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Islamism - The Tsunami of the future?


In almost every country in the Middle East, Islamist parties seem to be creeping ever closer to power, despite, or perhaps because of the US push for democracy in the Middle East. For the most part, this ominous development is viewed with even more ominous equanimity, perhaps because it is believed that there is nothing much anyone can do. The West seems to have been overtaken by what used to be called "Eastern Fatalism." The Middle East seems to accept religious fanaticism and religious control of government as legitimate political factors.

The "good" model for Islamic parties in the Middle East is the Turkish Justice and Development party (AKP). Turkey has its faults, but it is not a nightmare fascistic reactionary regime that one would associated with Islamism. Turkey's government is a certainly a showroom example in many respects. What the salesmen neglect to tell you is that the Justice and Development party is Islamic, but not Islamist, and it is not fundamentalist. Not everyone who believes in Islamic values is like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Osama Bin Laden. They also leave out the fact, undoubtedly not forgotten by AKP leader Tayyip Erdogan, that the last "Islamic" leader of Turkey, Necmettin Erbakan, was forced out of power by the Turkish army. Certainly Erdogan is a great respecter of secular democracy. No doubt the army just helps him maintain his respect.

Outside Turkey there is a different reality. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood scored 20% of the vote, despite an official ban on their party and the efforts of sword wielding NDP government party renegades. The Muslim brotherhood is the core movement of Islamism in many respects. They campaigned on a slogan of "Islam is the answer." Some Egyptians are entranced because the Muslim Brotherhood has given up violence. They voted for the brotherhood out of frustration, as a protest vote, or because they, like Iranians before 1979, really believed the promises of reform and democracy. In Al-Ahram, Mohamed Sid-Ahmed writes with equanimity that Muslim brotherhood and the government NDP share middle class values. Apparently Sid Ahmed believes the Egyptian middle class favors one man tyrannical rule and political repression on the one hand, and applying Islam to every problem indiscriminately on the other hand. He even speculates about a wonderful future day when the NDP and Muslim Brotherhood will merge!

It is really heartening if the Muslim brotherhood have abandoned their somewhat nasty habit of murdering Egyptian leaders and liberal public figures, but it is irrelevant. Obviously if they come to power by democratic means they will not assassinate their own leaders. The question is, what sort of society will they promote in Egypt? If they ban Western literature, repress women and homosexuals and apply their slogan of "Islam is the answer" no matter what the question might be, using their version of Islam, then the Egyptians will find themselves living under a much worse tyranny. Like the naive Iranian reformers who supported the revolution, they will be trapped and damned by getting their wish.

The big victory of the Muslim Brotherhood is somewhat illusory. It is due in part to even more rigid suppression of liberal opposition parties and to the very low voter turnout. In this situation, the brotherhood, which is organized, could mobilize enough voters to make a good showing. Nonetheless, many voices in Egypt greet the progress of the Muslim Brotherhood with eager joy, as though medieval religious reaction will solve the problems of Egypt.

In Lebanon, the situation is more complex. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood are not the proponents of liberal middle class values that Al-Ahram makes them out to be, but the Hezbollah makes them look like the ADA. The Muslim Brotherhood is not openly armed after all. The Hezbollah is not a political party, but rather an armed gang. Their slogan is "Kalashnikov is the answer." Yet they are somehow accepted as if they were an ordinary political party.

Hezbollah continues its fairly successful efforts to hijack Lebanese foreign policy in the interests of their Syrian and Iranian backers, while at the same time participating tamely in a government ministry post. The methods of democratic persuasion used by Lebanese friends of "sister" are demonstrated by the fate of Gebran Tueni, the courageous editor of an-Nahar, murdered last week for his outspoken views of "sister" Syria and the Hezbollah. It would not be too fantastic to assume that most other Lebanese journalists and politicians have understood that the Surgeon General (or rather the ophthalmologist who rules in Damascus) has determined that criticism of "sister" and Hezbollah is dangerous for your health. How else can we explain that every time Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah utters ominous threats against those who claim Lebanese independence from "Sister," editorials in the Daily Star and other Lebanese journals heap praises on Nasrallah for his wisdom, moderation and patriotism? If we take most Lebanese journalists and politicians at their word, the Hezbollah is an enlightened, moderate, nonviolent patriotic organization. Prominent anti-Syrian politician Walid Jumblatt may have outdone all the other sycophants by asking the Hezbollah for their protection from Syria. According to An-Nahar, "Jumblat called on Hezbollah to use its elaborate security apparatus to help protect Lebanese on the Syrian hit list." Believe it or not, this wasn't an example of Lebanese ironic humor. The Lebanese accept this sort of nonsense as a serious political statement.

