Sunday, December 18, 2011

Arab Spring rolls into fundamentalism

Copts protesting in Egypt

This is an unusual but perceptive Indian view in the Chakra News of the catastrophic effect of the Arab Spring for democracy and minorities. Read the whole thing! (with thanks: Ranbir):

Like modern day corsairs the Arab autocrats demanded their regular pound of flesh in the form of aid packages which they spent on the latest military hardware in order to crush the aspirations of their own people in case rigged elections (if they were even held) proved to be even more unconvincing than the plebiscite held by Hitler in the 1930s. If this mechanism managed to camouflage the humbling of Europe and North America into an unofficial yet effective dhimmitude the extraction of jizya tax from the richer infidel nations was to lose its pretence once the ‘sons of bitches’ were ousted from power. The crushing of genuine liberal and secular aspirations through decades of claustrophobic oppression left religious forms and motifs the only means of expressing open discontent. In this atmosphere the results should have been obvious. The elections in Tunisia began the demise that anything democratic was ever going to result from the revolutions. This was the most secular of Arab countries and yet the Ennhada party, openly Islamist, won the elections of October 2011.

In Morocco that same month the supposedly ‘moderate’ Islamist Justice and Development Party won the largest number of votes. But it was Egypt in December which gave the most shocking result. In a country which once boasted the most liberal and pluralistic society in the Arab world the majority of votes went to the at times terrorist Muslim Brotherhood which deluded western observers have constantly started to refer to as moderate. It is anything but moderate. What was more shocking is that liberal, democratic and secular forces trailed behind the even more openly hardline and Salafist al-Nour party. Libya meanwhile sits on the brink of civil war in its current non-existent path to a democracy that will never materialise. Saudi Arabia extends its baneful colonialist influence over its new vassal states as democracy in the Arab world shows less signs of health than they did in the Weimar Republic .

The parallels are not incidental. Anti-Semitism has long been a stock in trade of not just the Saudis but even secular regimes. There was nothing like stoking up the burning hatred of Israel, as embassy staff in Cairo recently found out, to divert attention from very real problems of poverty, unemployment, runaway inflation and a claustrophobic environment even in the wealthiest states. Hate literature such as Arabic versions of Mein Kampf and the Protocols which are consigned in western countries to dingy backstreet stores and meetings by burly men with shaved heads and swastika tattoos, or dodgy neo-Nazi internet mail order sites, are proudly displayed in the book markets of the Middle East .

In fact before even the elections in Tunisia we had the example of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, elected by free democratic vote. As in many decolonised states, it is one person, one vote, once. Yet it is Israel which is criticised for inconveniencing the Palestinians when they are being attacked by rockets by a government which does not even believe that Jews have the right to exist. Secularism as we commonly understand it never did take root in these countries. Socialism never did mean absence of religion. It did not even mean effective plans at poverty alleviation. Nasser helped himself to large landed estates, dispossessed the owners and then parcelled out the ill gotten gain to his cronies. If the proletariat thought that this was their revolution the execution of leaders from organised labour just one month after the 1952 coup proved otherwise. Egypt lost its once vibrant mix of Jews, Italians, Armenians, Greeks, Maltese and French minorities, bulldozed from history just as Sophiatown was by the architects of apartheid in South Africa .

One group that Nasser did invite with open arms were former top Nazis like Remer who would help organise his repressive machinery. Johann von Leers became Omar Almin and churned out anti-Semitic hatred from the Information Ministry. Nasser was to inspire the young Gaddafi in taking power and also Algerian nationalists fighting the French. With the latter the painful reality became obvious that they were not going to be better off than under colonialism and, judging by the evacuation of pro-French harkis and subsequently other Algerians as they sought a better life in the highly racist environment of the former colonial power, actually quite a lot worse. One cannot just blame poverty. Algeria has reserves of natural gas.

Gaddafi could only build his Green Book ideas with oil revenues which would have modernised his country if the monarchy had stayed. Saudi, Dubai , Qatar , Kuwait , Bahrain and Abu Dhabi used oil to at best create the veneer of modernisation with its very worst of self-indulgent consumer appetites. But political reform, secularism, freedom to believe was not even entertained. Citizenship was tightly limited to the designated herrenvolk master race. Where once slaves had toiled for masters, now Filipino and South Asian labourers work in conditions that flout all international conventions, shipped out of the main city centres which they are helping to construct like modern day helots. These oriental despotisms did not even abolish chattel slavery until the late twentieth century.

This is a region given to even less to racial and cultural diversity than it is to economic cooperation. Desperate to show their commitment to Arab nationalism, minority Christian communities helped become its leading ideologues. Michel Aflaq after all founded Ba’ath. While Aflaq, and later Hannan Ashrawi and George Habash, manifested their anti-Jewish animus, the Christian minority in an independent Palestine and a post-Saddam Iraq face extinction. Ancient communities and cultures such as the Assyrians are in dire straits at risk of permanent exile from their own homeland. It would not be the first time. Turkey is often touted as the example which Arab states should follow. Until recently political Islam was proscribed in Turkey . Now under the Justice and Development Party of Recep Erdogan it rules it. But then how secular was Turkey ? Ataturk replaced Islam with the surrogate religion of Turkish nationalism which made the rump of the once powerful Ottoman Empire even less pluralist than it had been under the sultans. The jihad against the ancient Christian communities of Armenians and Assyrians became a genocide which was continued by the secular Turkish nationalists. The Greeks were almost completely expelled. Even Muslims face the wrath of the state as Kurds were denied even the right to exist as a people. That right has only been grudgingly granted very recently and remains precarious.

So even the use of secularism entails an identity which is organic and volkisch and lends itself to the exclusion of others. This has been one of the main obstacles to Turkey joining the EU even though it insists it is part of Europe . With the current economic crisis however, this will certainly be one Christmas where Turkey is going to be rather pleased that for decades Europe has told it to ‘get stuffed’. The intolerance and racism produced by aggressive secularism in Turkey then was always going to be a rocky road for its former Ottoman colonies to follow. Pan-Arabism always did have the unhealthy echoes of German Romantics such as Fichte.

As such the indigenous people of Egypt now face a bleak future. The sight of tanks openly running over Copts and soldiers openly shooting Copts on the streets in front of live television cameras should be evidence enough. These will not be regimes which will be in any way friendly to the west. The receipt of billions, yes billions, in western aid (and taxpayers’ money) does not guarantee any democratisation or respect for the rights of women and minorities. It is nothing more than a mafia style protection racket, modernised only in the sense of it being a new way of collection jizya, the poll-tax levied on non-Muslims who were granted a grudging existence as third-class citizens, dhimmis.

It is not just of course Arab countries. Pakistan has long persecuted the Christian minority and that is only set to get worse. Most of the Hindus and Sikhs have been expelled or forcibly converted and the minuscule Bene Israel community of Jews has long since left. Malaysia openly discriminates in favour of Malay Muslims and against the Chinese and Indian minorities so that Hindu temples are destroyed at official behest. Indonesia once the most tolerant of all Muslim countries is fast jettisoning the diversity it once so valued in Sukarno’s doctrine of Panchasila, to becoming a hub of terrorism.

Read article in full

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