There is a limit to how many excuses can be made for the inaction of Muslim rulers

Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit in Istanbul, Aptil 2016. [Source: Reuters/Murad Sezer]

There is only so many excuses we can make for the inaction of Muslim governments to militarily intervene in the aid of oppressed and occupied Muslims, writes Abdullah al Andalusi

After my last article highlighting Muslim governments for inactivity on Syria, I received some criticism on Twitter and in the comments section of my Facebook post.

In the face of criticism against the inactivity of a number of Muslim rulers, many people have attempted to defend their own “ruler” or a ruler they like because some of them use token pro-Islam political rhetoric in public. Of course, they perhaps don’t care so much when rulers they don’t like get criticised for also abandoning the Syrian people.

Turkey and Erdogan

Let’s take one example, Turkey. Now before I continue, I’d like to make it known that it is very heartening to see the resurgence of Islamic sentiment and Ottoman nostalgia in Turkey recently.

Erdogan and the AKP has managed to re-instate the Islamic right for women to wear the hijab in school and government institutions, and I think that the trajectory of Turkey is heading in a better direction from the darker days of Kemalist secularism.

Many Muslims were glad that Erdogan survived the coup attempt and the attempt on his life by shadowy forces. However, as much as we can all be appreciative of these things, we must remain objective and not overlook the bigger picture.

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In 2012, Turkey had two opportunities to legitimately intervene in Syria, and had the support of much of Turkish people. One incident was when Assad’s military shot down a Turkish plane, the other incident, was when the Syrian army fired mortars into Turkey, killing a Turkish woman and four of her children.

Turkish army
Turkish army

People have argued that at the time the Turkish people were against Turkish intervention in Syria, and that there were protests mounted to this effect. However, the protests were mainly in Alawite majority heartland of Antakya. Istanbul barely saw 5,000 protesters (many of whom travelled from Antakya, and many were really there to protest against the AKP generally). However, in the UK, before the 2003 Iraq war, almost two million people demonstrated against it, but that didn’t stop the UK from going to war anyway.

Secondly, after the death of a Turkish woman and her four children from Assad’s army firing mortars over the Syrian border, much of the Turkish media was baying for Turkey to respond. Furthermore, many people seem to have forgotten is that on October 2012, the Turkish congress successfully passed a bill (330/550 votes for) giving the President the powers to cross the Syrian border and enact military operations.

It’s not the first time Turkey has crossed its borders. Turkey has had a history of crossing the Iraqi border numerous times – in one case, it deployed up to 20,000 troops in Iraqi Kurdistan to fight against 5,000 PKK fighters in a limited war (and successfully pushing them out of Iraq).

People then argue that the Turkish military, due to their Kemalism, would have enacted another coup against Erdogan if ordered to cross the border of Syria. However, they also seem to forget that in September 2012, the Turkish courts had just successfully prosecuted [1] a large number of Turkish officers who attempted a coup called ‘operation sledgehammer’ against the AKP party, and failed.

Turkey and Russia

Some of the other arguments were that if Turkey had intervened in the Syria in 2012, Russia would have gone to war with Turkey, and with a threat of using its nuclear missiles; it would’ve forced turkey to withdraw. This is however not what would’ve happened.

Firstly, Turkey is a member of NATO and for Russia to attack Turkey would’ve started world war 3 as the other NATO members rush to its defence as part of the NATO agreement (especially considering that the US has airbases and nuclear missile silos in Turkey at the time).

Secondly, Russia wasn’t involved in Syria at the time, and many thought it had no military interest. Russia even agreed with a US-sponsored UN resolution that condemned Syria for breaching international law by firing mortars into Turkey. Russia certainly is not going to start a major war over a territory that isn’t even Russian. Russia hasn’t even declared war with Ukraine, despite it supporting (with troops and advanced weapons) the Russian separatist rebellion in Ukraine.

ERDY AND PUTINFurthermore, if there was anything that would’ve incited Russia to declare war on Turkey, it was Turkey’s unapologetic shooting down of a Russian jet in 2015! However, Russia clearly understands that what it will lose from that is far greater than anything it could gain.

The main powers who were holding Turkey back, wasn’t Russia, but actually the US and Europe – who wanted to ensure that Syria makes a stable transition to a post-Assad and secular government, while guaranteeing that no popular Islamic group rises to power in Syria and creates an independent Islamic government in the Middle East.

Now the only real objections that can be made, is that Turkey would have faced strong international pressure from the US and Europe (along with Russia), to not attack Syria.

