Some years ago I attended a conference in Washington attended by Middle East Scholars – or at least those who imagined themselves in that category. After the usual number of erudite talks by various scholars, one being a favorite of the scholars topics- Western Imperialism and colonialism, the moderator took questions from the audience on 3×5 cards. I wrote one along these lines……why do we always talk about Western imperialism and never Islamist imperialism? The moderator read it, and amid titters and guffaws from the audience, with distaste on his face, tossed it aside.
This encapsulates in many ways my long aversion to so called American Middle East scholarship, mostly driven by ideological orientation rather than history or knowledge. Of course there are exceptions …such as Bernard Lewis and Fuad Ajami, Martin Kramer, and others, but very few are in the classroom and so we have an annual harvest of Middle East “experts” who go to the State Department, the CIA,. or back to the classroom to misinform and disorient the next batch of “experts.”
Well when did imperialism begin? Apparently when Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, according to the “scholars.” That is a nice convenient date to set off the European land grab over the next couple of centuries. So what do we call the Arab invasion of Persia, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, France and later Greece, the Balkans, Austria, etc etc.? Well I think the scholars term it bringing the New Prophectic Message to the people, who were “thirsting “for a new religion.
It should not be forgotten that they had a religion already, of course, mostly Christian, Judaism, Zoroastrianism etc. but in due time, most of these people, like ordinary human beings, understood which side their bread was buttered on, and converted to Islam; Some at the point of a sword, but mostly because they had common sense. But even then they weren’t at the top of the heap because non-Arab Muslim converts were termed Muwali, better than Jews and Christians, (people of the Book) and much better than Kuffars, pagans, like Yezidis, but not quite the top drawer.
So apparently Imperialism was invented by the West in 1798 when Napoleon invaded Egypt. So say our many left leaning scholars.
So what happened to the Arab invasion of Spain and France? It was thrown back at tours by Charles” The Hammer” Martel and his army of Franks. Edward Gibbon ( (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire wrote that had the Arab imperialism ( my term not his ) succeeded, students in Oxford would be speaking Arabic. Actually in my last visit to London, in certain parts of “Londonstan” they all spoke Arabic.
But to continue, the Arab penetration was stopped and gradually the Arabs were pushed out of Spain after almost 800 years of colonial rule. (711-1492)
But in the east The Turks of the Ottoman Empire continued the Islamist assault into Eastern Europe. They had subdued Greece, and Hungary, most of the Balkans, rounding up Serbian youth to fight battles for them as their shock troops, the famous Janissaries. Having taken Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans keep pushing their imperialistic designs further into Europe, finally after many decades of seesaw war, they were routed at the battle of Vienna in 1683. For over 200 years the Turks had colonized parts of Western Europe until they were gradually driven out.
So when did “imperialism” begin and has it ended? When the Mesopotamians conquered the five cities of the Plain? When will it end. That’s an easy one. Never!
So why don’t “scholars write and talk about Arab/Iranian/ Islamic imperialism? A few have. V.S. Naipaul wrote’ ” Islam has had a calamitous effect on the converted peoples. To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say my ancestral culture does not exist, it does not matter…..”Among the Believers. Hmmm sounds like the current cancel culture movement in our country!!!
Let’s be honest. No one has the moral high ground on the deleterious effects of imperialism, but certainly not Islam and Arabs.