By Barry Rubin
Having studied the Middle East professionally for 35 years and with a PhD in Middle East history, let me make it perfectly clear: Glenn Beck, who is holding several rallies in Israel this week, has a better grasp of Middle East politics than most Western experts, not to mention Western leaders.
Certainly, Beck makes silly mistakes on factual matters and details. Yet what’s important is that he comprehends the big picture. I don’t say this based on a superficial view or on his support for Israel. As part of the GLORIA Center’s project on understanding current American politics and debates I have monitored virtually every television and radio show Beck has done over the last two years. When people voice absurd and slanderous stereotypes about Beck, it turns out they haven’t actually listened to what he’s been saying.
Why has Beck gotten things right that so many others have missed or distorted? There are five key reasons: Common sense; courage; knowing the difference between right and wrong, willingness to learn, and readiness to admit when one has been wrong. These are virtues often lacking among those with more elegant reputations and impressive diplomas.
What has he gotten right?
1. The main threat in the Middle East is revolutionary Islamism and the United States must combat it.
Revolutionary Islamism includes on its side: Iran, Syria, Hizballah (largely controlling Lebanon), Hamas (governing the Gaza Strip), and the Muslim Brotherhood as well as al-Qaida and, more subtly, the regime governing Turkey. It is an ideology innately hostile to the West, the United States, and Israel. It cannot be bought off or moderated. Revolutionary Islamists will either take over the Middle East or be defeated.
2. The problem is not Islam as a religion but revolutionary Islamism as a political ideology that draws on normative Islam to produce its own plausible interpretation.
While falsely accused of “Islamophobia,” Beck has correctly drawn the distinction between Islam and revolutionary Islamism. Those claiming Islam is “a religion of peace” miss the radicalism easily drawn from its texts as well as the large and growing Islamist forces. Those claiming Islam is inherently extremist miss most of its actual history and the tremendous battle going on among Muslims,
3. The revolutionary Islamist side is winning.
In the last year, revolutionary Islamism has advanced in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Turkey, and potentially Syria, Libya, and Tunisia
4. The “Arab Spring” contains many dangers.
The unqualified Western enthusiasm for the “Arab Spring” ignored the threat of growing Islamist power. Those of us who warned beginning in January about the Muslim Brotherhood’ radicalism and power were ridiculed, despite the fact that every statement it has made for decades has proven this point. Even now, many are in denial about the Brotherhood becoming Egypt’s strongest single party in parliament and in writing the country’s new constitution. The regime that emerges might not be Islamist but will be radical, anti-American, and dangerously hostile toward Israel.
5. Israel just happens to be largely right and deserves support
Israel has been in a “Twilight Zone” situation. Eighteen years ago, Israel took a tremendous risk for peace by signing an agreement with the PLO, agreeing to establish an armed Palestinian Authority, and negotiating toward the creation of a Palestinian state, Not to mention later offering the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace, withdrawing from south Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and much of the West Bank.
Yet the more risks for peace Israel took, the more concessions made, the more restraint shown, the more it was slandered and said not to want peace. The more Israel sought a two-state solution, the more people in the West advocated a “no-Israel-state” solution. Beck has cut through this nonsense to point out a simple fact: Israel wants a negotiated compromise and stable peace based on a two-state solution; the Palestinian Authority—not to mention Hamas—doesn’t.
6. One Man’s Terrorist…Is Still a Terrorist
There is no romanticism in the deliberate murder of civilians, systematic incitement of hatred, and goal of establishing a totalitarian society. Bad ends hardly justify bad means.
7. The Obama Administration has messed up the Middle East to a phenomenal extent.
For details you can read what I’ve written about this since January 2009.
8. One should be fearless in facing intimidation and politically motivated ridicule.
Yes, it gets tiring to be slandered and misquoted but a lot is at stake here. Popularity among current Western elites and career advancement cannot be the main priority at present. We live at a time when governments and intellectuals surrender at the merest hint of being called names or faced with threats of violence.
9. We must reevaluate friends and enemies in this new era of revolutionary Islamism and post-Marxist leftism
In the past, Jews often saw conservatives and religious Christians as threats for good reasons. But we’re no longer in the nineteenth or even twentieth centuries. Conservatives and Christians aren’t drooling to convert, kill, or use Jews to bring on the apocalypse. That’s out-dated. While doing everything possible to work with liberals and social democrats, we must understand—whatever our personal political views—that Israel and the Jewish people have a new set of allies.
Why have these groups changed their views on Jews? With religion imperiled in the West, they see Jews as fellow believers rather than—as in past antisemitism—corrosive atheists and Jesus-killers. They see Israel as an embodiment of the nation-state and admire its ability to defend itself, rather than considering Jews to be cosmopolitan subversives and cowardly pacifists. Rather than view Jews as imperiling Western civilization, they view Israel as facing the same enemies they believe to be doing so today.
An important issue—in fact, the key test—was how conservatives would deal with the presence of so many Jews among their opponents. Historically, that situation was a prime factor in an antisemitic narrative on the right. The solution has been to perceive leftist Jews as traitors to their own Jewish people rather than to consider Jews as a whole to be the villain. Whether or not you agree with that assessment isn’t important in this context. What’s important is that this solves the political and religious right’s past inclination toward antisemitism.
10. Whatever mistakes the United States has made it is a good country and is the hope of the world.
Many countries and people everywhere yearn for America to revive itself, change the current administration’s policies, properly define friends and enemies, and take leadership internationally once again.
Any criticism one can make of Beck regarding Middle East issues rather pales in comparison to all of the above points on which he is quite correct. But then, as Jews, and Israelis most of all, should know, to be falsely reviled and have one’s image smeared is not proof of being wrong or evil.
B arry 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 http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. 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 http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com