Clive Kessler, emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of NSW, is the author of a feature - Islam cannot disown jihadists driven by rage against history - in this weekend's Australian.
His appended bio says, "He has been researching and writing about the politics of resurgent and militant Islam, in Southeast Asia and globally, for half a century."
So where does 50 years' worth of cogitation on the subject of Islam lead? Apparently, to this sage conclusion:
"By the late 19th and early 20th century, much of the Islamic world had fallen under European colonial domination. It was dismembered and parcelled out among different Western powers - notably France, Britain, Italy and The Netherlands... No longer able to live in the world on their own terms according to their blueprint, the lands of Islam fell under derivatively foreign legal systems. They ceased to live, wherever they once had, under Islamic law, the Shariah. This defeat was humiliating. The world of Islam was wounded at its core. This would have been a painful experience for any once-proud but now enfeebled civilisation. But for Islam it was more and worse, than that. It was more and worse because of its long history of worldly success and its conviction of entitlement, an assurance vouchsafed by God, that Islam would forever be in charge."
In brief, ever since the colonial dismemberment of the Islamic world, instead of moving on, it's been stewing, obsessively sharpening the sword of jihad and generally itching for a return to the fabulous days of shariah!
That this kind of post 9/11 clash of civilizations nonsense is peddled at our universities - Kessler's essay originally appeared on the Australian National University's New Mandala website under the heading A rage against history - may come as a surprise. That it's been taken up and recycled in the Murdoch press, though, comes as no surprise.
Where to begin? Leaving aside Libya and Indonesia, let's concentrate on the Levant in the crucial years from 1918-20.
This was the period which followed the defeat of the Turks by British and Arab forces (the latter led by the Amir Faisal, son of of the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein). Critically, it was the period before the implementation of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement (dividing the area between France and Britain), and the 1917 Balfour Declaration (imposing a Jewish National Home on the Palestinians), when the Arabs had a narrow window of opportunity to realise their dreams. It follows, therefore, that if these dreams were all about Islamic supremacy and shariah, you'd expect that to be reflected in the historical record.
Well, here's the hero of the Arab independence struggle, Faisal, addressing a public meeting of Syrian notables in Damascus in 1919:
"The Turks departed from our lands and we are now as children. We have no government, no army and no educational system. The huge majority of our people have no understanding of patriotism or freedom, or the meaning of independence... That is why we have to make them understand the blessing of independence... and endeavour to spread education, for no nation can survive without education, organisation and equality. I am an Arab and I have no superiority over any other Arab, not even by an atom... I call upon my Arab brethren irrespective of their different sects to grasp the mantle of unity and concord, to spread knowledge, and to form a government that will do us proud, for if we do what the Turks did [in misrule] we will also depart from the land, God forbid; but if we act in a responsible and dutiful way, history will record our deeds with honour. I repeat what I have said in all my previous positions. The Arabs were Arabs before Moses, and Jesus and Muhammad. All religions demand that [their adherents] follow what is right and enjoin brotherhood on earth. And anyone who sows discord between Muslim, Christian and Jew is not an Arab. I am an Arab before all else... The Arabs are diverse peoples living in different regions. The Aleppan is not the same as the Hijazi, nor is the Damascene the same as the Yemeni. That is why my father has made the Arab lands each follow their own special laws that are in accordance with their own circumstances and people... We should have started first by organising a congress that would have set out these laws [the constitution for the Arab state]. But the Arabs now living abroad are better fit to formulate such laws, and that is why we have postponed this matter until the exiles can meet. Those I have recalled from abroad are people who are competent in drafting good laws that are in the spirit of the land and the characteristics of its people. They will meet in Damascus or elsewhere in the Arab world for their congress." (Faisal of Iraq, Ali A. Allawi, 2014, pp 167-68)
Not a whisper about Islam!
And when the aforementioned congress finally convened in Damascus in March 1920, these were its concerns:
"[A] number of key resolutions were unanimously passed. The preamble to the resolutions summarised the position of the nationalists regarding the total independence of Syria within its natural frontiers, including Palestine, drawing on the right of the people to national self-determination, the promises of the Allies and [US President] Wilson's Fourteen Points. The congress rejected the Zionist plan for a Jewish National Home in Palestine and called for administrative decentralisation and a special status for Lebanon. The resolution then declared Syria to be a fully independent state within its natural boundaries and offered the crown of Syria to Faisal as its constitutional king." (p 272)
Just the kind of focus on national independence you'd expect from any newly liberated people:
Needless to say, the Arabs' wholly legitimate desire for the national independence for which they'd fought was anathema to French imperialism (just as it was to British imperialism in the case of Palestine), and Faisal's popular, non-sectarian, constitutional kingdom - along with the hopes for a brighter future which it embodied - was smashed by the French army at the battle of Maysalun in July 1920. (See my 2/6/12 post French Mandate Redux?)
Ah, but you wouldn't expect to read about that in Kessler's piece.