Ordered Liberty

Fleeting Moment of Spring Fever Clarity

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as appalled as anyone that an American president who ran off to a Vegas fundraiser while the country was still mourning an ambassador and three other Americans killed in Libya is so insouciant that he’d follow that up by referring to the ongoing atrocities in the Middle East as “bumps in the road.” But I find equally remarkable the second part of Obama’s statement in the Sixty Minutes interview: that the reason for the bumps in the road is:  “in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam.”

That is the point I have been stressing for almost a decade in arguing against the “Islamic democracy” project and other unnecessary entanglements in the region, particularly the efforts to form alliances with people who hate us. For making these contentions, my like-minded colleagues and I have been portrayed as benighted Islamophobes — a moronic accusation given that, contrary to the claims of our bipartisan “Islamic democracy” enthusiasts, we were never saying that Muslims of the Middle East were too unsophisticated for democracy; our contention is that, while they fully understand Western democracy, they don’t want it because they are convinced that their own culture, their own distinct civilization, is superior.

Now, with the region aflame precisely because of Islamic supremacism, which is the predominant construction of Islam in the Middle East, yesterday’s Islamophobia has become today’s conventional wisdom. We can thank The One: only five minutes ago, Obama was telling us that Islam was a great asset in the quest to forge better relations between Muslims and Westerners. Now it’s a “bump in the road.” In fact, Islam is the one organizing principle of the Middle East, and it is a very particular kind of Islam — one that is extraordinarily hostile to the West, our principles and our institutions. That is the principal theme of my new book, Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy:

To understand “the Arab Spring,” it is essential first and foremost to grasp that the key fact on the ground in Arab countries — as well as in Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other neighboring non-Arab territories — is Islam. It is not poverty, illiteracy, or the lack of modern democratic institutions. These features, like anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and an insular propensity to buy into conspiracy theories featuring infidel villains, are epiphenomena. They are consequences of Islam’s regional dominance and supremacist ambitions. They do not cause populations to turn to Islam. One need not be led to that which pervades one’s existence.

What kind of Islam are we talking about? Well, that may be a complex question in circumstances where Islam attempts to move beyond the horizons of its geographical dominance – although even in the West, where Muslims remain a small minority, the question becomes less complex as Muslims amass numbers and strength. As that happens, their leaders inexorably turn more confrontational and doctrinaire; their rank-and-file feel ever greater pressure to follow suit, or at least muffle their misgivings.

With the “Arab Spring,” though, we are not talking about an Islam under pressure to evolve, to make the compromises that integration in a different civilization calls for. We are talking about Islam on its home turf.

In the Muslim Middle East, the dispositive Islam is supremacist Islam. That is not to say there aren’t different Islamic sects. The important ones, though, divide mainly on the method by which Islam should come to dominate, not on whether it should dominate. On the latter, there is no doubt.

On its native soil, Islam is most emphatically not “moderate,” notwithstanding its Western apologists’ risible insistence that moderation is Islam’s defining characteristic. In fact, in a 2007 interview that has gotten next to no attention, [Turkey’s] Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan recoiled at the very term “moderate Islam.” “These descriptions are very ugly,” he seethed, “it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam, and that’s it.”

This Islam is at once insular and ambitiously aggressive. Recall Erdogan’s allusion to democracy as the “train” to Islamization. [He said: “Democracy is just the train we board to reach our destination.”] It is worth quoting, and bearing in mind … the very next thing said by the man who is now Islam’s most significant presence in world politics – the man Western chancelleries insist on portraying as a “moderate” ally even as he venomously reproves the very idea and exhorts Muslims in the West to resist assimilation: “The mosques are our barracks, the minarets our bayonets, the cupolas our helmets and the faithful our soldiers.”

Moderation indeed.