By Barry Rubin
I don’t understand why Westerners feel the need to become apologists for a revolutionary Islamism that opposes all their rights and values. Many Arabs and Muslims, who have first-hand experience with Islamism, think this is nuts.
Thus, Nicholas Kristof, who is saved from being the worst Western journalist writing about the Middle East only by his colleague Roger Cohen, writes:
“Stop treating Islamic fundamentalism as a bogyman and allowing it to drive American foreign policy. American paranoia about Islamism has done as much damage as Muslim fundamentalism itself.”
So is revolutionary Islamism a “bogyman” fear of which is damaging U.S. foreign policy?
Does the following sound like a “bogyman,” which implies a fantasy rather than a real threat?:
Iranian revolution and hostage crisis; Algerian civil war (tens of thousands killed); Egyptian insurgency of the 1990s and many acts of terrorism within Egypt; assassination of Anwar al-Sadat; September 11 and the attacks on the Khobar Towers, USS Cole, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; more than 10,000 acts of terrorism worldwide; Bali bombing; southern Philippines insurgency; murders of civilians in southern Thailand; massive terrorism in Pakistan; repressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan; 30 years of oppression and sponsorship of terrorism by Iranian regime; beheadings of Americans in Iraq and Pakistan; kidnappings and murders in Lebanon; takeover of Lebanon by Hizballah; subversion of the 1990s peace process by Hamas; a murderous Islamist revolution in Somalia; seizure of the Gaza Strip by Hamas; 2006 attacks by Hizballah on Israel; 2008 attack on Israel by Hamas; London subway bombing; deaths of thousands in Iraq from Islamist terrorism; underpants bomber; Times Square bomber; killing of Christians in Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere by Islamists; the Spanish train bombing….
Ok, I’ll stop here.
Now, what damage has American “paranoia” about Islamism caused? Presumably U.S. support for Egypt’s government? Well, concern over Islamism was only one of many factors there and, frankly, that policy worked pretty well over a period of more than three decades.
What else could he have in mind? Not the U.S. war in Iraq, since that was started against a radical nationalist regime. Perhaps Afghanistan? But whatever one thinks of that war, we know how horrible the Taliban rule was and we also know that this group hosted al-Qaida and made possible the deaths of about 3000 Americans on September 11, 2001.
The most basic fact about the Middle East today is this: Revolutionary Islamism seeks to take over all of the country’s in the region. Today it rules in Iran, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip. It has allies in Turkey (Islamist-oriented government) and Syria (opportunistic radical nationalist regime). There are radical groups in every country seeking to seize state power. And even if they fail, a lot of turmoil and often bloodshed results.
What makes this truly absurd is that there is an easy alternative for those who want to support Egypt’s revolution. They could say that yes the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat but we must help the “good guy” reformers organize, persuade their people that democracy is best, and defeat the reactionary forces (Marxists would have called them “clerico-fascists.”) Why this unnecessary blindness?
You see, Mr. Kristof, you don’t comprehend the danger because you never look at anything in Arabic. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders continually say that America must be destroyed; that terrorists in Iraq killing Americans and Shia Muslims are great and should be supported; that killing Israelis and wiping Israel off the map is wonderful; and that Jews are inferior and evil.
You haven’t read the Muslim Brotherhood’s own platform which calls for turning Egypt into an Islamist state; turning Christians and women into second-class citizens; and many other things. You also haven’t read the Hamas Charter which is the most antisemitic document since the last bogeyman who drove U.S. policy died in a Berlin bunker in 1945.
But since not a single mass media outlet has quoted any of this material since the revolution in Egypt began (and not too often before that) you don’t know about these things.
And you work for a newspaper that allowed a Muslim Brotherhood leader to issue ludicrous denials of his group’s endorsement of violence and collaboration with the Nazis, among other things. That’s another reason you don’t know that there is a revolutionary Islamist threat.
Take Kristof’s phrase and you can adjust it for explaining why fascism wasn’t a threat (in the 1930s and into the 1940s) and why Communism wasn’t a threat (in the post-1945 world). In fact, many people did precisely that and they are looked on in history as very foolish indeed.
Still, yes, we are reduced at present to the most basic lesson of trying to teach that a threat actually does exist. Many thought this question was resolved by September 11. Apparently not.
But the only way you can distort the picture to make revolutionary Islamism benign is to ignore everything the Islamists have said and done, except when they speak in English to American reporters. And that’s precisely what’s happened lately.
And if you think that concern over Islamism is only a fantasy, read the essay on this subject by an informed, liberal Egyptian.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).