For sure, it would not have been materially beneficial in the short-term for Turkey to have intervened in Syria from its point of view, and come to save the Syrians from a bloodthirsty tyrant. However that is precisely the point of my criticism. All Muslim governments in the Middle East (and elsewhere) decline to help Muslims who need help elsewhere, because they simply don’t see it as in their interests.

Bangladesh, Egypt and Iran

Bangladesh and the navies of Malaysia and Indonesia will not come to the aid of the Rohingya. The Egyptian government helps Israel quarantine Gaza, Iran and Pakistan do not defend the Muslims of Afghanistan, and Iran (despite its decades of calling for “Islamic revolutions” in other Muslim countries), comes to the defence of the avidly secular and anti-“Islamist” tyrant Assad against a Syrian revolution led by mostly Islamic groups.

Why, because Iran prefers to trust a secular ally, than waiting to see if an Islamic Syria would continue diplomatic relations (despite Egypt’s Morsi demonstrating that that would be the likely outcome of groups with Islamic sentiments). Egypt prefers to help Israel, rather than risk losing the US aid it receives (which goes mostly to its military officers).

Rohingya Muslims are being persecuted by Buddhists in Myanmar
Rohingya Muslims are being persecuted by Buddhists in Myanmar

Bangladesh doesn’t want to spend resources to fight a war, and all this is because they not only don’t care about Islamic interests, but prioritise short-term interests.

If Turkey had acted in 2012, it could’ve prevented thousands of deaths, millions more refugees and even the rise of ISIS! This was what could’ve been prevented and been a major benefit for Turkey (and the world) in the long term.

Many people argue: “How can one leader or one Muslim country go alone against the pressure of external Western powers?”

Well that is the same argument that many Muslims say in all these countries. They say Turkey can’t go alone, because Saudi and Egypt won’t help. Saudi can’t go alone, because Turkey and Egypt won’t help. Egypt won’t go alone because Turkey and Saudi won’t help…the argument goes on and on and no one ends up helping.

Pragmatists or “short-termists”?

There is a reason that Western powers are able to bully Muslim countries in the Muslim majority world, and it is quite simple: each country focuses on its own interests. And because of this, they make choices that, while it gives them short term benefits, in the long term, keep them militarily and economically dependent, weak, isolated and disunited from helping each other.

Of course, many Muslims support their government to come to the help of their brothers and sisters around the world, but they are always opposed by those who pride themselves on being “pragmatists”. While the reality is, they are really “short-termists”.

If Muslims had a more long term view, they would use the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) as a means to arrange the re-unification of the Muslim Ummah (or at least a creation of a Muslim version of NATO).

The OIC consists of 57 member states
The OIC consists of 57 member states

They would be focused on making their economies self-sufficient. Use their oil wealth to build their own industry and supply their own needs, and not just sell it off at low prices, only to spend the money on buying higher priced Western imports.

This article is not a criticism of just one leader, or party, but actually a criticism of everyone in these countries who takes this “pragmatic” (i.e. short term self-interest) approach.

You see, these leaders are not only no different from the people they come from, but they are “prisoners” of the mindsets of their people. If the people say “how can we go alone? (and help our brothers and sisters who are dying), it is too much for us”, then how can you expect their leaders to do anything different?

These leaders risk protests from their own people after the West imposes sanctions, or war kills some of their soldiers.

Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) truthfully said, “By God, people resemble their rulers more than they resemble their fathers”.

I’d dare say if Imam Mahdi came now and managed to take power, the first obstacle to him would be his own people. They would probably protest against his costly foreign policy, and complain about the hardship that comes with trying to do the right thing.

Perhaps it is Allah’s wisdom that he doesn’t send Imam Mahdi now, because look at what he will have to work with. They would confound any good he could do and before he’d attain power, they’d probably permit the ruling authorities (who are pressured by the West), to imprison him as an ‘Islamist’.

Thank God the Arab tribes of the Aws and Khazraj didn’t think of their short term interests when they agreed to support the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) against all the pagan tribes of Arabia (despite all the difficulty, wars and danger they faced).

If the Aws and Khazraj had only thought about their short term interests, the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) would have been handed over to the Quraysh before the Battle of Badr, and along with Him (peace be upon him), Islam.

Abdullah al Andalusi is the founder of the Muslim Debate Initiative. He is an international lecturer, thinker, speaker and debater on Islamic and Muslim issues.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the 5Pillars’ editorial board.



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