party, living off the loot seized from the victims of its military raids. Asserts Karsh: Mohammed “devised the concept of jihad shortly after his migration to Medina as a means of enticing his local followers to raid Meccan caravans.”

This pattern was followed by all the inheritors of Mohammed’s mantle. It was always expansionist, always using the jihad as an excuse to colonize and expropriate other peoples’ wealth and labor. This “shameless exploitation triggered numerous rebellions throughout the empire,” rebellions that were ruthlessly and bloodily put down right down to the end of the Ottoman Empire.

The great question before us today is whether this ancient imperial model of conquest and plunder can work in the modern world, or whether the jihadists can make it work. We westerners like to think that the rise of commerce and industry in the last millennium has made the old imperial model obsolete.

To us the accusation made by Lenin was wrong. The British Empire was not an organ of exploitation but a commercial empire, one that added value and wealth to its possessions rather than looting them.

The same applies to the American empire. The post World War II American Empire has been above all a commonwealth of rising prosperity for all its peoples. It started first with the rebuilding of war-shattered Germany and Japan, continued by defeating the predatory Soviet Empire, and now has convinced the ruling elites of India and China that the way to the restoration of their ancient splendors is by emulation of the American economic and political model.

In the new model wealth no longer depends on the ownership of land and natural resources, and political and economic power no longer issues from conquest and plunder. It all grows out of the mutual interaction of billions of people serving each others’ needs in the global economy in the spirit of democratic capitalism. In fact the model of conquest and plunder now appears as a wealth-subtracting process.

The question for our time is therefore to consider whether the seven stage strategy and the primitive raiding parties of Al Qaeda can really upset the global commonwealth led by the United States, or is the whole project, in the words of Lee Harris, a “fantasy ideology?” Concludes Karsh:

Whether or not any such structure exists or can be forged, the fact is that the fuel of Islamic imperialism remains as volatile as ever, and is very far from having burned itself out. To deny its force is the height of folly, and to imagine that it can be appeased or deflected is to play into its hands. Only when it is defeated, and when the faith of Islam is no longer a tool of Islamic political ambition, will the inhabitants of Muslim lands, and the rest of the world, be able to look forward to a future less burdened by Saladins and their gory dreams.

We know we have the means to defeat it. The question is: Do we have the will to defeat it?

Christopher Chantrill blogs at

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