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Rubin Reports

Unlike Madonna, the Middle East Is No ‘Material Girl’

June 24th, 2013 - 11:11 am

In my article “How to Understand Islamism: Read What Its Leaders Actually Say,” I wrote about Sunni Islamist leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi:

[He] does not talk about the need for urbanization, the equality of women, modern education, and greater freedom as the solution. Indeed, his view is totally contrary to a leftist or liberal or nationalist Muslim who would stress the need to borrow any ideas and methods other than purely technological ones, from the West in order to gain equality and even superiority. Think of how Asia has succeeded — Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and now even China — through eagerness to blend borrowings, adaptation, and its own historic culture. No, for al-Qaradawi the issue [of why the Muslim world hasn’t done better] is completely one of the abandonment of Islam.

A reader pointed out that in the West, it is assumed to be obvious that Arabs understand material advancement is necessary for progress and power. For example, Tom Friedman talked about the UN Arab Human Development Report written by Arab liberals. In other words: the Arabic-speaking world is shaped by the failure of leaders to understand that Western pundits know far more about their society than they do.

Understanding that Friedman doesn’t understand the Middle East — though he has persuaded a big audience otherwise — is the beginning of wisdom on the region.

Friedman insists:

Read the U.N.’s 2002 Arab Human Development Report about what deficits of freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge did to Arab peoples over the last 50 years. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria are not falling apart today because their leaders were toppled. Their leaders were toppled because for too many years they failed too many of their people. Half the women in Egypt still can’t read. That’s what the stability of the last 50 years bought.

But this is not the real issue. As happened in the USSR, Nazi Germany, and elsewhere in history, the real problem is radical ideology in command of both the leaders and the masses. As a result, the masses of the Middle East don’t care about deficits, but mainly about conformity, hatred of the “other,” killing, revenge, and — to borrow a term — what is politically correct, not factually correct. As for the rulers, they know how devastating in terms of stability the kinds of policies naive Westerners support would be.

Remember, the West saw the fall of communism as the blooming of democracy, whereas the Middle Eastern leaders saw it as the wilting of empires. The West remembers the passing of the Soviet bloc as the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Middle East leaders saw it as the fall of their counterparts, and the placing of Romania’s dictatorial Ceausescus in front of a firing squad. Now, 20 years later, Mubarak is in prison and Qadhafi is dead, murdered.

Is Syria in a state of civil war because the regime failed its people, or because it tried to ride the tiger by toying with the promotion of Sunni Islamism? Perhaps regimes inevitably must fail their people because of a lack of resources, the state of their societies, the nature of the dominant ideas, and the era of anarchy that would have to be unleashed by even the best attempt to address the “deficits.” And perhaps there is a Western”deficit” in understanding the Middle East: a failure to take religion, ideology, and radicalism seriously; the inability to grasp that one is dealing with a different history and culture.

Often in this case I think of an incident that happened shortly after the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime after September 11, 2001. Pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners rioted, and an incredibly brave CIA man went in to try to deal with the situation. He said to one of the Arab al-Qaeda volunteers: “Why did you come here [to Afghanistan]?” It was the typical Enlightenment question, an attempt to gain knowledge, the belief that dialogue leads to better understanding.

The al-Qaeda terrorist replied: “I came here to kill you.” He knew what he wanted, and would not be reasoned with or dissuaded by an explanation that his real enemy was a deficit of women’s inequality. The mob proceded to murder the American brutally.

Now, the United States is still trying to negotiate with the Taliban. To find its moderate wing. The Taliban and al-Qaeda still want to murder Americans, and they do.

Think of the perfect symbolism of what happened on February 18, 2011, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which shows where the locals think the West can physically insert its deficits. President Husni Mubarak had just been overthrown in the “Arab Spring.” There was a huge rally to greet al-Qaradawi with an estimated one million people, ten times what the “moderates” (many of whom were Muslim Brothers in disguise) had been able to muster.

Wael Ghonim — an executive of Google on leave who had been a leader of the revolt, a young man of about 30 and married to an American convert to Islam — tried to get on the platform. He was thrown off.

Since then, Ghonim has been a political zero. Of course, Ghonim, the 30-something hero in the West, got to be in Time’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

He was presented with the JFK Profile in Courage Award (whose name was based on a book that had Kennedy’s name on it, but was written by my Ph.D. adviser Professor Jules Davids) by Caroline Kennedy on behalf of “the people of Egypt.” He was listed as the second most powerful Arab in the world by Arabian Business magazine for leading Egyptian youth.

