05 November 2014

When the West wanted Islam to curb Christian extremism

When the West wanted Islam to curb Christian extremism (Washington Post, 16 October 2014)

In any case, Islam and those who practice it were not always perceived to be such a cultural threat. Just a few decades ago, the U.S. and its allies in the West had no qualms about abetting Islamist militants in their battles with the Soviets in Afghanistan. Look even further, and there was a time when a vocal constituency in the West saw the community of Islam as a direct, ideological counter to a mutual enemy.

Turn back to the 1830s. An influential group of officials in Britain -- then the most powerful empire in the West, with a professed belief in liberal values and free trade -- was growing increasingly concerned about the expanding might of Russia. From Central Asia to the Black Sea, Russia's newly won domains were casting a shadow over British colonial interests in India and the Middle East. The potential Russian capture of Istanbul, capital of the weakening Ottoman Empire, would mean Russia's navy would have free access to the Mediterranean Sea--an almost unthinkable prospect for Britain and other European powers.