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Friday, March 5, 2004
THE MUFTI, THE WAR ON TERRORISM, AND ISLAMIST RADICALISM #3 of 3 Articles
To follow the argument unfolded here --- the 3rd and final installment in a three-part mini-series on the rapid spread of both radical Islamist fundamentalism and the use of a conspiratorial paranoid style in the Arab world --- you need to have read the previous two installments or at least to have run your eye over them. At a minimum, glance over the 2nd article in the series. It sets out a lengthy introductory section that simultaneously summarized the initial article in the series and foreshadowed in broad outline the argument and analysis that were then uncoiled at length.
The current article picks up the various threads of the argument left hanging loose at the end of the 2nd installment and ties them together to complete the lengthy mini-series discussion. By the time you finish it, you should have a good working idea of two related and pivotal developments in Arab life the last three decades or so: the multiple shaping causes behind . . .
- The bursting appeals of radical Islamist extremism in the 22 Arab countries, with some variation across them (though not much) to psychically unhinged people, some 300 million in number living in failed states and backward economies who are full of bewilderment, rage, and resentments and simultaneously --- as an added source of distress ---are swept up in a demographic explosion, the worst in the world . . . half of the 300 million Arabs less than 15 years of age;
- And the pervasive use of a mental style full of extravagantly fantasized paranoid projections onto scapegoated foreign devils --- Jews, the US, Israel, and now and then the West or Hindu India --- to make sense of the swarming host of the Arab dictators' home-grown failures and fiascoes on one side and, on the other side, an almost uninterrupted stream of Arab setbacks, military defeats, and declining influence and prestige abroad for generations now; or longer.
The analysis here resumes the organizational scheme that began with the initial two article-installments, a series of major parts --- six of them completed up to now --- starts off with Part VII.
Part VII: The Crucial Role of the Arab Media and the Arab Dictators
The Double-Dealing Game of Demagogues
If Islamist fundamentalism has spread in the Arab world for the various reasons just mentioned, the contrived double-dealing game played by dictators and their secret police has been indispensable. In particular, for their own cunning purposes with some variation across the 22 Arab regimes, they have encouraged the rapidly growing fundamentalist movements to reorient their rage and hot-wire urges away from any home-grown failures and toward outward conspiratorial causes: the diabolical enemies abroad, Jews and Israel and the US and the Christian West and Hindus, that in its core cabal, world Jewry, control and manipulate the world for power-grabbing reasons. Its this nefarious set of conspiracies, fundamentalists argue not just in mosques or on the Arab street but in Arab TV, newspapers, and radio, that explains Islam's humiliation, its backwardness, its declining military and political power, and all other ills. The enemies are there; you only have to look and see them.
The Demagogic Use of Fundamentalist Rage
To repeat: all these regimes have allowed fundamentalists to have lavish access to their secret-police controlled media for that purpose, the Saudis the worst --- while they use their big oil revenue to push extremist Wahhabi Islam everywhere in the world, including in Australia (see the link below) --- but all the regimes elsewhere included. The same is true of clerical-fascist Iran, with its Shia versions and outright haven and energetic support for Islamo-fascist terrorisms. And in the last few years of his reign, Saddam Hussein began letting fundamentalist rants be vented in his media too.
Similar fundamentalist upsurges in Islam are visible throughout West Europe as we've seen, but also --- again, witness the article linked to about the head of Australia's 300,000 Muslims --- in Canada and Australia and the Philippines now. Remember: the fanatical Sheik who sees God's work on display in the 9/11 massacres of 3000 American residents ---well-planned, the number could have been 10 times that easily --- is a resident or citizen of a country where several hundred citizens, doing nothing more than visiting Bali (an island in Indonesia) were killed in terrorist bombing. Presumably, the Sheik doesn't identify with his fellow Australians. Heathens, they no doubt deserved to be killed, like their American counterparts on 9/11 in New York or in Washington D.C.
The Need To Focus on Foreign Devils Further Documented
The double-dealing Arab dictators who have allowed this hate-filled extremism to flourish in their countries as a diversionary tactic, among other things, have oppositely destroyed any fundamentalist movement that challenges their own authority: Syria (where the Baathist party dictatorship, fascist in nature ---- Mussolini's fascism and Hitler's Nazism the intellectual inspirations to the Iraqi and Syria Baathist pioneers in the interwar period --- massacred tens of thousands of men, women, and children in Hama in 1983 after a few Baathist officials were killed by fundamentalist extremists), Egypt, Iraq under Saddam, and Algeria have been the most brutal in dealing with them, but all of the dictatorial regimes have cracked down on any local challenges. Back in 1970, the Jordanian regime put down a Palestinian uprising encouraged by the PLO Arafat leadership, and tens of thousands of them were killed, with the PLO then making haste to relocate in Lebanon.
There it became involved in the blood-bathed civil war in that country, which pitched Christian and Sunni and Shiite and PLO militias against one another for years.
Part VIII: The Scope of Fundamentalist Appeal: Some Estimates Once More
Remember here, a secret Saudi survey of men in that country between 20 and 39 years of age immediately after 9/11 --- leaked to the western press, no doubt with plenty of bribes passed --- found that 95% of them regarded bin Laden as a heroic defender of Islam and its honor and power.
