A century later, history repeats itself: Who to blame?

While history does not repeat itself in full details, it always shows us some patterns that we should always consider.

Turkish Infantry
Ottoman infantry on the move in the Middle East front during the World War I [Getty Images]

It was another “first” for the US president-elect, Donald Trump, before he moves into the White House. Using just 140 characters on Twitter to explain his future nuclear policies he tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

For sure, neither Richard Nixon, who negotiated the first nuclear non-proliferation treaties with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, nor the “Star Wars” champion Roland Reagan would have achieved such a reductive feat!

Not even George W Bush with all his linguistic and semantic shortcomings would have so recklessly ventured to tackle such a very dangerous topic. In this tweet, however, Trump didn’t make any spelling mistakes as he has done in previous messages.

When asked to explain what he meant, Trump’s communication aides said his aim was to send a message to terrorist groups and rogue states.

But what about nuclear rivals like Russia and China, and how could they perceive and understand Trump’s tweet? Wouldn’t they find themselves obliged to take similar action? What also about other nuclear-armed countries like India and Pakistan?

Wouldn’t this impetuous posturing create a warmongering atmosphere, so to speak?

Usual suspects for scapegoating

Trump’s aides, judging from their previous excuses wouldn’t care and will always find scapegoats to blame.

The most likely culprit to hold accountable time and again could be “radical Islam” and its “authoritarian nature”, as the West’s new populists and “alt-rightists” constantly claim.

France’s elected leader of the centre-right, Francois Fillon, with his recently published book, Beating Islamic Totalitarianism, is running for the presidency in next year’s election on this platform.

So, is Islam going to be the enemy to be targeted, rightfully or wrongfully, by the new populists of Europe and the US and, even by Russia’s ultra-nationalist Vladimir Putin?

And will that be used to cover the genuine reasons of an increasingly looming confrontation between the West on one hand and Russia and China on the other?

Let’s hope a bit of reason will prevail before all of us witness the consequences of the real reasons unfold in front of our eyes.

Similar patterns from a century ago

While history does not repeat itself in full details, it always shows us, in retrospect, reasons that some of those momentarily in charge might try to ignore.

Elaborating further on the historic dimension, let’s inspect the landscape that preceded the World War I and II. This should enable us to figure out the alarming similarities between “then” and “now”.

In the late years of the 19th century, a rivalry arose between a hegemonic colonial power, Britain – with its vast colonies across the globe – and a rising power, unified Germany demanding its share of resources and proper place in the world.

Today, there is a hegemonic power, the US that is trying to stay at the forefront and, there is a rising power, China that is trying to be an equal partner.

Let us hope then that Islam as a religion - and with its overwhelming peaceful majority - will not be made the scapegoat for more belligerence and false targeting as the alt-rightist camps on both sides of the Atlantic, and in Putin's Russia are trying to do.


Then, rivalries in Europe were also on the rise between competing empires and states, a repetition that can be seen today in a similar multipolar game between the NATO powers on one side and Russia and China on the other.

Before the outbreak of the World War I, nationalist feelings reached chauvinistic heights across the Western and Eastern Europe. People and politicians were complaining about open border policies.

Today, the liberal values of democracy are giving way to growing nationalist feelings and policies, as nation states are engaging in discourses such as “France First” or “America First” or “Russia First” and even “China First”. In other words, globalism is in regress.

Before the WWI, religious and sectarian violence was gaining momentum, especially in the Balkans, parts of which were under Ottoman Empire rule. Today, the spiral of sectarian violence seems unstoppable, as wars rage so viciously in many parts of the Middle East, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions more either internally displaced or refugees in other countries.

Enduring legacy of white supremacism

In the 19th century and up to the outbreak of the WWI, talk of white supremacy was so prominent. The French philosopher Ernest Renan was a clear personification of racism with his degrading attitudes towards Islam and Muslims (PDF).

Three years following the end of WWI in 1918, American professor Theodore Lothrop Stoddard published two books which were and still are very relevant to this discussion.

The first one was titled The Rising Tide of Colour Against White World Supremacy, 1920. The second was published the following year under the title The New World of Islam.

In the first book, Stoddard, a Harvard graduate, laments the declining numbers of white people all over the world and says the Asian continent of was once the land of the white race only.

Today, we can hear similar cries echoing across the US and in Europe and more loudly – especially following the victory of Trump.

Stoddard’s second book is a warning about the threats that rising Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, in the early years of the past century, might pose to the modern world. Back then, there was no Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) nor al-Qaeda committing horrendous crimes, yet Islam was perceived as a threat. Why?

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At that time, almost all Arab and Muslim countries were under colonial occupation and most liberation movements in these countries were carried out by nationalist and patriotic people.

The world then suffered from economic recession which, in the US, culminated into the Great Depression of 1929, 10 years before the outbreak of WWII.

In Europe, Adolf Hitler’s notions of Aryan supremacy were a contributing prelude to that war.

The need for a new understanding

Today, populists are taking control in the US, Poland, Hungary, France, Britain and others. Ultra-nationalist cries are getting louder.

Economic conditions are bringing more hardship and religious violence is claiming more lives. Sabre-rattling is becoming more ominous in the South China Sea, in the North Pole and in Eastern Europe, as well as in the Middle East.

In times of peril, as history shows, people grow more intolerant and start looking for perceived enemies to blame.

The deplorable attacks by the so-called radical Islamic movements like ISIL and al-Qaeda are just a single frame in this scene of conflict, sabre-rattling and heightened tension; though no one can defend or justify these crimes.

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Let us hope then that Islam as a religion – and with its overwhelming peaceful majority – will not be made the scapegoat for more belligerence and false targeting, as the “alt-rightist” camps on both sides of the Atlantic, and in Putin’s Russia, are trying to do.

Let us also hope that, following the first wave of the Arab Spring revolutions, the Arab society will develop a new and proper understanding and implementation of the truly peaceful nature of their religion, as reflected in the precepts of the Holy Quran and the prophetic guidance.

This is a much-needed development for Muslims, in view of the enlightened imperatives of modern times.

Ahmed Al Sheikh is the former chief editor of Al Jazeera Arabic. He worked for BBC Arabic before joining Al Jazeera in 1996. He has worked in the media field for almost 40 years.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.