Subtle distinctions in Middle East are things the West should realize

07 Jan

American flag

In an article in the National Post, Cliff May wonders why in U.S. universities, there isn’t a field of study on “Islamology,” as there once was on “Sovietology” when the U.S.S.R. was a global threat, and in the business of subverting, spying, dominating, coercing and influencing public opinion.

May, a former journalist and now president of something called the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, quotes Bassam Tibi, a senior fellow at Stanford University, whose book Islamism and Islam argues that “Islamism is a totalitarian ideology.”

Just as there can be no such thing as “democratic totalitarianism,” so there can’t be “democratic Islamism.”

May is a friend of my son-in-law, David Frum, and daughter Danielle in Washington, and he and I have shared journalistic experiences in the Middle East.

He notes that Tibi suggests Islamists feel Christians, Jews, Buddhists et al. are inferior, which colours their attitude to the world.

Still, Tibi draws a distinction: While all jihadists (advocates of holy war) are Islamists, not all Islamists are jihadists, committed to violence, terrorism as the means of achieving their goals.

In order to protect themselves from overt criticism, Islamists devised the term “Islamophobia,” which persuades moderate people to avoid the term for fear it smacks of intolerance or paranoia.

May speculates that if only Stalin had come up with the term “Sovietophobia” or “Russophobia” it might have deterred or intimidated critics to shut up, rather than exposing the ideology for what it was.

With Islamism comes Shariah law, complete with its cruel and (to the non-Islamist view) obscene and barbaric punishments for blasphemy, adultery, apostasy, homosexuality, female equality and so on. It’s why the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Arab countries is so worrying — not just for the West, but for minorities, women and those who believe in a secular politics. The Brotherhood is ideological, and ideologies by their nature are inflexible, intolerant, dogmatic and undemocratic.

In many countries, military regimes have proved more amenable to change, or at least pragmatic compromise, than regimes run by ideologues and true believers. Witness the theological dictatorship of Iran under the ayatollahs and mullahs.

It is why Egypt under Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is likely — perhaps even inevitably — to be more dictatorial and unforgiving than the military regime it replaced.

And forget that nonsense about being democratically elected.

One might remember the Bolsheviks held a “democratic” election in Russia in 1917 which they lost, and which became the last “free” election in that country until the Communist regime imploded. Tyrants periodically hold elections which are stage managed. When there’s no choice, there’s no democracy.

Cliff May points out that Islamism differs from conventional Islam in its addiction to violence and willingness to kill its own. Islamic cultures such as those practised in Malaysia, Indonesia, parts of Africa, differ dramatically from, say, Saudi Arabia or Iran.

This difference is neatly summed up in the expression: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslims.” Yes, but which faction of the Muslim faith?

Back to Bassam Tibi and the fundamental question: “Can we trust Islamists who forgo violence to participate in good faith within a pluralistic democratic system?” (Witness Egypt’s Morsi.)

The answer: “No, we cannot.”

Reality is that military regimes are not always draconian, and elected regimes are not always democratic. It’s a distinction we in the democracies should realize when it comes to the Middle East.

Islamology 101: Subtle distinctions in Middle East are things the West should realize | Columnists | Opinion | Toronto Sun.

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Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


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