There are 300,000 Muslims living in Australia, a democratic country of 20 million people and a good friend and ally of the US for decades now. The head of that Muslim community there, a Sheik Taj el-Din Al Hilaly, recently gave a speech in Lebanon where he vented a massive flow, in full-throated manner, of paranoid, boiling-hot hatred, praising terrorist jihad and demanding that Arab men follow their example and carry out similar mass-murdering assaults against Islam's enemies: the US and . . . well, you can guess the rest.
Part I: Introductory Comments
Why Did the Sheik Disgorge His Non-stop Malice and Calls
Obviously, first and foremost, because the crackling hatred in the speech corresponds to his deepest beliefs. And apparently, no less important, because --- knowing he was in a despotic Arab country --- the Sheik thought that the international media wouldn't pick up and broadcast his raging, hysterical vitriol and calls for further terrorism against the extremist fundamentalist's favorite targets: all those fantasized culprits --- conspiratorial and full of malevolence, string-pulling behind the scenes --- who are held reponsible for the Arab people's problems and psychic dislocations . . . the failed states in which they live, the omnipresent dictators, the pervasive secret police, and the economic backwardness of the entire Middle East outside Israel; not to forget, to complete the list of grievances and resentments, rampant unemployment, mass illiteracy, and the plunge in power and prestige of Islamic and Arab countries on the world scene for centuries now. In the upshot? The GDP of the 300 million Arab peoples across 22 countries totaling less than that of Spain, whose population is a mere 40 million . . . Spain itself one of the poorer members of the EU, a backward country as late as the 1950s.
Not that the Sheik's message is new. Far from it, his rant vented a fairly common paranoia of a kill-crazy Islamist sort. Islam, on this widely held view, was once purified and glorious and ruled the world; it should still do so; it doesn't, it's been repeatedly humiliated and left weak and backward, and it ought to be quickly and decisively returned to the world's center, purified anew and amid even greater glory and the reign of rigorous Islamic law, the Sharia. Globally; everywhere; no exceptions. The major way to achieve this? By mass-murdering jihad attacks, over and again, on Islam's diabolic foreign foes and --- the message more careful here, given the pervasive secret-police in the 21 Arab countries (minus Iraq now) --- their impure, traitorous puppets in power all over the Arab world.
So no; nothing really new, and nothing unpredictable --- only the ventilated rage of a paranoid dingbat-bigot in religious garb.
It's not even the first time the Sheik's said something murderoulsy flippo like this: witness another speech referred to later on here where he indulged, obsessively, in no less predictable Nazi-like Jew-hatred. But note. One thing did differ this time. At odds no doubt with the Sheik's expectations, the international media listened in and quickly transmitted his crackling vitriol and kill-loving animus around the world. That was not supposed to happen. It's a big no no. Australia, where the Sheik lives in an impressive democracy, suffered several hundred casualties in an Islamist terrorist attack in Bali less than two years ago . . . a percentage of deaths for its 19 million people equal to the 3000 deaths in the US on 9/11. Not to worry though, Australians. Back in your country, the glib PR-types who work for the Mufti have been busy reassuring his fellow citizens, with unctuous loads of suave-slick pommade, that there's no need to alarmed or even concerned; no no, it's all poetry and rhetoric taken out of context, it has to be understood in proper perspective, it's really a message of disguised love for the Sheik's fellow man, etc. etc. See September 11th Is God's Work
What Follows? Two Things
First, and very briefly, for an astute, scholarly treatment of Islamism and radical Islamist fundamentalism, see Martin Kramer, The Middle East Quarterly.
And on the hostility of Islamist fundamentalism to any effective democratic development in Muslim countries, see Kramer again, Islam vs. Democracy.
Second, and more to the point, the lengthy buggy comments that ensue here divide into a two-article mini-series. Unfurled at a fairly fast pace, but with care for the kinds and quality of the evidence that supports them, these comments seek to provide some essential background perspective on the Mufti's hot-wire hatreds and ranting urges for mass-murdering revenge. Remember, the frazzled moon-beam rants aren't idiosyncratic. They are widely subscribed to in fundamentalist Islamist circles; no less important, the Sheik's paranoid style and many of his nutbin beliefs about the causes of Arab economic backwardness and other problems are rife in the so-called Arab street, part of popular Arab culture that is also vented in much of the Arab media. The evidence here? We'll deliver it in a few moments.
Meanwhile, note in passing that second article in this series, already done, will be published later today or tomorrow after its formatted for HTML Internet use. Then, slightly later, we'll complete our other mini-series hanging fire on the new US initiative, revolutionary in its sweeping vision and scope, to exert continued external pressure on the Arab dictatorships and clerical-fascist Iran to democratize and open up to the modern world more effectively.
