Many articles and books have been written, and many scholars of Arabic and Islamic history have spoken about the genocidal xenophobia seemingly hard-wired into the Koran and, as a result into all Islamic nations, particularly Arab ones. President George W. Bush prompted considerable research and rebuttals by reading a statement terming Islam “a religion of peace.” Many heard in this further confirmation that the internationalists within the NSC and, abroad, in Whitehall and the EU were hastening the disintegration of their own lands in favor of a world government.
This may be true; Islam may be nudged to shift toward the siren appeal and wealth of the West. Enabling jihadist impulses as the antithesis to the West’s thesis of constitutional democracy leading to the synthesis of a multicultural World Order may be achieving success. Whether this leads to global fascism, corporate socialism in “regional federal unions” (the phrase is Stalin’s) or to grounds for genuine peace and humane freedom remains in the balance. But messages unheard for many decades or more are emerging from Muslim writers. We should hear them and reflect…
Within the past month (April 2007) Memri, the Middle East Media Research Institute chronicled a series of columns and television transcripts that suggest new openings and openness such that key players in Dar al Islam may step away from genocidal fantasies of global conquest and even move toward secular rule congruent with western developed systems of governance and commerce.
A Saudi writer published a pair of articles in Kuwait demanding that Arabs stop using the Palestinians [sic] as pawns and stoking dreams of their return (to Israel), dreams, he wrote that will only produce nightmares. He denounced particularly the governments in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq for keeping the Arabs called “Palestinians” in squalid refugee camps for decades, using them for their internecine feuds and attacks on Israel. He warned of the danger of any kind of “Palestinian State” citing the anarchy and chronic violence in these areas in Gaza and Judea and Samaria. He called upon the above-named states to integrate these Arabs into their nations as Israel had absorbed the Jews expelled from Arab lands after 1948. The latter acknowledgement itself is a striking new tone of truth and almost direct praise of Israeli generosity.
Was this call a newly clever ploy by the Arabists at State to leverage Israel back to the Auschwitz lines? Perhaps; but the surprises only began with that article.
Saudi television aired a debate between a male and female newscaster in which the woman angrily insisted upon her right to read the news without a face covering. “Are we [women] not subject to the same Koran” she demanded. “If you steal your hand is cut off; if I steal my hand is cut off. How can we [women] not be treated equally in reading the news?” A public confrontation of this sort had been unthinkable; once this horse of gender equity is loosed from the barn experience shows it will not be brought back barring social collapse or transformation. Simplified versions of western “egalitarianism” are potently seductive; what Shakespeare denoted as “lust with his fat rump and potato finger” will get the tickle started, especially on the level of intellectual lust (for power &c). It happened here over the course of many centuries. Amplified by modern technology and media it may happen in two decades in a more chaotic culture.
The surprises did not stop here. In a series beginning December 27, 2006, Egyptian columnists in the main, government aligned papers Al Ahram and Al Gomhouriyya called for a separation of religion and democratic politics. Taking a position like Dante’s, they called for clerics to confine their teachings and advice to spiritual matters. The articles in Al Ahram of January 29 and February 05 merit quoting.
“The danger [of a religious state] lies not only in the abolition of freedoms but in the abolition of the meaning of citizenship determined by nationality… This means a transition from an attitude of tolerance and the principles of equality and non-discrimination among religious communities to a religious state based on extremism not only in the state’s treatment of its citizens but also in its treatment religious and social groups.” The fact that tolerance in this sense does not and has not existed in Egypt except for brief periods in the last milliennium should not obscure the revolutionary impact of this statement in a paper whose editors are appointed by the government. And the writer added,
“The religious state is based on extremism — not only in the state’s treatment of its citizens but also in its treatment of [other] states. If a [religious] state exists… we will face a new kind of Nazism or a new kind of jihad against all humanity as long as humanity continues to be perceived as infidel and as Dar al Harb.” This would transform both Egypt and Islam which is based on the division of the world into armed camps on religious lines, part of or against the “armies of Allah.” Egypt was home to Amin al Husseini, Arafat, Sadat and others who worked with or were inspired by the Nazis, as they themselves often attested.
Indeed, this re-definition of the basics of Islam was strongly rebutted by leaders of the Islamic Brotherhood who asserted that the reformist calls were merely power politics meant to suppress them (about a fourth of Egypt’s parliament) and to suppress article 2 of Egypt’s constitution which states that Islam is the main basis for law (Memri #341, April 13, 2007). Perhaps it is the threat of regime change that is prompting secularist polemics from the Mubarak regime (or from American diplomats through him).
