By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
In the era before the global rise of terror, the small-time terrorist was called a “bad-mâsh”. This was the appellation of the one who established his writ on the neighborhood by brute force. The bad-mâsh had a say and a cut in every sale of property and other monetary transaction in his realm, and he was feared by all and respected by none. He was untouchable not only because he had arms, but also because he was in league with local police (which received its share in his ‘business’). Each bad-mâsh had his own territory. Small bad-mâshs joined hands with bigger bad-mâshs, who, in turn, made alliances with each other. They seldom fought with each other and respected each other’s territories.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, a very large part of the world started to turn into fiefdom of the bad-mâshs who arrived as traders. They were mostly from Britain and France, although the Dutch and Italians had their share in certain areas. Despite the difference in their nationalities, for the natives of Africa and Asia, they were all “white men”. The white men quickly established small coastal trading posts. For a while, they struggled with each other for territorial gains, but soon settled their affairs and within three decades their small scale coastal trading posts had transformed into large inland fiefdoms.
In August 1797, the most dramatic bad-mâsh of the era proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt, which had been a province of the Ottoman Empire since 1517. His pretext was protection of French trading interests. He also contrived additional reasons: attack on British commerce, undermining of Britain’s access to India and the East Indies. By March 1798, the French Directoire had agreed to his plan. On July 1, 1798, he had landed at Alexandria with 40,000 troops. The Englishmen were taken by surprise as were the Ottomans; the great grab had started in earnest. The rest, as they say, is history.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the two super powers of Europe had fully established their bad-mâshsi. The locals had been deemed subhuman species who needed to be civilized. The church joined hands with the bad-mâshs for civilizing of the natives and hordes of missionaries started to arrive in the Orient. Although Britain had larger territory, it was Napoleon, and not the Brits with their poor imagination, who devised a game plan for establishing bad-mâshsi which has needed only minor tweaking during the last two centuries and which continues to work for the new bad-mâshs of the twenty-first century.
Napoleon had arrived in Alexandria at night. At 2 am, he set off marching in three columns, arriving beneath Alexandria’s walls and ordering an assault; the locals fled in terror. Napoleon lost no time in establishing his writ with a proclamation which has been repeated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and so many other places since that fatal day when he told the Egyptians that for too long the Beys who govern Egypt have mistreated them and insulted them as well as the French nation and that he had come to restore their honor. “For too long this horde of slaves, bought in the Caucasus and Georgia, have tyrannized the most beautiful part of the world; but God, on whom all depends, has ordained that their empire shall end. People of Egypt, they have told you that I come to destroy your religion, but do not believe it; I have come to restore your rights, punish the usurpers and that I respect God, his Prophet and the Koran more than the Mameluks. Tell them that all men are equal before God; wisdom, talents, virtues are the only things to make one man different from another… Is there a more beautiful land? It belongs to the Mameluks. If Egypt is their farm, then they should show the lease that God gave them for it…Qadis, Shaykhs, Imams, I ask you to tell the people that we are true Muslims too. Wasn’t it us who destroyed the Knights of Malta? Wasn’t it us who destroyed the Pope who used to say that he had a duty to make war on Muslims? Wasn’t it us who have at all times been friends to the Great Lord and enemies to his enemies? … Thrice happy are those who will be with us! They shall prosper in their fortune and in their rank. Happy are those who will be neutral! They will get to know us over time, and join their ranks with ours. But unhappy, thrice unhappy, are those who shall arm themselves to fight for the Mameluks and who shall fight against us! There shall be no hope for them, they shall perish.”
Napoleon’s plan called for local recruits; he got plenty of them. He divided Egyptians, showered gifts and money on some, imprisoned and killed others. He burned entire villages which arose in resistance and, most of all, he set his scholars to work to find ways to transform the natives into his own image.
The Englishmen were doing the same in the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere. They established an empire upon which the sun did not set. Both the French and the Englishmen did this in exactly the same manner in which bad-mâshs establish their fiefdoms. They are still doing it. They decide who can and who cannot have nuclear weapons. They dictate which country should have democracy and which country should be allowed to suffer the fiefdom status; they impose sanctions on one country and sell billions of dollars of weapons of mass destruction to another. They arrive on their high-flying bombers over the sky of a country to implant democracy if the country has sweet light crude, but they turn away their faces from another country where the sweet light crude is not available. They have been doing this bad-mâshsi for so long that they have forgotten how not to do it. There is no stopping them, at least not in the foreseeable future.