Perhaps it would have been more appropriate if the award had been given by a hijab-wearing Caroline Kennedy to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, who really represented “the people of Egypt.”

What happened to the 80-something al-Qaradawi? He didn’t get any Western awards. He just got Egypt.

Perhaps you remember the old joke about two guys fishing. One says: “I know everything about fishing because I’ve read all the books about it.” To which his companion replies: “But have the fish read the books?”

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All Comments   (11)
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A reader pointed out that in the West, it is assumed to be obvious that Arabs understand material advancement is necessary for progress and power.
I think they understand that. Material wealth isn't their top priority, but I think they understand material advancement is necessary for Arab and Muslim advancement, pride and dominance. Where they diverge from Western understanding is in analysing the root causes for Arab and Muslim success and failure.

From their viewpoint their golden age happened when they were politically organized as a caliphate under sharia. Then they were stronger and more advanced than the Euros, and they were the imperialists-colonialists (which they see as a good thing when done by Muslims, and a bad thing only when done by infidels, particularly to them). Adopting Western ideas, ideologies and political systems on the other hand, such as nationalism, fascism, socialism and the (relatively) secular state, only resulted in weakness, poverty and shame. Their conclusion is that the only system that works for them is sharia law.

The key explanation for both their success and failure is the degree of pleasing Allah. The prime reason for their golden era success was living by Allah's laws, for which Allah rewarded them. The prime reason for their present failure is straying from Allah's laws, for which Allah punishes them. So to become as strong, successful and advanced as they were in their golden age they should reject the "contamination" of their minds, societies and politics by infidel ideas, and return to the fundaments of Islam.

The secondary explanation is the post-colonialist neo-Marxist variety. The Arabs are weak and poor due to oppression by Western imperialists-colonialists. Western imperialism-colonialism isn't just a thing of the past, but continues to this very day by more subtle means, such as economic and cultural means, and by political intervention and installing puppet regimes. In a religious guise it refers to a Crusader-Zionist conspiracy, where Western ideas are the preliminary ideologiacl invasion, a preparatory phase designed to weaken and confuse the Muslim minds to make way for the physical invasion and conquest.

According to both these "analytical" approaches to the problem of Islamic backwardness, the "invasion" of Western ideas such as "the equality of women, modern education, and greater freedom" or any other Western infidel way are not the solution, but the opposite - this is the root cause of the problem. And the solution is to purify Islam and Muslims from foreign infidel ideas, and return to pure Islam (which you call 'Islamism').
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"There was a huge rally to greet al-Qaradawi with an estimated one million people, ten times what the “moderates” (many of whom were Muslim Brothers in disguise) had been able to muster."

Those are 3 false statements. No one other than people who love to exaggerate this day estimates the crowd at one million. It may have been 400,000, probably less. Maybe only 250,000. I've been in crowds of 250,000 pressed in like Tahrir and it covered a larger area than Tahrir, which is very large but not immense.

This was no rally to greet Qaradawi. It was Friday, our Saturday, and every Fri. during the revolution was huge. This was the first Fri. since Mubarak stepped down. The crowds would have been there regardless. It was a celebration called "The Day of Victory," not the day of Qaradawi. I doubt if most people cared if he was there or not.

The crowd was as large as any during the 15 day occupation of Tahrir Square Jan.28-Feb.11, true, but there had been a couple of others just as large. During that 15 days, there had been no days even close to only 1/10 the size of Feb.18, certainly not a Fri., which were the big days. The crowds were uniformly large, the smallest perhaps 3/4 or 3/5 the size of Feb. 18. The large crowd made perfect sense cuz it was the first Fri the danger was over. Many middle class families with kids appeared without fear.

Your claim the MB could outnumber secularists on the street is without merit, which makes your claim about disguises even more foolish. In any event, there had never been any separate MB vs. "moderates" rallies in Tahrir since the beginning of the revolution so that part doesn't even make sense.

Then and now the MB cannot hold a large rally without busing people into Cairo. They are always outnumbered on the street, perhaps 3 to 1. The MB doesn't even try to rally against an opposition day and when they do, it is always in a different place, not Tahrir.

