Muslim Memories of West’s Imperialism

Special Report: American politicians know little about history, so they lash out at people from formerly colonized Third World nations without understanding the scars that the West’s repression and brutality have left on these societies, especially in the Muslim world, as historian William R. Polk explains.

By William R. Polk

One result of the great transformation we call the Industrial Revolution in the northern hemisphere was the increasing scale of the European commercial, political and military domination of societies and states scattered from Morocco to Indonesia and from Central Asia deep into Africa. For convenience, because of their location, their relative weakness and their Islamic orientation, I called these Afro-Asian societies “the South.”

Because of the scale of the issues and peoples I am considering, I cannot hope to deal with all aspects of my subject, or indeed with any part of it in satisfactory detail, but I will endeavor to provide enough to give the reader a basis to get an overview of the growth of thought in “the South.” [For the first part of this three-part series — addressing the ancient roots of Muslim grievances — see Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Many Muslims Hate the West.”]

So, here I begin where Muslim thinkers and political activists began with their perception of the disparity in power, wealth and knowledge between the North and South. At various times from the late Eighteenth Century, throughout much of Asia and Africa, some individuals set forth their analyses of the challenges they perceived and what they thought they needed to do to meet them. At first, the most important of these movements were religious.

Then, in the early years of the Twentieth Century, nationalism replaced religion as the dominant theme of political thought. At first nationalism was regionally or linguistically divided; then increasingly commentators broadened the scale of their thought ethnically and linguistically. Europeans led the way. First Turks, then Arabs and later other peoples followed.

Nationalism reached its high point in mid-century when it incorporated social, educational and economic programs. Toward the end of the century,…

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