Part II. The Wider Background of the Mufti's Murderous Extremism and Wild Hate-Filled Malice
Fundamentalist Islam and Its Paranoid Conspiratorial
World-View, Full of Hot-Wire Spite
and Urges for Revenge
As earlier buggy articles have noted, the US Muslim community --- 2-3 million in number, according to two independent academic studies that came out in 2001 --- is generally well-educated and has a higher income on an average than the US average. There are few if any signs of real alienation in that community. Most are overwhelmingly moderate and from Asia, where --- until the eruption of fundamentalist extremism of the radical Islamist sort after 1980 in Pakistan and India and now apparently in parts of Bangladesh and Indonesia --- Islam was notable for its easy-going tolerance toward others and the application of any Muslim laws (the Sharia).
The same, by the way, was true until recently of Islam in Tropical Africa, where nowadays, as extremism spreads in the Islamic communities as in Northern Nigeria, terrorist incidents, assaults on Christian communities, massacres of Christians hauled off the streets and killed during rampaging riots, are now at work . . . along with a demand that the Sharia be applied to even the large Christian communities there.
It's also worth reminding Americans and others, with little knowledge here, that most Arab-Americans are Christians who have been in this country for generations. If there is any threat to the plural, democratic, open nature of secular American life from Islam here, it is found only in a few mosques and cultural centers sponsored by lavish Saudi oil-money . . . the Mafioso-gangster royals back in Saudi Arabia, 4000 in numbers --- who have among other things been exporting Wahhabi paranoia, hatred of women, hatred of gays, hatred of Jews, hatred of Christians and Hindus, and hatred of democratic secularism --- pushing similar hate-filled extremism in those mosques and cultural centers. One of them, in New Jersey, was where Islamist terrorists tried to blow up the World Trade Center in the early 1990s. Its head, also a Sheik, is now serving a lifetime sentence in prison here.
One quick qualification to what was just said.
Saudi bribery with oil-money, trillions of dollars worth in contemporary dollar-terms squandered by the 4000 Mafioso-royalist thugs in charge of the country, hasn't been limited to promoting extremism and fundamentalist messages through mosques and cultural centers. It has also gone lavishly to creating and supporting Middle East Institutes at US universities, most of them publishing defensive apologies for Islamic fundamentalism, none
of them with scholars who anticipated anything like 9/11's attacks, and none of them able, even two years or more after the attacks, to come up with anything worthy of scholarly analysis of Arab and wider Islamist terrorism. Believe it or not, a good year after the attacks, only 3 papers of nearly a 1000 read at the establishment Middle East Studies Association's annual conference dealt with terrorism, and even then obliquely and defensively. See gordon-newspost
. The frivolity, head-in-the-sand attitude that dominated Middle East Studies establishment types couldn't have been more blatantly on display.
Was it any better at the 2003 Middle East Studies Association conference?
Well, in the year-long interval, the president of MESA had said that making the study of terrorism ought to be a priority of Middle East scholars here, but no such luck --- no evidence of it on display in 2003 either. " Of nearly three hundred papers, panels, and presentations over a four-day conference, the words "terror", "terrorist," "terrorism," "attack," and "suicide bombing" do not appear once. In contrast, eight papers discuss "American Orientalism," an allusion to the late Edward Said's theory of a racist West that is incapable of understanding the Middle East. The nine papers on women in the Middle East somehow manage to avoid the topics of "honor" killings or female circumcision." See Middle East Forum.
And It Gets Worse.
Some of these Saudi-created Institutes are little more, it appears, than propaganda sites, publishing racist, paranoid tracts, directly or through re-transmission of the Nazi-like Jew-hatred that you find rife in the Arab street and Arab media.
That was the case, alas, of the UCSB MIddle East Studies Center not long ago (2002). It's the same Center that a couple of years earlier sponsored an international symposium on how Islam should be taught in our school system. Its participants paid for by the Center? A Pakistani-born Englishman who edits the arch-radical New Left Review (who has recently praised the "resistors" to US, UK, and other peace-keeping forces in Iraq and urged more killing of Americans); another Pakistani, a novelist, whose qualification appears to have been that she hates the US and blamed us for the 9/11 attacks; the guru of cultural studies who lied systematically about his background; and a British journalist so notoriously ideological and lopsided in his analysis of the Middle East and US foreign policy that his name, Fisk, has spawned a whole new word for egregiously bad journalism in need of a "Fisking" to make sense of it.
Since then, thanks to a vigilant media and the efforts of some good citizens and members of the UCSB community, those days are now in the past, and the Center here on our campus is actually beginning to resemble a scholarly place.