So perhaps the thesis and antithesis situation is primary here; Western interests often back the more anti-western and flammable claimants to power as seen in Russia in 1919, Germany in the 1930s; China since the 1970s and recently in Turkey, to the dismay of the already secular Turkish regime. But the ingredients for a new Islamic synthesis are being put in place from Egypt and the House of Saud to the bloody fields of Mesopotamia. They are being laid even as our diplomatic- intelligence cadres continue to bury the evidence that Saddam shipped his WMD to Syria and Lebanon as Air Force and Intelligence officer Jack Gaubatz reported and as Congressmen like Curt Weldon sought to explore in hearing. In the suppression of these reports there is the familiar convergence of Russia, backer and supplier of Iran, Syria and their client Hezbollah and leading Western echelons who prefer managing crises to genuine peace and diversified productivity. So it is difficult to assess radical pronouncements of change coming from the top down.
However generated, into this new mix of pluralism and apparent tolerance Egyptian author Hisham Al-Turhi published two web essays sending Passover greetings to Arab Jews (4/08-09/07; Memri #1556). In the course of it he praised some history rarely noted, much less celebrated in the Islamic world. He noted that Egyptian modernizing owed much to Jewish Egyptians and lamented that the Jews of Egypt had been reduced from about 60,000 before WW II to a few hundred by the 1960s. He similarly commented, euphemistically but frankly about the “emigration” of nearly all of Iraq’s 200,000 Jews between 1948 and 1970 and of the quarter million Jews of Morocco, with the few thousand who remain “living in terror of daggers and bombs.”
More pointedly, Al-Turhi noted that his Passover greetings had elicited vitriol and snarls “from Arabia and the caves of Afghanistan” and suggested that this barbarism was ignorant and self-hating. “Many Arab Muslims are descended from Jews who were Jews a thousand years before Islam, even if they [Muslims] say of them [the Jews] ‘crucified Christ’ or ‘apes and pigs.’” For all the rounded edges of fact this was genuine and pointed criticism of Islamic genocidal hatred of Jews and Christians to whom the author had sent Easter greetings. It’s very overdue, it’s not coming from the governments, it’s a decidedly minority position and it may be prompted by external interests seeking to entice Israel to let down its guard or even surrender its nuclear deterrence. Even so it is noteworthy. In a way it complements the alternative media and citizen groups in Israel writing and working against their government’s suicidal subservience to foreign dictates. In Israel’s case, an end to client status could bring settlement, prosperity and peace just as relinquishing jihad and the ‘Palestinian card’ might to the Arab states, as the Saudi writer suggested.
Most recently, Ghassan Harbal, editor of the English language Al Hayat al Yadida wrote acerbically that the main need throughout the Arabic world now was for resources and engineers to be organized into a vast “burial society” to prepare huge new cemeteries for Arabs since death is all that is produced by their policies, dreams and attitudes (Memri #1558, 4/25/07). This indicates the need for radical re-assessment of long-flaunted threats and attitudes such as have been promulgated in Arab school texts (see www.pmw.org.il).
To what choices and directions will such critical voices and debate lead? Close observers know that the Islamic world and the Arabic lands at its core are and have been riddled with bloody factionalism of many kinds for fourteen centuries and that the violence today has magnified this fragmentation. The self-criticism, incorporation of western modes of thought and perhaps social organization testify that all human-based systems are mutable, that the allure of the West and its new ethos of multiculturalism are powerful and, one way or another gaining traction in what often is considered an intractable area. But if war and endless attrition (the West has condemned Israel to its own ‘Vietnam’ since 1948, an upgrade from extinction but still chronic violent terror in which victory is denied) change, and they might, will the ensuing synthesis more resemble the vision of Isaiah 11 or that described by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World which itself was a critique of his brother Julian’s beau ideal the “regionalized world system” of “conscripted consumption” and numbed out human ‘resources,’ the “regional federal unions in a world of socialist nations” invoked by Stalin in 1936 and by Mikhail Gorbachev in March 2000 when he termed the EU “the new European Soviet”?
All our faculties must be engaged in helping our societies down the path of humane life, of freedom and dignity, away from the pyramid model corporate / socialist tyranny and toward that of Sinai…