You'll see this on June 30, the recall rally. If the MB could muster the numbers to confront that rally, they would. They can't, and won't. Unless they want to be beat up.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Right and the fact that 75% of the vote went to the MB or affiliates isn't relevant right? That wasn't the voice of the Egyptian people?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
It certainly isn't relevant to anything I said. Who was in Tahrir, why, and who successfully ran for office afterwards are completely different events and mechanisms. Who invented the light bulb and who cashed in? Why would a majority disorganized grass roots movement impelled by disparate anger equal a political party afterwards, compared to a minority though 80 yr. old organization?

And are you paying attention to today? 15 million signatures have reportedly been gathered to recall Morsi. If true, that's more than Morsi's winning vote total. You see what you want to see, rather than react to events based on actual facts. If the June 30 protest is as resolved as the original Tahrir movement against Mubarak, Morsi is gone. And if the army steps in to restore order, they will not protect Morsi or the MB. They will protect the people in the name of civil order.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
In my article “How to Understand Islamism: Read What Its Leaders Actually Say,”

Anyone who would not just use the ridiculous uber-PC word "Islamism", like it's something separate and apart from Islam, but put it in the title of an article, knows nothing about Islam or is pretending not to, and hence is someone to not be taken seriously at all.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rubin has, so to speak, hit the interpretative nail on the head. Years ago when Communism was a menance (for many in the West, no) an Australian psychiatrist, Fred Schwartz, led a "Christian Crussde Against Communism" in America. The man knew his stuff and wrote a book with the main title "You Can Trust Communists". What? Where is the anti-communism in Schwartz's crusade? Well, the book bore the subtitle: "(To Be Communists"). Such trust was absent in many Westerners of the day as communist moderates were sought, sort of equivalents to today's "moderate" Islamists. Such trust was not absent from Schwartz's analysis and proscriptions for action.

This morning I saw on German tv a documentary on the religous struggles, if not often bloody battles, between Muslims, Hindus and Christians in the old Portugues colony of Goa. After a somewhat bloody history was told, a contemporary parade in Goa was shown in which one Muslim man, one Hindu man and one Christian man (no women?) walked together in peace. The wisdom was revealed, i.e., the three religions had begun to understand each other and that leads to peace. The tv reporting about old conflicts was probably correct, but the message was disconcerting as it preached the sermon that one canNOT trust a believer to be a believer. In reality we are all alike. Beliefs may, indeed, change and, if so, the "trusting" estimates must be made accordingly. But Islam believers such as al-Qadarawi have not changed.

This anecdote illustrates for me the basic problem for Western interpreters of Islam or, better, of Islamists (= those who profess allegiance to Mohammed & Co during the time of expansionism centuries ago) have become so secular that they all too often have no trust in Islamists that they mean what they say. This has led, I hold, to something like an appeasement policy. Rubin has revealed that Obama by 2010, I believe, had decided to cast his fate with Brotherhood Islam believers. Oh, yee of little trust!

Foot note: I saw on Memri tv a clip in which al-Qaradawi made it clear that no hacking off of hand would be realized by the Brotherhood until ... In other words, the task for the nex 5 years was to re-indoctrinate a Muslim nation that had lost contact with "true" Islam. Once re-education is complete, then hands will be hacked off. Somehow I trust al-Qaradawi.






42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The money caveat is just that, a canard to continue the dangerous appeasement of Islamic barbarism. In fact, if anything, said "buy offs" only whets their appetites - for more jihad!
Don't believe me, fine. But the facts won't change - http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/06/21/israels-relentless-appeasement-proves-he-who-becomes-compassionate-to-the-cruel-will-ultimately-become-cruel-to-the-compassionate-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/
And if any nation is a poster child for appeasing the Islamic beast, look no further than Israel's ruling leftists/Arabists. Simply put, one cannot appease Islamists with money because their religious/political system is inextricably tied into Shariah Law, laws which mandate jihad by the sword or by submission. There is NO middle ground. But don't confuse Islamists with westerners, who are more than willing to extort said bounty to improve their jihad via western technology, but will never sell out their pagan Allah. Never.

Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
" Is Syria in a state of civil war because the regime failed its people, or because it tried to ride the tiger by toying with the promotion of Sunni Islamism? "

Syria is in a state of war because Obama empowered the Muslim Brotherhood which knew he would turn a blind eye to its overthrow of the Baathist Regime.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Only partly. The main reason there is a civil war is that Sunni and Shia cannot live in peace. Period. All other reasons are just fluff and stuff.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sunni and Shia cannot live in peace because the Shia think the kid who went down the well is coming back to rule the world 12 centuries later amid world chaos, while the Sunnis think some other relative of his had the valid claim to leadership. (And we are going to reason with these people?)
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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