Part III: Back in the Arab World: The Eruption and Spread of Malice-Charged Fundamentalism
For that matter, until the 1970s, extremist fundamentalism of the radical Islamist sort --- with its notions of purified Islam, a rigorous application of Islamic law (there are actually four legal traditions in Islam, some say a five), a conspiratorial hatred of alleged cabals out to destroy Islam (always Jews, Israel, the US, or at times the West, and in Asia Hindus), and support for terrorism --- hardly attracted much following in the Arab countries. What explains the surging growth of various fundamentalist movements and ideologies all over the Arab world then?
The answer is obvious: It's the rampant failure of states, the gangster dictatorships with their winner-take-all politics, economic backwardness, massive unemployment amid demographic explosions, rampant clientelism with economic and social advancement dependent on getting into the right Mafioso-like networks (never mind political power), and illiteracy that, combined, lead to a sense of rage, alienation, psychic dislocations, and yearning for revenge against the foes supposedly responsible for all these problems. No legitimate opposition to the existing corrupt dictators exists; none can; any will be ruthlessly repressed, killed off, or forced into exile.
The Only Opposition Permitted, With a Twist
The upshot? The only "opposition" in the Arab world that's permitted --- in all 22 countries whose governmental systems all rest ultimately on secret-police rule on behalf of small cadres of elites and their tribal-clan clientele systems --- is the various fundamentalist movements, but with an sharp, brain-splintering twist that they either understand and adhere to or else.
That twist? Easily laid out. Foreign devils have to be singled out and opposed, no one else. Scapegoating is fine, even encouraged. It serves the purposes of the entrenched dictators and their self-enriching followers.
More specifically, to expain briefly in shorthand terms, all fundamentalist agitation in the 22 Arab dictatorships has to be carefully reoriented and focused outward, on the diabolical enemies of Islam abroad --- secretive, conspiratorial, run by world Jewry and Israel and the US in the hands of Jews or heathens or both --- and not one whit of it toward the dictators and their gangster regimes and corruption. The ruling elites aren't and can't be directly challenged at all. They're too powerful and frightening a foe. Over and again --- as we'll see in full documented manner in a few moments --- any fundamentalist movement and terrorist groups that ignore the clear limits on their psychic rage and opposition and have dared challenge the dictators in the Arab world have been ruthlessly hunted down, tortured, and killed by the secret police and security forces in those 22 dictatorships. On all this, see Martin Kramer once more: What You Should Know About Muslim Politics and Society.
Part IVI: Why Scapegoating and The Paranoid Conspiratorial Style Flourish in the Arab World
Given this record of political dictatorship, repression, and psychic dislocations in the Arab world, who then are the scapegoats of choice that the fundamentalists singled out and attacked even in the state-run media, an escape valve for the dangerous build-up of home-grown pressures and resentment? The answer is obvious. The mufti of Australia singles some of them out in his ranting assault: always world Jewry, Israel, and the US, almost always too the West, and Hindu India and , heathens everywhere, all plotting schemers striving to humiliate and destroy Islam and perpetuate the backwardness of the Arab core. The Australian Mufti who gave the speech linked to at the start here has been engaged in Jew-hatred and Jew-baiting for years now. According to an Australian MP, he called
'"Jews "the underlying cause of all wars" and of trying to control the world "through sex, then sexual perversion, then the promotion of espionage, traitory and economic hoarding."
None of this is new, let alone controversial, about who the scapegoated enemies of the true-believing fanatics are. The controversy lies elsewhere: why does such a lunatic conspiratorial style find so many adherents in the Arab world and elsewhere in Islam?
We'll try in a few moments to gauge the actual extent of fundamentalist followings in the Arab world. For the time being, focus your attention on the roots of the paranoid outlook. As it happens, it has a long pedigree in the Arab world and can be explained historically and with some references to contemporary trends. Above all, it flourishes . . .
- Partly because a conspiratorial understanding of power-wielding and winner-take-all-politics is rife in the Arab world, where any traditions of transparency, accountability, and democratic power-sharing are totally absent above the tribal level over the last 1400 years.
- Partly because Ottoman rule after 1500 for several centuries over the Arabs, joined later by the European imperialists, reinforced this paranoid conspiratorial understanding of the world. The power-wielders were even more remote and alien, even more closed-off to mass view and understanding.
- Partly also because the rife illiteracy among the 300 million Arab people --- the worst in the world --- reinforces the tendency of the masses and credulous educated types to swallow whole the extremist style of seeing and understanding their troubles and political and economic failures.
Other Relevant Theocratic and Politically Charged Beliefs
- And partly, too, because of the Arab dictators thorough-going censorship of their media, which allows only the propaganda or news to be vented that the secret-police censors approve of. There is some variation here across countries, worse say in Saudi Arabia than in Jordan or Beirut now; it's still universal in the Arab countries save in post-Saddamite Iraq, where a vigorous new media, hundreds of free newspapers, now flourish. Ditto TV and radio.
