PART II. What Accounts for the Appeal of Islamic Extremism and Paranoid Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism?
1) The Background: Arab Countries' Failures, Backwardness, Illiteracy, Knowledge Gaps, Despotism and Rampant Corruption and Nepotism
Since the early 1970s, any knowledgeable observer of Arab life and the backwardness of Arab economic development, science, and technology --- to say nothing of failed states that don't deliver decent social services and rule arbitrarily by repression and are rampant with corruption, nepotism, and crony clientelism as means of social and economic advancement --- could have easily traced the bursting surge since the start of the 1970s of radical Islamist extremism as both ideology and energetic social movements, whether Shiite or Sunni. It would have been equally easy to monitor radical Islam's mushrooming appeal to the teeming masses of poorly educated or outrightly illiterate Arab masses . . . whose mental world, for decades now, has been badly unhinged by the repeated shocks and dislocations caused by rapidly growing globalizing forces and by dismal home-grown failures. The same is true for rampant anti-Semitism in Arab countries, hardly at all confined to the fringes of society any more. It too is easy to monitor. How could it not be?
It's featured in state-controlled media everywhere, including on TV; is mouthpieced by ignorant or subservient journalists in newspapers --- open too, both TV and newspapers, to shrill fanatical fundamentalist imams and spokesmen --- in fervent manner; is voiced in countless mosque sermons and gabfests, in school textbooks, and up and down the so-called Arab street, where it's now part of popular culture. The Saudis even officially banned Pokeman, the kid's game, claiming it was part of a Jewish plot to undermine traditional parental control and further world domination. Yes, Pokeman
! For wider background analysis on how raging Jew-hatred has become inseparable from state-controlled propaganda and popular Arab culture, see this link
. In one of the Arab oil-rich Gulf States
" . . . Abu Dhabi TV has decided to seek its market share by launching "Plots of Terror." Aired each night of Ramadan as Muslim families gather to break their fast, this family-oriented "satirical comedy" stars a well-known Kuwaiti comedian as Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. Between ads for Procter & Gamble shampoo, chocolate and computers for kids, viewers are introduced to an Israeli leader depicted as a vampire who craves the blood of Arab children and markets "Dracu-cola." The "prime minister" is shown personally leading the massacre of helpless prisoners and, in the most horrific scene of all, is shown overseeing the tossing of Arab babies into a bonfire. Sharon tells his money-grubbing, earlocked assistant how the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin fulfilled his 20th birthday wish by providing the blood of 20 Arab kids. "So we drew their blood and drank it. It was one of my best nights," the fictional Sharon fondly recalls."
Repulsively lunatic as it was, the Nazi propaganda machine never got that far down into the sewer for its own heinous Jew-hating indoctrination. Not out of reluctance, mind you; rather, because the more literate German population would have expected more fanatically sophisticated hogwash, such as Jews simultaneously dominating Communist Russia and capitalist America as part of its drive toward world mastery. When you're dealing with the worst literate populations in the world, by contrast, the more crazed the conspiratorial Jew-hating stuff happens to be, apparently the better. And note, this viciously insane hatred of Jews --- depicted in the popular media throughout the Arab world in this wildly preposterous manner --- is not an aberration, confined to Abu Dhabi TV. As a New York Times
". . . Such anti-Semitic imagery is now embedded in the mainstream discourse concerning Jews in much of the Islamic world, in the popular press and in academic journals. The depictions are not limited to countries that are at war with Israel but can be found in general-interest publications in Egypt and Jordan, the two countries that have signed peace agreements with Israel, as well as in independent religious schools in Pakistan and Southeast Asia . . . The use of Nazi imagery, the newspaper caricatures of Jews with fangs and exaggerated hook noses, even the Arab textbooks with their descriptions of Jews as evil world conspirators — all of that, Arab leaders often insist, reflect a dislike for Israelis and Zionism but not for Jews and Judaism. Yet in many Muslim countries the hatred of Jews as Jews, and not only as citizens of Israel, has been nurtured through popular culture for generations."
2) Other Causes of Rife and Lunatic Arab Jew-Hating Fantasies: Repeated Defeat in Wars with Israel
Note that the emotional and mental disarray behind the spread of radical Islamic extremism and the message and symbols of conspiratorial Jew-hating racism have other causes too. They include warfare, and especially non-stop Arab failures in it for three generations now. Repeatedly, to be more precise --- for nearly 6 decades --- the Arab masses have been jolted by the jarring defeats inflicted repeatedly by tiny Israel, 6 million people in all, on far larger Arab armies, always in coalition with one another.