We noted here, in that part of the previous article --- when we tried to estimate the extent of radical Islamist support in the Middle East --- that there aren't other opinion surveys to draw on. Small wonder. They're not in the interest of the repressive dictators to let pollsters probe public sentiment that way, let alone make it public. We did note that if no hard evidence exists, the Saudi survey just mentioned is at least a good example of rife sentiment in part of the Arab world. The Gallup Poll of Arab sentiments about 9/11, undertaken months after the massacres, found some tantalizing evidence too, even if more indirectly . . . a sign of how rife the paranoid-conspiratorial style of interpreting the world is among psychically dislocated people. In particular, in 9 Arab countries polled, 60% of the population denied that Muslims had ever participated in the 9/11 terrorism. The Gallup Poll didn't --- or couldn't, more likely --- then ask the respondents who did cause it, but the answer's self-evident: Jews, Israel, the CIA, and the US, all in cahoots.
Another Two Sorts of Evidence
We also noted as further proxy evidence that about 45% or so of Muslims in the Middle East, when given a chance to vote freely, opted for a fundamentalist party: that was in Algeria, early in the last decade. The military dictators in the country refused to let the election stand. A bloody civil war, full of massacres on both sides, ensued; it has wound down of late, the fundamentalists routed --- as they are everywhere by brutal secret police and other security forces in the Arab countries if they actually defy and challenge local dictatorial power --- but with the conflict still sputtering on now and then. In France, where most of the 7 million or so French Muslims are largely of Arab origins --- and where fundamentalist anger and resentment have had a massive breakthrough in the last decade, especially among the alienated young --- the recent elections to the new Islam Council created by the French government also saw about 45% of the vote go to fundamentalists.
The last piece of evidence?
It's not even quantitative, opinion surveys no less taboo in the Arab world on the subject: rampant anti-Semitic racism, part of popular Arab street culture and purveyed in almost all the state-controlled media. It's something new in Arab life, a creation largely of post WWII Arab life and the failures and related psychic upheavals in Arab politics, culture, and warfare with Israel; and it recreates and disgorges the worst forms of Nazi-like Jew-hatred on TV, radio, newspapers, movies, and music.
Part IX: What's To Be Done?
The answer is two-fold. One involves a fairly simple, straightforward form of diplomacy that the US and its allies have to exert on the Arab despotisms: a change in their media. The other, much more ambitious and far-reaching --- marked by the bold risky experiment under way in post Saddamite Iraq --- is to find ways to promote political change in the direction of consensual politics and power-sharing in the 21 remaining Arab dictatorships (and in clerical-fascist Iran) on the one side and economic modernization on the other.
I) Turn Off the Hate-Machines!
Small wonder that Dennis Ross and others who know the Middle East well --- Ross, recall, was our chief envoy in the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations who tried to shepherd the Oslo Peace Process --- demanded publicly after 9/11 that the US government bring pressure on the Arab dictatorships to turn off their hate-machine media. Those that won't and haven't have been put under pressure or destroy . . . like Saddam's mass-murdering regime that used poison gas and biological warfare on its own citizens, massacred hundreds of thousands of Shia and Kurdish Iraqis, invaded two neighboring states, annexed one of them (Kuwait), pursued vigorously WMD programs, and supported terrorist organizations of various kinds (with links to Al Qaeda not verified so far), not to mention 13 years of systematic violations of 16 UN Security Council resolutions. The P.A. was openly criticized and its Arafat leadership repudiated as a legitimate bargaining partner by the Bush administration in June 2002. Naturally, the EU governments --- which have until recently cozied up to the Arab dictators even more than the US, and which worry about the new US shift to pushing democracy throughout the Middle East --- denounced this latter move as na´ve and miscalculated. Surveys then carried out by Palestinian pollsters (located under Israeli protection in Jerusalem) found that most Palestinians overwhelmingly said the PA was authoritarian and corrupt.
It's thanks to the US initiative that the PA even has Prime Ministers now, weak as they have proved to be. According to the latest CIA analysis of the Middle East made public, no serious PA leadership willing to negotiate a compromise peace with Israel --- a two-state solution that it can then impose on the terrorist movement rampant throughout the West Bank and Gaza --- will emerge until 2020 or so.
2) Promote Political and Economic Liberal Changes and Modernization
No effective transforming-forces exist on their own within the Arab states right now, outside post-Saddamite Iraq. Some of those states --- say, Jordan and the small Gulf States and Tunisia and Morocco (despite the hardening of dictatorship there in the last several years) --- have more flexibility and probably an inbuilt capacity for some reform, at least under continued pressure by the US and other concerned Western states. Others don't, but could be pushed and prodded with a combination of effective diplomacy, threats, and promised rewards for visible monitored change.
The prospects of such change are vital to the future of the Middle East and ultimate success in our war on terrorism. Notoriously entangled with all sorts of domestic problems and obstacles in Arab politics and society, they need a separate article of their own to make sense of; and that article, as it happens, brings us back to the other mini-series --- left hanging fire a few days ago --- on the prospects of democratic change in the Middle East. Starting above all with post-Saddamite Iraq, where the boldest experiment in US foreign policy is under way since the days of the late 1940s --- the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Aid, Containment Policy, and NATO --- or maybe the first half of the 1980s when the Reagan administration carried out a series of revolutionary changes that helped bring the cold war to a close and lead the Soviet Union to the trash-heap of history.