Most Muslims are unaware of the huge role the so called “universal” Human Rights have had on the Muslim way of thinking. Human Rights have in fact played both a secularizing and governing role in the lives of Muslims. In a recent article, Professor Aria Nakissa states that liberalism developed a “distinctive policy for governing Muslim populations” from the colonial era until today.
During the colonial era, Western states came to dominate and occupy territories all over the world in a project they called the “civilizing mission,” i.e., they saw it as their mission to occupy the rest of the world and ‘teach’ them Western liberal values. As we know, this ‘civilizing’ mission led to the ethnic cleansing of local populations like the Aborigines and the American Indians. Yet, to this very day, we are still being told that the Europeans were the civilized ones, and the conquered people were the “barbarians.”
The Western colonizers developed distinct policies for governing Muslim populations known as “Muslim Policy.” Today this policy continues to exist, but it does so under the guise of “human rights,” “religious reform” and “counterterrorism.” We often think that Western rule over Muslim lands ended with the decolonization after World War II. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Imperialism in a New Form
During the colonial era, Western occupation was very direct. Foreign troops were present, you could see the occupier, and you knew exactly who was doing the oppression. Western elites travelled to Muslim lands and colonized the ‘Orientals.’ After World War II, a decolonization of former imperial territories took place, and nations were given ‘independence.’
This has led to the misconception that we no longer have imperial rule. That 300 years of empire and colonization has somehow not left its mark on the former colonies. The age of empire may be over, but this has given way to a new form of imperialism, a subtle, more elusive form of indirect rule.
One of the successes of the liberal ideology is that it has forged an image for itself as being against imperialism, authoritarianism, ethnocentrism, and racism. In fact, liberal ideology encourages these things, especially in former colonies where the local populations are deemed as being too unruly and unfit to manage their own affairs.
Until they have become completely ‘civilized’ and adopted liberal values wholesale, they cannot rule themselves. Thus authoritarianism, dictatorship and military rule is needed to keep them in place until they have fully surrendered their “premodern” ways. This is why we have dictatorship in Muslim lands.
The UN promotes itself as a philanthropic project tasked with the selfless act of facilitating progress and development in the world. With such admirable sentiments as ‘eradicating poverty,’ ‘saving the planet’ and ‘ending hunger,’ the UN has created an image of itself as being an apolitical body trying to do good in the world.
The UN is in fact a world governing body created by the Western powers after World War II with the purpose of bringing former colonies into a system of nations where ultimately the weakest are controlled by the strongest.
The first attempt at a ‘United Nations’ was made after World War I when the victors in the form of the Western Allies created the League of Nations. The idea was to create a new world order, where the old empires (German Empire, Ottoman Empire, Russian Empire) were transformed into nation states competing in an international system of sovereign states. One could even argue that the very purpose of the First World War was facilitating the tearing down and dismantling of the Ottoman and German empires, subsequently paving the way for a new world order to take the helm.
The League of Nations failed, but owing to the Second World War, in 1945 the Allies were successful in creating the United Nations. Since then, the UN has been structured in such a way that it grants special influence to Western states who hold a superior position within the UN security council. Moreover, the UN headquarters is located in New York.
Human Rights as a Tool for Governing Muslims
Shortly after the creation of the UN, the “Universal” Human Rights were declared. In the liberal ideology, human rights are considered to be constantly changing and “progressing.” What was once deemed abhorrent or repulsive may now be seen as “normal” and as a “human right.” For instance, LGBT rights are recognized today as human rights based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties.
In order to be part of the international system, Muslim states are expected to “gradually adjust their constitutions and legal codes to incorporate UN human rights legislation.” Pressure is applied upon Muslim states to comply, and this is done via NGOs and economic coercion. Western states can apply pressure on ‘rogue’ states who are in non-compliance with UN Human Rights so that they ‘get in line’ with the agenda. As Nakissa writes in his article:
Threating harms and offering benefits, Western states demand that non-Western states comply with evolving UN norms, allow NGOs to operate within their borders, cooperate with these NGOs, and heed NGO recommendations. Many scholars have argued that modern global governance resembles colonialism, especially as it relates to Muslims.
In order to not be placed under sanctions—and for the flow of knowledge, technology and loans from the IMF—Muslim states have succumbed to the pressure of the international system. This is why we are witnessing so much change within certain ‘conservative’ Arab countries with “visions” for 2030. The West does not mind authoritarian regimes who keep their populations in check, as long as they liberalize and open up their society to western cultural influence, i.e., “human rights.”
We need to be aware of the game that is being played and the ‘reformed’ and watered-down Islam that it is producing. An Islam that is becoming a tool for the elites to utilize as they please to control the masses and not an Islam that is a threat to the corrupt and wicked.
 Nakissa, A. (2022). Liberalism’s distinctive policy for governing Muslim populations: Human rights, religious reform, and counter-terrorism from the colonial era until the present. History Compass, 20(9), e12748. https://doi.org/10.1111/hic3.12748