- The belief that Islam once dominated the world --- never true to begin with, but at least capturing parts of Islamic history as the Arabs swept over and conquered Christian lands in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Europe (not to forget the conquest of Persia by the Arabs, and later the conquests of the Byzantine Empire by the Ottoman Turks, or the conquest of Hindu India by the Muslim Turkish-Moguls in the 16th century, or the earlier conquest of Christian Russia by the Muslim Tatars) --- and the conviction that Islam should dominate it again also pulsates strongly among the true-believing extremists and aggravates a militant, paranoid view of the outside world.
Islam, on this view, should be purified and returned to its healthy, pious nature of the sort that once reigned over the globe. All western and Christian and Hindu and other influences should be thoroughly purged. Compromises with the modern world are a sign of heathen influence or heresy. The modern world represents --- as Jews did in Nazi imagery --- a complex of disease-ridden poisons and pollution that undermined the healthy vibrant Islam of yore and must therefore be combated, uprooted, and destroyed by heroic jihad assaults. And as with Nazi jubilation at the news their evil enemies were being killed off by the millions in factory-like extermination-centers, a German specially developed after it turned out that slaughtering Jewish men, women, and children with bullets or poison-gas in mobile trucks was too slow and costly, so the news that Americans and Jews or Hindus are being killed is greeted with jubilation and dancing in most fundamentalist circles and the wider Arab street.
Part V: The Degree of Fundamentalist Support in the Arab World and Elsewhere
Problems With the Evidence
From the outset, it has to be stressed we have no hard data here. There are some alternative proxy sources, but direct measures of fundamentalist support in the Arab countries --- which would require systematic, academically informed opinion polls on an ongoing basis --- do not exist and won't . . . not as long as the Arab dictators and their secret-police find that such information isn't in their interest to be made public. What then are the alternative sources?
- The only fairly direct poll data we have --- carried out by the Saudi dictatorship and supposed to be kept secret, only to be leaked to the world press (no doubt with lots of bribes passed) --- occurred soon after 9/11's terrorism. What the survey found was startling: 95% of Saudi men between the ages of 20 and 39 were elated when they found out that 9/11's massacres had occurred and admired bin Laden as a great defender of Islam and Arab honor.
Not that you're supposed to admit that Muslims carried out the terrorist attacks here. No. That would be playing into the hands of powerful enemies abroad who want to attack, humiliate, or destroy Islam and the Arab peoples . . . or so goes fundamentalist thinking, rife in the so-called Arab street.
- According to a Gallup poll taken in 9 Arab countries in early 2002, months after the 9/11 mass-murders, found that 60% of the respondents denied that Muslims had been involved. Obviously, it was then the conspiratorial enemies of Islam, dominating the US and plotting to humiliate the Arabs, who were responsible. See this link.
- A poll carried out in Egypt in September 2002, a year after the 9/11 terrorism, found more or less the same thing.
- When, finally, free elections are allowed --- as briefly in the early 1990s in military-ruled Algeria or more recently in France where French Muslims and Muslim immigrants were allowed to vote for a new national council with official status --- fundamentalists get about 45% of the vote. Agreed: not firm data. Algeria's election was annulled when the fundamentalists won, and a prolonged blood-bath on both sides --- dictatorial repression, enraged kill-crazy terrorists --- followed over the next decade. And France has a free media (outside the state-controlled TV and radio), and there is almost certainly a generation gap between older, more assimilated Muslims there and the newer, more alienated and angry generations. The trouble is, the data the French government published showed no breakdown of the voting here, and of course young teen-agers and adolescents couldn't vote anyway.
For what it's worth, though, 53% of French Muslims opposed the government's banning of headscarves and other religious symbols that was just adopted as law --- or so poll data showed. Interestingly, 49% of young Muslim girls favored the law as opposed to 43% who favored it. That vindicates the French government's view that girls living in fundamentalist-rife communities will be under pressure and intimidation to adhere to the extremists' views of proper behavior and outward sides of conformity.
Against this background, it's worth noting that 50% of the 300 million Arabs are under the age of 15. There will be 500 million of them in twenty years or so. If younger Arabs are more attracted to fundamentalist extremism, then the challenges facing the US and its allies are likely to be even greater. All the more reason, then, to support the Bush administration's turnabout in long-standing US foreign policy and --- starting with Iraq --- and its commitment to push heavily for democratic changes in the Arab dictatorships.
TO BE CONTINUED IN THE 2nd OF THE TWO-ARTICLE SERIES