Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth Prime Minister was famous for stating, “The Egyptians could run to Egypt, the Syrians into Syria. The only place we could run was into the sea, and before we did that we might as well fight”. Of course, this assertion was as hypocritical and false as can be and was aimed at sanitizing Israel’s aggressive bellicosity. War was the context for Meir’s assertion. But, in a different permutation, combination and context, the same could be said about Muslims contemporarily. We are in different ways and forms helpless. In a way, the world is arrayed against us and our choices are severely and intensely constrained.
This hapless condition of Muslims is perhaps amply and eloquently reflected by Australia’s craven, obsequious and unwarranted decision to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. To state the obvious, the status Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. And, given that Jerusalem is one of the holiest sites of Muslims (the Prophet of Islam(PBUH) made the ascent to Heaven from there), it, by extension is a very important issue for the entire Muslim world. If the status of Jerusalem holds such critical importance for Muslims and is central to the Israeli Palestinian conflict(dispute), why did Australia choose to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?
The answers, admittedly speculative, are manifold and are a compendium of geopolitics, international relations, domestic politics, culture, identity, and power politics.
Consider geopolitics and international relations first. Australia, at the end of the day and in the final analysis is a Western country. It is an indelible part of the West, no matter what some of its marginal commentators and academics think and state. It is also an American ally. (The alliance structure that binds the country to the United States is the ANZUS). But, in a regional form of complex interdependence, Australia is tied to China. Against the backdrop of the rise of China, its military modernization and Great Power ambitions, Australia appears to fear the country. This is complemented by the unpredictable and quirky Trump presidency where the US president has demonstrated an unwillingness to “invest” in traditional alliances and structures that preceded the assumption of the man’s office to the highest office of the United States. Abutting Asia, or part of Asia’s geopolitical landscape, Australia feels appears to feel insecure in an Asia in flux and churn. The country appears to want to clasp onto the alliance with the United States which it appears to view both as a hedge against a rising China and as a security tether for itself. So, to be more loyal than the king, so to speak, Australia appears to have cravenly followed Trump’s America to prove its fidelity to the country.
Second, domestic politics might also be an explanatory factor in Australia’s jaundiced decision. The Liberals might, in this schemata, be wanting to ingratiate themselves with the Jewish community in Australia.
In a way, this ingratiation might be quite a significant factor which warrants elaboration and explanation.
Israel , broadly speaking, created around the same time as Pakistan and like the country is founded on the basis of religion and religious identity. While this is a broad generalization, and the historical experiences of both countries are very different, but Israel has successfully painted and portrayed itself as a Western outpost in a sea of :”oriental despotisms”. In this schema, key to note here is that this identity of the country, somewhat at odds with its domestic politics and its variegated nature, is maintained, promoted aggressively by the Jewish diaspora in the West. But, it is neither the Hasidic Jews nor the orthodox or ultra orthodox Jewry in the West, that does this promotion. It is actually the portion of the Jewish diaspora for who Jewishness is a matter of identity and not merely religion. It is this section of the Jewish diaspora that cultivates and develops the notion of the West’s cultural affinity with Israel. The rest is history, so to speak. The point of delineating this aspect of Israel’s relationship with the West is that it too might have played a role in Australia’s decision to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Since the West is powerful, despite its relative decline, and since power politics matters or, is actually the ultimate arbiter of political reality, Israel succeeds in not creating a partisan consensus about the nature of the Israel Palestinian dispute but also a narrative that suits it at the expense of Palestinians. This is a condition that might speak to the entire Muslim world.
Can, the question is, it be reversed?
Here Golda Meir’s assertion , inverting and then grafting it onto the Muslim condition assumes salience.
We have, no one, but God, on our side. But, as is made abundantly clear in the Quran, God helps those who help themselves. How, the question now is, can we help ourselves? One prong of the answer lies with the Muslim diaspora(globalized Islam) in the West. As things stand, this diaspora is weak, inchoate and fragmented. Most members of the Muslim diaspora in the West are not influential. They occupy those rungs of the social, cultural and political hierarchy in Western societies that are marginal. As such, they do not have voice. This condition must be reversed. It can only be done through vigorous education and understanding the structures of power ( as variegated as they are) in and within the West and making contributions in the domain of economics, finance, politics and so on. A caveat is in order here: Muslims in the West do not have to and must not lose their fidelity to Islam. The religion must be central to their existence but at the same time, Muslims must partake of society in the West. If the West is true to its founding philosophies and principles, then Muslims can be Muslims within the West and also exert considerable influence and even power. The journey, if it is undertaken, will be fraught, difficult and even dangerous but might have to be made. It is then decisions like the one taken and made by Australia might not even be countenanced let alone translated into action!
—The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org