These dismaying, hard-to-fathom defeats started in 1948, when 5 neighboring Arab countries invaded the new Jewish state. They continued in 1956, then 1967, then 1973, and off and on in more limited military conflicts since then. Another cause has been the blatant failure, one after another, of Arab champions to avenge this recurring humiliation, either by war or terrorism. There was the dictator Nasser of Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s; then the Islamo-fascist regimes in Syria and Iraq, which came to power in brutal military coups in those decades; then Saddam Hussein; more recently Bin Laden. Other times its Hezbollah or Hamas or Islamic Jihad. All have failed. All have left the illiterate or semi-literate Arab street full of confusion and a festering sense of shame and resentment. [For a good analysis by a social psychologist of honor-and-shame cultural influences in Arab life have influenced the reaction to these repeated and humiliating defeats at the hands of what were traditionally regarded in Arab culture as inferior subject people or Dhimmis --- the 5 million Jews of Israel --- see this up-to-date article. On Dhimmitude --- a servile inferior status that covered not just Jews but Christianity minorities historically in Islam --- see this symposium of October 2003. The third article in this mini-series on Arab and Islamic anti-Semitism will look in detail at the traditions of Dhimmitude, and how the Islamist upsurge of the last 3 decades has left the small Christian minorities in the Middle East with a sense of being under assault.]
(i.) Arab Bewilderment:
What could explain these defeats, an unbroken string of them?
To understand modern warfare and Israel's superiority would require intellectual powers beyond the capacity of the Arab street, full of rumors, conspiratorial fantasies, emotional furor, and demagogic manipulations . . . all hindered further by secret-police controlled regimes and pervasive censorship in the media.
More concretely, to have insight into these matters, it would be necessary to understand modern technology, the skills needed to use it --- civilian or modern --- and the rigorous training required for effective combined arms operations, air, armor, infantry, artillery, and mobility. The insights would have to grasp why
officers at all levels of the military --- including non-coms and generals --- need to be promoted strictly by means of performance, and not thanks to crony contacts and family background --- the practice in Arab armies; why
, too, adaptive, highly disciplined action on the battlefield derives from a sense of both effective nationalism and professional fighting pride; why
, additionally, there has be full openness to self-criticism and feedback up and down the ranks after training exercises or a day's battle . . . something non-existent in Arab militaries
, where the high-level officers are there because of who they know and are, not performance, and who do not expect to be criticized by their inferiors. For that matter, in shame-honor societies like those that prevail in Arab life, the higher-ups in any hierarchy would feel personally assaulted and in need of revenge were their underlings, however professionally competent, to criticize their performance in any noticeable way --- especially in the presence of others. [On honor-and-shame values and the inhibitions on truth-telling in Arab organizations, even medicine, see an earlier buggy article
and the documentation there.]
(ii.) Even Greater Bewilderment:
Of late, the intellectual challenges to military establishments have grown increasingly demanding. In particular, the more modern warfare has entered a stage since the late 1970s of radical transformation --- called the revolution in military affairs, which several earlier buggy articles analyzed this last spring --- the more successful militaries have to rely on the educational progress of the citizenry and more specifically those they recruit and train; and on mental adaptability and a willingness for officers and non-coms to be constantly retrained and re-educated. Not least, they require a rare sort of intellectual know-how and openness: the ability to master not just up-to-date, complex weaponry and complicated C4I --- computers, communications, command-and-control, and information flows that can monitor an entire battlefield and in real time bring unusually accurate smart weaponry to destroy targets, one after another, with pinpoint precision --- but to find ways, the real challenge, to combine them into an overall system of systems and then to continually adapt and up date this system of systems and its components, whether hardware, software, or human, to keep abreast of unparalleled technological flux and new and unforeseen security threats.
