“The stars are dead. The animals will not look./We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and/History to the defeated/may say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.” –W.H. Auden, “Spain, 1937”
By Barry Rubin
You’ve almost certainly never heard of Rafiq Tagi but the drip-drip drumbeat that has so long made much of the Middle East into a living Hell is like the drops of his blood. Tagi was an Azerbaijaini writer of courage. He was stabbed by two men in Baku on the night of November 19. Five days later he died in a hospital bed. Sixty-one years old.
Here is his funeral. It is a Muslim funeral. Not many mourners. Certainly not enough.
Tagi was one of those guys who had real guts and real convictions even though he knew for certain that his life was at risk every day. Not like the well-paid, safe and secure people who tremble about telling the truth so often found among the exalted intellectuals of the West. He said what he thought about his own government, criticized Islamism, and lambasted the regime of Iran which was not far from his home in Baku. The Iranian regime especially hated him.
Who killed Tagi? I asked a trusted friend in Baku who replied, “We don’t know for sure but everyone believes it was the Iranian regime.”
In 2007 he was sentenced to three years in jail for an article the previous year in which he said what he thought and even had included some of the Danish “Muhammad cartoons.” The president of the country pardoned him eight months later. Azerbaijan is a dictatorship but not a bloodthirsty totalitarian one. It’s the kind of dictatorship that the West likes to see overthrown even if it replaced by a bloodthirsty totalitarian one.
But the Azerbaijanis are scared, both government and a lot of the people. They wanted to have a modern, relatively secular state, prosperous and with equality for women. Naturally, they chose as a role model Turkey. Then they watched to their horror as Turkey turned into an Islamist-oriented country. The walls are closing in on them.
When Tagi wrote his aforementioned article the Iranian Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani issued a fatwa calling for Tagi’s death.
That’s a fit measure of the difference between a country like Azerbaijan—three years’ sentence but quickly pardoned—and Iran—murder.
Tagi’s lawyer said, “If the criminals are not punished, then not a single dissident in Azerbaijan will be able to be safe.”
Why stop there? Can a single moderate whether secularist or someone who wants to interpret Islam in a more liberal way feel safe in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, or other places that can be named? What is the trend? In the countries where Westerner are celebrating democracy there are going to be a lot of such funerals.
Western intellectuals should be fighting for people like Tagi. They should be raising funds, reading his work, holding demonstrations and meetings of support for his counterparts in Iran, Turkey, and the Arabic-speaking world. Not a day should pass when such people aren’t being celebrated.
Shall I recite the names of those intellectuals who have been murdered by the Islamists, including the Arab world’s greatest novelist, Naguib Mahfouz, who survived the knife wounds by the luck of inches?
Yet the cheers are reserved for the terrorists and those who incite them. Shame, shame, and more shame.
My friends, mark my words: This is only the beginning.
In Cairo, a well-known Egyptian female journalist has just been sexually assaulted by soldiers while covering a demonstration. She certainly did not deserve such a fate. But this same journalist has been prominent in asserting—insulting those who disagreed, I’m told–that everything was going just fine with the revolution. In fact, she asserted, it was a revolution that was liberating Egyptian women.
This phenomenon is widespread now, especially in Egypt. Liberal reformers publicly insist that there are no problems, no real threat from Islamists. Yet the same people privately tremble for their country’s, and their own, future.
We are in the midst of a disgrace. Thousands of anti-Israel, pro-Hamas, and pro-Hizballah demonstrations have been held on campuses. Has there been one in defense of democratic dissidents? One in support of the Iranian opposition in which not all the participants were exiled Iranians? One in defense of Egyptian Copts in which not all the participants were Coptic immigrants? One in support of the beleaguered Syrian democrats mowed down in the streets of that country?
Do those in the West who congratulate themselves on their great humanism and political heroism have any idea of what they are really doing? Do those in the West who brag about being “pro-Arab” and “pro-Muslim” and “pro-Palestinian” have any concept of how ridiculous they are, of how much damage they are doing to those they profess to love?
And aside from morality and the question of “which side are you on?” consider the practical impact. In the West, critiques of the Islamists are met by cries of “racism,” “Islamophobia,” and outright threats or just plain ignored. In the Middle East, the radical Islamists murder, wound, and intimidate. The other, moderate, side commits no violence at all. Who do you think is going to win?
Apathy is one thing; the fact that most Western intellectuals, most liberals and leftists are on the side of the oppressor is quite another.
It’s the Spanish Civil War of the twenty-first century out there. And you, my fine examples of the allegedly caring Politically Correct, are on the Fascist side.
You can’t say it better than the old labor ballad, “Which Side are You On?”:
“They say in Harlan County/There are no neutrals there/You’ll either be a union man/Or a thug for J.H. Blair….
“ Will you be a lousy scab/Or will you be a man?
“Don’t listen to their lies/Us poor folks haven’t got a chance/Unless we organize.”
Let me know if you see any evidence of that happening.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include 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 at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com