Last, and most significant perhaps, we have to consider the rise of the Hamas in Palestinian elections. Like the Hezbollah, Hamas is not really a political party, but rather an armed gang. In Palestinian poltics however, it is hard to tell the difference. Armed factions are the basis of Palestinian national existence and political life.

Having garnered about 70% of the vote in the last round of local elections, Hamas is poised to gain a decisive voice in the PNA government when elections for the PLC (Palestinian Legislative Council) are held next month. Hamas is, by its charter, unequivocally opposed to peace or negotiations with Israel in any form. The US House of Representatives passed a measure threatening to cut off aid to the PNA if the Hamas participated in the government without reforming, but it is an empty threat. A similar threat by the EU was also rebuffed by Hamas. Let's face it, if they can't get money from Washington and Brussels, they will get the money from Tehran and other sources. They will blame the misery of the Palestinians on the Zionists and the West. There is no way to block Hamas from participating in the elections without making it seem that the Palestinian Authority is a puppet of the West and Israel. Never mind that Hamas participation violates the Oslo interim agreement which was the basis of the formation of the PNA and the elections. Reality is stronger than paper agreements. According to a recent poll, 46% of Palestinians favor fundamentalist over secular policies, with only 37.5% supporting secular policies. When their women are forced to wear veils, their media are censored, books disappear from their libraries and liberal thinkers are carted off to jail, they might be sorry, but it will be too late then. Muslims seem drawn to Islamist political parties like moths to the flame, to coin a cliche. They fool themselves into thinking that medieval fanaticism represents "middle class values" and that treachery in service of a foreign power is moderation and patriotism.

Of course, there will be more elections after an Islamist party comes to power, but one should not count on such elections to reverse an Islamist takeover.

The Iranians have elections too, don't they?

Over and over, we are told that Islamism is the "wave of the future." Woe unto all of us, if this is what the future has in store: political murders, repression, war and hate. The Islamist future looks very much like a caricature of the darkest medieval past.

A different generation recorded the conviction that Fascism was the wave of the future. Those who suffer most in any future Islamist tsunami will be the poor people of the Muslim countries of the Middle East, just as the Germans and Italians suffered most from their "wave of the future." Lincoln Steffens visited the USSR under Lenin and said, "I have seen the future and it works." It wasn't the future and it didn't work.

Someone should stop this tidal "wave of the future," before it washes us all away. Tsunamis are not good for anyone.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000415.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 2 comments

For 50 years western world has been corrupting with briberies or removing by any means all the nationalistic third world governements that were trying to help their people in the western way (including sodeletedm as a western thing). The success is now overwelming : no more "neutralism", no more "nasserism" and no more "sodeletedm" in the horizon. Now western world has in front a rubble of mad religious leaders who only want to destroy everything. And the same for Israel : no more OLP asking for a state, just Hamas calling for Armagedon. There is a gipsy saying that goes "Pray to god to never have what your dream because then you can discover that is a nightmare".

I want to specially congratulate all the people who have been saying for years that "Hamas will never win an election in Western Bank" when some were saying the enormous risk of not helping PNA to achieve something to show to their people.

So yes, there is new tidal wave and this one will be not so easy to destroy since they do not want to build something (which is always dificult) but just destroy, kill and die in the name of ancient gods. 21st century is going to be a grim one. and we are going to regrett what we did to the post-colonial generation leaders who, all in all, where not so awkward as they seemed.

Posted by Aleph @ 12/21/2005 03:19 PM CST

It amazes me that you would write such an ignorant article. A while back you praised Iraq for its movement toward democracy now you attack the Arabs for voting for the people of their choice. You claim that Hezbollah is hijacking foreign policy. Maybe you should visit the United States where Christian evangelicals are among Bush's core supporters.
All you do here is attack people for the choices they make. You seem to still only accept democracy when your veiws are accepted and nothing more.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 12/22/2005 09:38 PM CST

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