All of these educational skills, professional rigor and training, openness to criticism, mental adaptability, promotion by merit and performance, and a system of cutting-edge R&D --- not to mention the morale and confidence and cohesion of fighting soldiers on the battlefield --- are beyond the abilities of the average member of the Arab street to grasp. None of them are evident in the military of his or her country, never mind in any of the political, administrative, legal, financial, or corporate systems he or she might encounter daily. Or for that matter, in the educational systems either. Come to that, few militaries anywhere in the world approach these skills and levels of professional competence and training. There's the US, the British, and the Australian militaries; and the Israeli. And that's essentially it.
All of which, far beyond the abilities of the Arab street to comprehend, is further fodder for conspiratorial explanations, however crackpot and wildly paranoid in nature.
3) Islam: The Historical Link Between Success in War and Faith
This latter point --- how the widespread sense of psychic dislocation in the Arab world, together with a pervasive sense of shame and humiliation about Arab weakness and military failures one after another, has tended to reinforce fundamentalist appeals and paranoid conspiratorial fantasies --- is pivotal, something that needs to be clarified in historical and comparative perspective to grasp its full emotional impact. And to grasp, too --- closely related to it --- the crackling growth of vicious, hate-filled anti-Semitic racism in Arab life since the 1970s and more recently in the wider Muslim world.
The proper comparison here is with Christianity. Historically, ever since Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century, Christianity has been associated with aggressive imperial expansion and rule --- whether in its Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant versions. But observe. Until Constantine's edict, for a good 300 years or so, Christianity was stateless and the faith of the true-believing adherents had nothing to do with political success.
(i.) Islam is markedly different here
From the outset, it emerged as a conquering war-like religion that defeated its enemies everywhere in battle. Within a few years of Mohammed's revelation in the early-mid 7th century, Arab cavalry had charged out of the Saudi desert and overrun all the Christian Levant (Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon), then the Persian Empire to the East, then the Christian populations of Egypt and North Africa, and then --- within six or seven decades --- southern Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Hence the Arabs, from the start, were accustomed to linking the truth of their religion to the political strength and victory in warfare of Islam.
Later, other Islamic forces besides the Arabs underscored this link in the Arab mind.
There were the Tatars, Turkish-Mongolian peoples, who converted to Islam, overran, and ruled the Russians for two or more centuries (1230 until 1480); and of course also the Ottoman Turks, also Muslims, who overran the Byzantine Empire, the Christian Balkans, and of course the Arab peoples themselves. As late as the end of the 17th century, the Ottomans were at the gates of Vienna in Austria, only to be driven back. More to the east, Hindu India was conquered by Turkish-Mongol Muslims too in the early 16th century, and their rule officially lasted --- despite growing British dominance from the early 18th century on --- until 1857 when the British took over formal rule . . . the latter lasting until 1947, when the British Indian Empire then split into Pakistan and India.
Thanks to these impressive military victories and imperial rule over infidels, as we noted earlier and needs to be repeated, Muslims --- especially at the Arab core --- became accustomed in the first several centuries of Islam to associating the truth of Islam as a religion with its political and military triumphs. That is a sharp difference with Christianity in its origins.
(ii.) How did the Arab and other Muslim imperialist expansion succeed?
Easy enough to answer: Exactly like that of the Christian states: by means of the soldier and sailor, the trader, and the missionary, while prevailing in war against inferior militaries.
The difference was that Christian Europe began to modernize rapidly from the 16th century on --- building on earlier achievements after the 11th century while the once impressive Arab civilization in Iberia, North Africa, and the Middle East went into decline in the 12th century --- and by the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, the Europeans along the Atlantic coast had developed national societies, had fostered market economies that were monetarized and had extensive legal protection for property rights, and made big breakthroughs in science and technology --- including major innovations in gunnery and navigation. The last time a Muslim state had expanded militarily was, to repeat, the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna in 1683. After that, it too failed to modernize and was regarded as the sick man of Europe by the 19th century, an apt description, the once conquering Ottomans losing their Christian colonies in Greece, the Balkans, and Bulgaria in that century, and then their Arab possessions in WWI --- thanks to the British, at war with them.
The continued decline of Islam in power and prestige --- and specifically in its Arab core, overrun by European imperialists in the 19th and early 20th century, and then more recently defeated in several wars with miniscule Israel --- has been a further source of shame and humiliation for true-believing Muslim . . . and a further source of magnetic attraction to radical Islamist interpretations. Including, as we saw earlier and will explain more thoroughly in a moment, conspiratorial views of cosmic Jewish dominance. It's the only way for illiterate and poorly educated populations can make sense of this steady decline and, since 1947, the founding year of Israel, the repeated defeat of Arab states and militaries by western modernized ones.
