The occupation of the Middle East is a return to the age of classical colonialism

Colonial Blindness

Colonialism is based on intentional omission of information; Blindness is a structural component of colonialism; the colonial master sees Africa but not the Africans, Palestine but not the Palestinians, Iraq but not the Iraqis. Yet, blindness is a double edged weapon. Refusing to see his/her native opponent allows the colonial master to assume the native's virtual absence until a redefined, tamed, and altogether 'right' native is created in his place.

But assuming the absence of the native allows that native to attack unnoticed. Occupation forces refuse to admit that the vast majority of the population wants them out. They insist on the fact that they are fighting a minority, a few mad wo/men who for no apparent reason are resisting their white mentors, while in fact they are fighting almost everyone, hence the traditional motto: resistance always starts when you think it ended. Like in horror movies, those phantoms of the native haunt precisely the people who deny their existence.

When Napoleon first came to Cairo, he first tried the American trick to make an invasion look like a liberation. In a pamphlet distributed in Alexandria one day before the city fell in the hand of French troops, Napoleon's translators introduced the expression Al-Umma Al-Misriyya (the Egyptian community or nation) for the first time to Arabic Langue. Napoleon claimed to be liberating the Egyptians from the Mamlouks who were foreigners; he was a savior rather than an invader. Of course, to the people of Cairo, the Mamlouks and the Ottomans were no foreigners, Islam, not nationalism, was the basis of political identity. Al-Umma Al-Islamiyya (the Islamic community, sometimes translated as the Islamic Nation) was the only Umma around, especially when it came to dealing with Europe. Napoleon was quick in understanding that his invention did not work, so he swiftly changed his discourse. In order to avoid the inevitable comparison between his campaign and the crusades, he kept asserting that he himself was not a Christian and that he had attacked the Pope's seat in Rome. In his meeting with the notables of Cairo and the Shaikhs of Al-Azhar University in July 1798 he claimed to be a Muslim himself. The officers of the French army were ordered not to attack women, not to drink wine in public and not to enter mosques. He appointed a ruling council, just like the one Mr. Bremer has composed in Iraq. Fourteen Shaikhs of al Azhar university were now the administrative government of Egypt under French occupation, their decrees all started by declaring that there was no God but God and that Mohammad was his messenger. He even made this council of fourteen issue a Fatwa (a religious ruling) stating that Napoleon was the awaited Mahdi, a religious figure, whose appearance, Muslims believe, would fill the land with Justice just as it has been filled with oppression. They claimed that twenty verses of the Koran implicitly referred to Napoleon!

It did not take the Egyptians long to respond to this nonsense, after a couple of month of his invasion of Cairo, the city was burning under the feet of the French. The younger Shaikhs of Al-Azhar declared Jihad, they declared that the clerics who supported Napoleon have become French and therefore seized to be Muslims (a move that proved very effective in convincing many of the fourteen Shaikhs to rethink their political alliances, and join the revolt). the invaders were invaders after all, and they had no right to rule over Muslims, this was a new-crusade, and Napoleon, despite his continuous declarations was no different to Louis IX, and he deserved no better a destiny (Louis IX was locked in a Judge's house and hit with a thick stick everyday until he was returned to France on a ransom).

The British colonial discourses after World War One, were no different, they claimed to save the people's of the Middle East from despotic Turkish rulers, whom, they i.e. the British, decided were foreign to the region. The scheme did not work then either and a lot of blood had to be spilt in Egypt, Palestine and Iraq just to get the message through, "we hate you and we want you out of our lands!"

Nevertheless, clumsy and useless as these French and British measures were, the American policies in Iraq are by far much worse. Attacking Iraqi civilians had started ten years before the invasion. The mass killing of Iraqis by the invisible weapons of mass destruction called the embargo could not have left kind feelings in the hearts of Iraqis. Then, right after the invasion, more killing of civilians, searching of houses, unveiling of women and humiliation took place. America's "war on terrorism" has turned into a war on sentiments and feelings; any sympathy for Islam or Arabism is seen as a political danger, and that is stated in so many words. The first step the Americans took to bring democracy to Iraq was postponing elections indefinitely, only because the results might not suit them. Now this declaration by the Iraqi Ruling Council in Iraq that the ninth of April, the day Baghdad fell, is the national holiday, is just as stupid, ridiculous and useless, as the declaration by the fourteen Shaikhs that Napoleon was the awaited Mahdi and that twenty verses in the Koran really referred to him! Only this time, even the cautious steps that were taken by Napoleon and later on by the British are not there. When Napoleon declared that he was the Mahdi he was not massacring the people of Cairo yet, the massacre came later on. The Americans, on the other hand, have been into the massacre business for more than a decade, and now they are making this Napoleonic claim of being the saviors of the country, thus adding an enormous historical humiliation to an even greater historical injury, all at the same time!

America's occupation of Iraq is not only a return to the age of classical colonialism, it is much worse than that, it is something much lower, something more vulgar, more brutish, more humiliating and therefore much more dangerous; dangerous to Arabs, to Muslims, to Humanity at large. Calculated blindness is a strategy of any colonial occupation that is characteristic of every discourse held by a group of people seeking to subjugate another group, for, behind any form of colonialism, hides racism. To legitimize domination one must assume some sort of natural or cultural superiority, whether that superiority is called development, modernity, civilization, democracy or simply "the white man's burden". Therefore the native, who, on his own cultural terms, is a normal human being, has to be convinced that he is not, that he is inferior, in one way or another, to the standard Man, the colonial Man. The native has to be redefined into slavery. Seeing the native with the native's own eyes thus deconstructs the colonial world view, yet seeing him with the eyes of the colonial master is not seeing him at all, rather it is seeing what the colonial master has in his mind. The colonial master, for all practical purposes, has no eyes. This structural blindness, results in the creation of the fictional world of colonialism.

By Tamim Al- Barghouti

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