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The Ultimate "Arab Spring" Quote

By Barry Rubin

Rania Rifaat is the ultimate secular-oriented, social media-using, Egyptian "Arab Spring" activist. During a recent demonstration in Tahrir Square she complained:

"We, the youth, did the revolution. We didn't say that it should be Islamic or whatever. And people felt good. They felt relaxed here. And then suddenly these Islamic liars came, and they want us to go back 300 years."

Good so far, right? Sounds just like Western counterparts. But there's more. How did she characterize the Islamists?

"They are like the Jews—-they always break their promises."

This is like the famous ancient paradox in which a philosopher from Crete says Cretans are always liars. While the hatred of Jews is embedded in Islam, the Salafists have focused on this and revitalized it (in Egypt, since the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s). That doesn't mean things used to be utopian but Egypt's politics were far more moderate between 1919 and 1952 than they have been since, and for most of the more recent period it was radical nationalism that led the way.

It is also like a true story of the Russian Revolution (the material was found by a historian in the Czarist secret police files opened recently). In 1917 a graffiti appeared widely on walls in St. Petersbuerg that read: "Down with the Jew Kerensky! Long Live Trotsky!"

Alexander Kerensky was the non-Jewish liberal democrat who ruled Russia between the February anti-Czarist revolution and the October, Communist revolution. Leon Trotsky, then one of the main Communist leaders, was of Jewish origin. So the pro-Communist graffiti writers got things reversed. They knew Jews were "bad" so whoever they supported had to be against the Jews while those they opposed had to be Jews or Jewish (today they'd say perhaps "Zionist" agents.

In this case, Rifaat is willing to agree on this point with those in her own country who she most hates and distrusts otherwise. Hatred of Jews, Israel, America, and the West may also lead to the triumph of the Islamists, the present-day equivalent (in extremism and desire to impose a dictatorship) of the Communists back in 1917, when they lost the election but then took over anyway.

The permeation of hatred and mistrust of Jews in the Muslim-majority world--which goes very far beyond any "Islamophobia" in the West or Israel--is crippling politically (giving an advantage to Islamists over the few [real] moderates--and of course makes real peace with Israel impossible. And it runs across the political spectrum.

There has been change in recent years but the proportion of Arabic-speakers who don't view Israel as demonic or want real peace is still a tiny proportion. Only a minority, albeit a larger one--say ten to twenty-five percent in most countries--want a moderate democratic system at home but even most of those are for a radical foreign policy. A majority oppose having an Islamist state but the proportion of those who do want one (depending on the country) is dangerously large, especially given the fact that they are the best-organized and many of them are willing to support the use of violence.

Mere pragmatism is welcome by comparison. As an example of different attitudes, here are two Saudi columnists write positively about Israel, analyzing why it is so much more economically successful than Arabic-speaking countries. One speaks of its democracy; the other of its emphasis on education and research.

Speaking of support for terrorism, here's an interesting analysis of the relationship of the terror attack in Norway to the support given terrorist groups by people in places like...Norway.