PART III. Arab Cultural Traditions: 1400 Years of Absolutism, Winner-Take-All Politics, and Arbitrary Policymaking Without Popular Participation or Legal Accountability. The Result: Well-Rooted Conspiratorial World-Views .
As a general thing, conspiratorial explanations of the world flourish in 3 sets of circumstances, any one of which may be enough to underpin them as a firm part of traditional culture among the groups or nations or whole civilizations that are jolted by them repeatedly:
1. Political Absolutism: power exercised by autocrats without mass participation, transparency, or accountability.
2. Rapid, dislocating economic and social changes that challenge traditional, taken-for-granted beliefs, mores, and ways of life.
3. Mass illiteracy and poor education, which hem in modern scientific and empirical ways of explaining complex developments and trends --- especially of a disruptive sort --- and encourage primitive mental explanations of them . . . including the automatic resort to scapegoating.
Important in its own right --- any one sufficient to account for rampant conspiratorial thought in societies --- each of these sets of circumstances deserves to be carefully clarified. As it happens, all three combine to foster such thought and related scapegoating in Arab societies.
1. Arbitrary political power exercised for long periods of time over the people in question, with no role whatsoever for mass participation of any sort, whether democratic or not.
That has been the case of the Arab-speaking peoples for 1400 years now, ever since the expansion of the Arab empire and the construction of various rulers in the far-flung areas the various conquering Arab armies came to dominate and control. Power was absolute; potentates wielding it enjoyed a total monopoly, with no active dissent permitted, let alone effective participation beyond simple tribal levels; policies and laws were strictly top-down, fashioned and applied by remote kings, princes, sultans, and emperors --- whether Arab, Berber, Ottoman, or European --- whose decisions seemed arbitrary and always unchallengeable; transfers of power, when they occurred, were through family-clans or violent cabals of challengers; even when there were no challengers, the contending sons of a dead potentate were usually caught up in secretive palace coups against one another; for the losers, the outcome was death or exile. Nothing else changed in the nature of power or the wielding of it for these 14 centuries, save the ethnicity or family-clam of the power-holders themselves.
Take the Ottoman Empire, which came to conquer the Arabs in the 15th and 16th century and ruled directly or at times indirectly through local elite clans, like the Mamelukes in Egypt. When the conquest was finished, the exercise of political power by the Ottomans or their local agents seemed even more distant and remote --- even more mysterious and despotic. There was no sense of participation whatever. Save occasionally in minority Shiite legal traditions and very infrequent challenges to power-wielders --- even more infrequent was a successful challenge --- power in the Arab world after Ottoman triumph was even more despotic, absolute, and beyond any legal limits or accountability. The absolutism extended to property rights. Higher-ups in the Ottoman empire anywhere could and did seize property and other forms of private wealth at will or taxed it at any levels they so pleased to do.
Ottoman rule lasted over the Arabs for roughly 4 centuries. Beginning to recede in the late 19th century in North Africa, it didn't disappear until WWI and the British-inspired Arab-rebellion in the Levant, the heart of the Middle East. In North Africa, by then, European colonial powers had become dominant everywhere; France, Italy, and Spain outrightly absorbed the local Arab societies there as formal colonies; in Egypt, never a formal colonly, Britain exercised political and military domiance from the 1880s until 1945. With the end of WWI and the Ottoman collapse, British and French rule then extended swiftly to all of the Middle East --- the Levant (and non-Arab Iran) --- again in direct or disguised ways. The boundaries of all the new Arab countries that emerged there were arbitrarily decided by the British Colonial Office, its French equivalent, and in deals between Paris and London. Similarly, it was the British and the French who decided which rulers to set up on the throne or, in the Lebanese case, the presidency and parliament. In Iraq, for instance, a country of overwhelmingly Shiite Muslims and Kurds found itself suddenly ruled by a Saudi clan of Sunni orientation.
No sooner did the colonial empires of the Ottomans and later European rulers collapse than local despots took control everywhere in the 22 Arab countries. Their power-wielding, whether initially by Arab monarchs and sheiks, or eventually from the mid-1960s on by military dictators who shot their way to power, was no less distant, tyrannical, and monopolistic: if anything, more so than in the period of European rule.
