Sundin column: Why Muslims have reason to hate us
Why do so many of the people living in the Muslim countries of the Middle East have an abiding hatred of the countries of the West and especially the United States? A look back into history can provide some answers to that question. The reasons are religious, political and economic.
Islam started with the teachings of the Quran as revealed by the 40-year-old prophet Muhammad around the year 610. He attracted a limited but dedicated following, but was met with strong opposition, which he and his supporters elected to fight. In the years following his flight from Mecca to Medina in 622, he succeeded in conquering most of the Arabian Peninsula before his death in 632. Over the next two decades most of the rest of the Middle East converted to Islam, and within a century Islam had been spread by conquest across the entire Mediterranean shore of Africa and into Spain.
For the next four centuries, the Muslim Middle East and Egypt were the center of learning, preserving the culture, knowledge, science, and literature of Greece, and creating advances in mathematics, medicine and astronomy — while Europe slept.
In 1096, at the behest of Pope Urban II, Europe embarked upon the Crusades to wrest the Holy Land from the Muslim infidels, which resulted in intermittent warfare between Christians and Muslims that went on for nearly two centuries. These onslaughts by religiously inspired hordes, whom the Muslims saw as filthy barbarians, were some of the worst atrocities in history. When Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders in the First Crusade, 70,000 men, women and children were slaughtered in an unrelenting bloodbath, and it is estimated that during the duration of the Crusades, the Crusaders were responsible for the death of as many as a million “non-believers” throughout the Middle East.
In 1299, the Ottoman Empire had its beginnings in northwest Turkey, and over the next 400 years expanded to the east as far as Persia (Iran), to the west along the Mediterranean coast of Africa all the way to Morocco, to the north to Vienna (which it besieged in 1529 and again in 1683), and to the south along both shores of the entire length of the Red Sea, becoming a major power in that part of the world.
At the beginning of World War I, the Ottoman Empire had shrunk to Turkey, the Middle East and Bulgaria. Because of Russian incursions on its northern borders, it allied itself with the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). At the end of the war, the Ottoman Empire was broken up and divided into the present Middle East countries, which were given to Britain and France, which exploited them for their own gain.
The discovery of oil in the Middle East in the 1920s and in Saudi Arabia in 1938 created a rush into the region by European and American oil companies to exploit this opportunity for enormous riches, but they had little more than contempt for the people living there.
With this history of atrocities, domination and exploitation by Western powers, is it any surprise that a people with a proud history of enlightenment during Europe’s Dark Ages and the 500 years of the power of the Ottoman Empire rankles under its present downtrodden political and economic status and the West’s attitude toward its religion?
In spite of these justifications, most of the Middle East applauded the “Desert Storm” attack on Iraq in February 1991, which forced Saddam Hussein to abandon his invasion of Kuwait.
Following the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers a decade later, except for an extremist minority that celebrated the dastardly act, we had the empathy of a large majority of Muslims, who both understood and approved of our entering into Afghanistan to hunt down the al-Qaeda terrorists who were responsible for it.
However, in 2003 we squandered nearly all of the good will we had earned in the Middle East with our ill-advised invasion of Iraq, which was seen by the Muslim world as an attack on their religion, and produced an outpouring of hatred of the West and especially the U.S. That hatred has festered, recently exploding into the powerful ISIS movement, which feeds on 900 years of Western cultural and economic domination and exploitation, going back 900 years to the atrocities of the Crusades, claiming it is a war against Islam to inflame the Muslim masses. It may take decades of effort by the West to counteract that propaganda.
Hal Sundin’s “As I See It” column appears on the first Thursday of the month.
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