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The US Flag: Raised by Muslims, Burnt by Christians - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The images of the Muslims in Kosovo raising the US flag, coupled with the scene of the Christian Serbs burning the US flag on the day the United States announced its support for the independence of Kosovo was an amazing sight. The Christian Serbs not only burned the flag, but they also tried to burn down the US embassy. On the other hand, the Muslim Albanians were demonstrating in the streets raising the flags of the “infidel” Americans.

This event does not please those who would like to simplify international politics, and reduce it into the US absolute hostility to the Muslims everywhere and at any time, and into the theory of the inevitable clash between all Muslims and the Christians in general. The fact is that international politics is governed by interests of countries and higher policies in which religion could be an effective factor, but not the only factor.

In international politics religion might be used as a means for propaganda, but it scarcely is one of its principal movers. Students of international relations know that behind the religious slogans lie worldly interests that in most cases are not as idealistic as its promoters claim. In the Balkan war in the second half of the nineties of the last century, Europe and the United States stood against the Serbs during the Bosnia crisis; at that time, Europe and the United States fought on behalf of the Muslims.

It is also naïve to imagine that a society that is mostly Christian, such as the United States and Europe, would stand by the Muslims ‘out of the goodness of its heart.” The fact is that the United States, as a country, together with its European allies used the Bosnia issue in particular, and Eastern Europe in general, to liquidate what was called the Soviet Union and its influence in the old continent.

Today, the US and European stance toward the Balkan Muslims is similar to their stance yesterday toward the Afghan mujahideen in their war against the same opponent in Asia, namely the Soviet Union. Today, the United States and Europe are on the side of the Albanians, but tomorrow they might or might not turn against them according to the interests of the United States and not of the Albanians.

There are some people who erase these details from history in order to present a picture of a world in which the Muslims and Christians are fighting each other. The Middle East in one of the pictures of its many conflicts, but what applies to the Middle East might not necessarily apply to all the regions of earth. Some people might think that the Crusades or even the Islamic conquest are the clearest pictures of religious conflict.

This is true, but we must not forget that one of the most important differences between the Crusades and the Islamic conquests on the one hand, and today’s wars on the other hand is that today’s world of countries is different from the world of the giant entities (the empires) when these battles took place. Moreover, the Peace of Westphalia [the Treaty of Osnabruck and the Treaty of Munster] in 1648, which put an end to the two great empires, the Roman Empire and the French Empire and their allies, was the deciding event between the emergence of the modern states and the old empires with their distinctive characteristics. International relations, as we know them today, are the world of post-Westphalia and not of pre-Westphalia.

Therefore, in the light of the above, it is possible to expect in the foreseeable future a scene similar to this in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, i.e. to see the Palestinians raising the US flag, while the Israelis are burning it? Naturally, such a scene is not expected soon; however, the idea that it will never happen, and it cannot happen at anytime or anywhere, as some people say, is some kind of excessive pessimism, and allowing the world of feelings and emotions overwhelm the world of interest and logic that controls the relations between countries. A moment might come in which the US and Israeli interests contradict each other in a way that serves the interests of the Palestinians.

This is quite possible in international relations. In fact, one of the reasons of the absence of any contradiction between the US and the Israeli interests is the insistence of the Arabs for along time on distancing themselves from the United States on the assumption that it is an absolute, continuous and permanent enemy regardless of Israel’s insistence at the same time on getting closer to this superpower.

It is logical that the interests of the United States and of the Arab countries should be closer together, because the natural, manpower, energy, and gas resources of the Arab countries are hundreds of times larger than those of a small country, such as Israel with its small population, resources, and markets. However, contrary to what the Arabs do, Israel, which announces that it is an ally and a friend of the United States, makes the US Government and people completely convinced that Israel is their only ally in the region, and that the interests of Israel are their interests, and hence any danger that threatens Israel is a danger that threatens the United States.

Most of the Arab talk about the United States is a talk of hatred. Egypt might be the clearest example here. In Egypt there is a campaign of hatred against the United States that is led by large sectors of the Egyptian society. If we read in an impartial way the Egyptian scene in this special case (the US-Egyptian relations at both the government and popular levels), the situation would look strange. To begin with, there are no common borders to make the conflict necessary, and there are no previous battles between Egypt and the United States. Egypt is the second largest receiver of US aid. Egypt regularly conducts joint military exercises with the United States. In the Middle East, the second largest US embassy after the one in Iraq is in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, a fact that reflects the volume of the interests between the two countries. If we have all these positive indicators and all this cooperation between the two countries, from where has the hatred come? The ready answer is that the Egyptians, in their sympathy for the Iraqis and Palestinians, have hated the United States “en passant!”

Naturally, hostility to a superpower the size of the United States satisfies the pride on the basis of the principle, “If you are to steal something, steal a camel, and if you are to love someone, love a beauty queen.” Therefore, if you are to be hostile to someone, be hostile to the United States, because some people want a great enemy that is worthy of their status! It is not worthy to be hostile, for instance, to Nicaragua, or the small domestic opponents, because playing with the children belittles the status of these people. As the proverb says, “Some like to be high up, even if this is achieved through sitting on a stake.”

What applies to Egypt applies to many Arab countries. We want to curse the United States every day, but the United States has to ally itself submissively with our interests.

The US relations with Iraq during the eighties of the last century were indicating that the United States would be on the side of Iraq if the latter were to get entangled in any conflict. Indeed this was the US stance in the Iraq-Iran war, which continued for eight years. The US relations with Iraq were much stronger than the US relations with Kuwait, because Iraq was a bigger and richer country than Kuwait. However, when Saddam Hussein crossed the redlines of the US interests in the region through his invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, the US calculations changed completely to the extent of addressing a strong US military strike against yesterday’s ally, a strike that evicted him from the Kuwaiti territories, and 13 years later it addressed another strike that evicted him from the entire world.

If the United States were dealing with the other countries on the basis that they are permanent allies, or permanent enemies, it would have supported Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait on the basis that he was its ally. This is particularly true as there was no strong Kuwaiti “lobby” at that time to exert pressure on the US Government. However, the United States stood by Kuwait against Iraq and Saddam, and we saw a scene similar to the one we see in Kosovo and Serbia today. The Kuwaitis raised the US flag, while the Iraqis burned it.

The US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans might seem inexplicable, as there are no understandable links between them. However, anyone who looks into the situation from a strategic viewpoint will see that the US wars and alliances during this transitional period of the international order from a bi-polar system to a mono-polar system are wars that aim at gathering and cleaning up the remnants of the cold war. Most certainly, these are calculations into which religion does not come.