Two Results Follow
result of this new form of militarized autocracy and tribal-clan rule in the Arab world since 1950?
Everywhere in Arab countries, a cult of leadership-worship was instituted, and secret police rule was pervasive too, especially after the end of the 1960s. In practice, it varies only in the degree of brutality and the numbers of secret-police murders, political prisoners, and the kinds of torture and intimidation each national secret police prefers.
In countries like Syria and Iraq, to get down to cases, Baathist parties --- modeled after the European fascist and Nazi parties, themselves dominated by a tribal-clan and an allegedly heroic cult-leader, Assad in Syria and Saddam Hussein in Iraq --- imposed a form of vicious totalitarian rule that exceeded what Mussolini was ever able to enjoy in Italy itself. In Egypt, three dictators --- Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak --- succeeded the monarchy, overthrown by Colonel Nasser in a military coup in the early 1950s. Mubarak came to power after Sadat, who made peace with Israel, was killed in the early 1980s by Islamist fanatics; he has been in power now for over two decades, has intensified repression and secret police rule, and is grooming a son to succeed him in typical despotic fashion. Colonel Khadaffi, who would be certified and put away in the West to be treated life-long in a mental hospital, has been in power now for almost four decades. In Algeria, the French were no sooner defeated in an anti-colonial war than the revolutionary leaders fell out, established a joint dictatorship, jailed one another, then started a brutal decade-long war with fanatical homicidal-maniacs of a fundamentalist sort. The Sudan, ruled by a vicious military group that shot its way to power in the 1980s, has been waging ever since a genocidal war against the non-Arabic tropical Africans in the south, whether Christian or animist. Mauritania, a former Spanish colony, practices widespread slavery, as does the Sudan.
There's a second
When politics --- and not just it, but also, the modern media, banks and stock markets, corporate business, and the legal, military, and police systems --- are all under arbitrary, tyrannical rule, then winner-take-all politics and power monopolies become all the more entrenched. In the upshot, they can only be challenged by conspiratorial
groups forming secretly like many of the fundamentalists earlier in the 1970s and 1980s (sometimes earlier than that), or to go back to the 1950s and 1960s, by cabals of colonels and major killing Arab kings and princes and seizing power in coups, or earlier than that by anti-colonial struggles in some of the European colonies or, further back in time, one palace intrigue after another among contending Arab or Ottoman-backed family clans, clan members, and various armed supporters for 14 centuries. In effect, conspiratorial outlooks and practices are the only way that the masses of people or discordant elite families or tribal-clans who want more of the loot and power have to make sense of political power, decision-making, and political practices.
Who, in short, supposedly gains from the secretive and arbitrary decisions or the latest coup or palace upheaval?
2. People's traditional mental world --- anchored in long-standing, taken-for-granted cultural traditions, almost always religious until modern secularism and political ideologies emerged in Europe and its offshoots in the 18th and 19th centuries --- is suddenly and repeatedly jolted by rapid economic and social changes.
If they're sustained long enough, these jarring changes will increasingly challenge the hand-me-down beliefs, values, and practices that traditional societies once accepted as enduringly true. Traditionally, in noticeably religious societies, anyone who dares to defy the accepted world-view and its dogmas and practices will be quickly branded an apostate or heretic. The fate of heretics and apostates is well known. Threats to true-believers and righteous behavior, they will be forced either to renounce their defiance or face torture and death. And if the heresy --- as with the Albigensens in the 12th and 13th century France --- spreads into a mass region-based movement, then war by the orthodox defenders of the status quo will be declared on it and its members slaughtered without mercy.
Fast forward now from medieval France to contemporary Arab life.
For decades now, globalizing forces --- especially the intrusive mass media of TV, movies, music, and more recently the Internet --- have jolted and dislocated the traditional underpinnings of Arab societies, including the once secure beliefs in Islam's truth and superiority as a religion and way of life. Globalization, of course, is not new. It stretches back for centuries, to the period of the Reformation and Renaissance in Europe and European imperial expansion after 1492. In the Arab world, these psychological upheavals have rippled through their societies with increasing force the last 40 years . . . precisely at a time of growing disenchantment and frustration: with Israeli military triumphs, economic stagnation or outright failure, the squandering of oil money on luxuries in the petroleum rich countries on the part of the corrupt, nepotistic rulers and their clans and non-clan cronies, growing unemployment, and a population explosion.
