Annie Hall: “Sometimes I ask myself how I’d stand up under torture.”
Alvie Singer: “You kiddin’? If the Gestapo would take away your Bloomingdale’s charge card you’d tell ‘em everything.”
–”Annie Hall”

By Barry Rubin

Abdel Fattah Younes, the top military commander of the Libyan rebels and a former Libyan government official, has been assassinated by–according to opposition officials–an Islamist militia. That’s a problem with Islamists: they murder people and intimidate with threats and violence. Consequently, they often get their way. Reformers can’t compete with that kind of thing. That’s why prospects in Libya or Egypt are not good. That’s the kind of thing that Westerners tend to forget since, despite what the mass media might say, Sarah Palin for example doesn’t have an armed militia dedicated to wiping out her enemies by decapitation.

In a few weeks or months, the Salafists in Egypt will probably start killing (or at least trying to do so) outspoken secularists. The Muslim Brotherhood won’t be involved directly but will point its finger and denounce people who are then targeted by other Islamist groups. The Western media will then remind us constantly that the Brotherhood has “renounced” violence and even that the Brotherhood is “protecting” Egypt from the “real” hardliners. Of course, for every person shot at, wounded, or killed (10, or is it 100 or 1000?) are thus intimidated.

This is the tactic used by Hizballah and Syria in Lebanon. The leader of the opposition, Rafik Hariri, was killed by them along with several parliamentarians, journalists, and judges. Others were threatened or attempts were made on their lives. The West stood by and did nothing. Naturally, some people became silent; others fled the country, while still others changed sides. Today, Hizballah and Syria are running Lebanon.

Similar things are happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places. One reason there are no real Palestinian moderates is due to intimidation, delegitimization, and some murders over the years of those who wouldn’t shut up or toe the line. This is a tactic the West isn’t going to be able to counter. It is not prepared to kill those on the other side (with the rare exception of al-Qaida leaders) and it isn’t able (or, under the current U.S. government, doesn’t even try) to defend those on its own side.

So who is more likely to win? Reformers can promise a better life but their opponents can promise both a better life and a better afterlife plus a much shorter life for those who dare dispute them.

Western intellectuals like to talk as if they are courageous–especially when repeating what all their compatriots say. But the Salman Rushdie and “Danish cartoon” controversies showed that they aren’t very brave at all if there’s the slightest possibility of being called names (“racist,” “Islamophobic”), much less being murdered. Imagine if you lived in the Muslim-majority world and anything on the following list would probably lead to your becoming a pariah or being killed: supporting equality for women; proposing to reform Islam; advocating good relations with the United States; backing peace with Israel; etc. How many would speak up?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at