Note quickly, though, the need for some comparative perspective here.
Even in Europe, it has to be stressed, the modernizing transformation of traditional medieval societies did not emerge smoothly and incrementally. Centralized states, industrialization, urban growth, new social classes and wealth-making --- not to mention the spread of modern capitalism, secularism, and nationalism: in short, almost all of what we associate with modernity --- repeatedly provoked repeated religious backlashes and clerical and anti-clerical struggles, not to mention a century of mutual slaughter between Catholics and Protestants. In all the Catholic areas, the Inquisition murdered distinguished scientists and scholars whose faith in modern knowledge frightened Popes, Arch-bishops, clerics, and monarchs; and those they didn't burn at the stake, they condemned like Galileo, or tortured as in Spain or Portugal, or forced them and minorities like Jews into exile.
Nor was that all.
Over time, these modernizing forces and the upheavals they provoked engendered new, rapidly spreading class conflicts between aristocrats, middle classes, and working classes; recurring regional battles and civil war against centralizing monarchs; and starting with the French Revolution in 1789, brutal and violent nationalist struggles and warfare that lasted 160 years. Something else. From 1600 on, as the reference to the French Revolution reminds us, almost all of Europe also experienced three and a half centuries of revolutions, counter-revolutions, and eventually clashing struggles between the extremist ideologies of the far right and far left: revolutionary socialism, communism, anacho-synidcalism, reactionary conservatism, and fascisms of various sorts. In the 17th century, it's worth remembering, even England was jolted by religious and class-based civil warfare for decades, the beheading of one king, the forced exodus of another, and a Puritan dictatorship under Cromwell . . . to say nothing of the savage violence that the English and Scottish immigrants inflicted on Catholics of Ireland in that century and the next. So even Europe has hardly adapted in the last five centuries to modernizing and globalizing forces without repeated upheavals.
Since 1918 or so, it has now been the turn of much of the rest of the world to experience these upheavals and the psychic conflicts and struggle associated with globalizing modernity.
Note another point swiftly.
By now, almost all of Pacific Asia and Hindu India and eventually almost all of Latin America have dealt effectively with these globalizing upheavals and conflicts. They have modernized; they have become overwhelmingly democratic; and --- with variants across countries --- they have seen a steady increase in the standard of living, the decline of poverty, and a noticeable increase in longevity and literacy. Not so the Muslim world, save Turkey and Malaysia.
The contrast between Pakistan and India is strikingly instructive here. In 1947, when the British quit the Indian sub-continent and the empire split into Pakistan and India, Pakistan was no worse off than India, and in some respects better off. Since then, India has created a flourishing democracy, enjoyed impressive economic growth --- especially since the government shook off the incoherent state planning system --- built an enviable high-tech web of advanced electronics industries, and isn't far behind Communist China in its prospects of future growth. And Pakistan? In startling contrast, it has fallen into military dictatorship, failed to promote an effective national identity among its four major Muslim ethnicities, stagnated economically, has no advanced high-tech industries, and is one of the poorest countries in Asia. Fifty-four percent of the population remains illiterate. In India, the corresponding figure is 40.5%. Small wonder that radical fundamentalisms flourish in Pakistan, along with kill-crazy terrorist networks that bomb and machine gun Christian churches, assassinate foreign aid workers, and kidnap and slit the throats of Western journalists on videotape.
As for the 22 Arab countries, all of them to one degree or another have been noticeable laggards or outright failures politically and economically too, none of them developing a modern industrial base, let alone any high-tech sectors . . . and for that matter, all of them generally resistant to modern knowledge, science, and technology. This, observe quickly, is hardly a controversial judgment. Nobody has put if better, or produced more evidence as an underpinning, than the impressive Arab scholars and specialists who produced the two most recent UN Arab Human Development Reports
, 2002 and now 2003
The predictable outcome in Arab life?
In such circumstances of repeated upheavals and mental tumult, together with the home-grown failures of the 22 Arab countries (which vary somewhat from one to another), what will likely happen?
That's fairly easy to spell out. Sooner or later, even if dormant for long periods of times --- decades or generations --- reactive religion of a raw fundamentalist sort will resuscitate itself, along with new, updated conspiratorial theories about modernity and its dislocating challenges and threats. Their appeal will radiate quickly. No surprise really. Full of frustrations and resentment, large numbers of people who are bewildered by complex economic and technological forces they don't understand --- and who find the current world around them topsy-turvy, a source of cultural disarray and social and personal distress --- will quickly grasp at comfortable, easily recognized reassertions of traditional dogma and outlooks . . . including webs of conspiratorial fantasies, however absurd and preposterous. Again, no surprise. They're the only way to make sense of a world coming apart that confused and unhappy people can't otherwise understand.
Something else too.
If widespread illiteracy and dysfunctional educational systems at all levels happen to prevail in these culturally unhinged societies, then the appeal of extremist interpretations, however wild and crackpot they will seem to outsiders, will pulsate with even more fervent energy for the hapless masses in mental disarray. University students, note, are no exception. Their formal education is no barrier to succumbing to extravagantly preposterous world-views . . . doubly so if, like most graduates or university students in the Arab world, they face unemployment, or find social advancement blocked by crony networks they aren't members of, or have no future prospects save in intrigues and conspiratorial agitation. In such dismal circumstances, their education has made them raw misfits. The more they face unemployment and blocked social advancement, the swifter has been their stampeding conversion to fundamentalism and extremist world views The upshot? Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, university students and graduates are among the fastest growing converts to radical Islam --- their vocally frenetic mouthpieces and shock troops, including the 17 Arab terrorists who attacked New York city and Washington D.C. in September 2001.
Again, this isn't unique. A similar conversion to fanatical Fascism, Nazism, and Communism was rife among university students and jobless intellectuals in interwar Europe, outside Scandinavia, Holland, Switzerland, and Britain. Even before Hitler came to power, Nazi groups had captured the German student movement in open elections. Earlier, in Tsarist Russia, alienated misfit intellectuals led the Communist Party and instrumented the Russian revolution of 1917. Similarly abroad. The members of Communist Parties in West Europe after WWII were overwhelmingly journalists, other media types, school teachers, professors, and media-celeberated writers, artists, and film-makers.
Back to the Arab world.
No less important is another dramatic inducement to the snowballing embrace of raw, primitively nutbin world-views by the Arabs, masses and university types alike: the total absence of open, freely expressed democratic dialogue in the 21 Arab countries besides Iraq today. At this point, powerful traditions anchored in 1400 years of Arab cultural and political life --- hidden forces all around, almost all political succession and change among the autocratic rulers carried out in secretive, violent ways among small cabals of autocratic rulers or their challengers for the length of those 14 centuries --- come into play. The outcome? Among mentally confused peoples --- their world gone haywire, backwardness, autocracy, secret-police rule, flagrant conspicuous luxury among the rich, the cult of leadership-worship, crony networks blocking all social advancement for anyone else, however qualified, not to mention systematic discrimination against women everywhere (the degree varying somewhat) ---the rush to dark paranoid intepretations to explain why things are so bewildering and full of raw frustration has turned out to be doubly charged with hyperkinetic energy: for individuals, for their families and family-clans, for whole tribal groups (often near armed conflict with one another), and at times for growing majorities in all the Arab world, however otherwise fragmented the national communities themselves happen to be.
3. Conspiratorial paranoid cosmic views will flourish further when people are illiterate, semi-literate, or poorly educated, and the remote arbitrary powers that be control all the modern media and manipulate it for their own purposes. /span>
Secret-police rule and pervasive censorship, of course, ensure such control. But observe swiftly. Crackling hate-filled paranoia can rapidly attract large numbers of people --- the masses as well as the educated elite --- and flourish even in educated societies: witness the Germans and the Italians who embraced zealously Nazism and fascism after WWI. Still, the general point here needs to be underscored. When the vast majority of people in a society are essentially ignorant or poorly educated or even illiterate, they will be especially prone to such conspiracy-mongering as a way to make sense of their misery, frustrations, and mental disarray.
The extent to which this set of circumstances --- together with the first three --- prevails in the 22 Arab countries should be sufficiently self-evident by now to need no further clarification.
TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT TWO ARTICLES, ALL THREE FORMING A COHERENT MINI-SERIES ON ARAB AND WIDER ISLAMIC JEW-HATRED AND RACISM