Published On: Thu, Dec 8th, 2011

Taming The Islamist Lion

Years ago, there was a show on television called Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in which elderly host, Marlin Perkins, would send his youthful sidekick, Jim Fowler, into impossibly dangerous situations with wild animals while he stood safely aside.

“Jim will go into the lion’s den now while I stand outside,” Perkins would tell the audience and then holler into the cave. “Okay, Jim! Capture the lion!”

A mighty roar could be heard and then after a ferocious struggle, Jim would stumble out of the cave, scratched and clawed, but with the disgruntled lion on a leash.

“When the unexpected happens,” Perkins would beam at the audience. “Danger lurks. Until next time! This has been Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom!”

Well, the unexpected has happened – but from a beast of prey not so easily corralled or leashed. In Cairo last week, Islamist parties collectively captured 65% of the Egyptian Parliament. How could that happen? According to the mainstream media, this was supposed to be a secular election, part of the Arab Spring, breeder of democracy and offspring of equality. It was not supposed to produce an Islamic theocracy based on Sharia law. But after yesterday’s election results, the supposedly tame Arab Spring is turning into what some commentators are now calling, frightfully, an Arab Winter.

“The preliminary results extend the rising influence of Islamists across a region where they were once outlawed and oppressed by autocrats aligned with the West. Islamists have formed governments in Tunisia and Morocco,” the New York Times reported. “They are positioned for a major role in post-Qaddafi Libya as well. But it is the victory in Egypt — the largest and once the most influential Arab state, an American ally considered a linchpin of regional stability — that has the potential to upend the established order across the Middle East.”

None of this should come as a surprise if one soberly assesses the evolution of the Islamist movement . In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini rode in on the coattails of a secular Leftist revolution in Iran only to usurp power and create a theocracy. In 1991, democratic elections in Algeria were suppressed by military intervention once it became apparent that Islamists would prevail. The ensuing civil war took the lives of 150,000 – 200,000 civilians. In 1996, the Taliban wrested control of Afghanistan, creating a safe haven for Al-Qaeda that set the stage for 9/11. The current rise of Islamists across the region is part and parcel of the long, unfurling strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood since it first formulated its ideological and theological underpinnings in the 1920’s.

Then as now, there were Western intellectuals who initially fawned over the prospect of a democratic revolution in a Muslim country only to watch in horror as the cub died at birth. Michel Foucault, the late French philosopher, lionized Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978 as representing ”the perfectly unified collective will” of Iran and that the Islamic revolt “impressed me in its effort to politicize structures that are inseparably social and religious in response to current problems. It also impressed me in its attempt to open a spiritual dimension in politics … for this thing whose possibility we have forgotten since the Renaissance … a political spirituality.”

That so-called Renaissance man and his political spirituality imprisoned, tortured and/or executed his opposition and draped formerly secular Muslim women in the veil. (See Persepolis or Reading Lolita in Tehran for a woman’s take on the revolution.) Today, Khomeini’s heirs, after violently suppressing 2009’s Green Movement, are on the verge of developing nuclear weapons that not only threaten Israel but could potentially destabilize the entire region.

You would think the news of Egypt’s stillborn democracy might raise red flags, but as of this week, none of the three major networks nor PBS or the BBC covered the election results in any depth. Perhaps, their experts needed time to refashion their initial assessment of the situation – a state of affairs they previously denied was possible.

No doubt, the experts will downplay or minimize the election results – saying that secular voices or the military will act as a counterweight to the Islamists. But even the Times grudgingly reported:

“It means that, if the Brotherhood chooses, Parliament can be an Islamists affair – a debate between liberal Islamists, moderate Islamists and conservatives Islamists, and that is it,” Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egyptian-born researcher at the Century Foundation in Cairo, said this week.

The ultraconservative Salafi parties, meanwhile, will be able to use their electoral clout to make their own demands for influence on appointments in the new government. Mr. Hanna added: “I don’t mind saying this is not a great thing. It is not a joyous day on my end.”

Commentators who have attempted to point out the shortcomings of Islamic democracy – the “one man, one vote, one time” argument – have been labeled reactionary, alarmist or more perniciously, Zionist. But Israel’s dilemma is only part of the problem. What of the Coptic Christians who have already begun to emigrate from Egypt after church burnings, kidnappings and forced conversions? Not to mention those Muslims who do not subscribe to the Muslim Brotherhood’s literalist interpretations of the Koran?

If one sees the Islamist strategy as a war of attrition, then their aims become clear.

The violent jihad of Al-Qaeda and likeminded groups in Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen are becoming small beer compared to democratic overthrows within faltering countries such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and now Syria which has officially fallen into civil war. These are pieces of a puzzle which, by hook or by crook, fit in with the long-term aspirations of the Islamist movement. Working within the system offers more substantial and sustainable gains. A gradual, incremental approach allows the Islamists to hollow out the democratic process in order to impose strict Sharia law. Also, if the Islamists can gain a legitimate foothold, then foreign intervention by the U.S. or other Western Powers is difficult to justify. They’ve been democratically elected. Who are we to intervene with a democratically elected regime?

Our ability to tame the Islamist threat therefore becomes harder and harder, especially with our troops pulling out of Iraq – the one genuinely democratic Muslim country in the region; albeit at the cost of life and limb of so many of our own military men and women.

Rattling our sabers now seems to have little effect. The current administration has shown itself to be disinclined to back bold statements with decisive action. Did Obama’s famous Cairo speech – his dangling of a peace offering to the Muslim world – inadvertently contribute to the unexpected turn of events in Egypt? History, that indifferent handmaiden, will ultimately have to judge.

There’s always the hope that the Islamist ascendancy is a passing phase before a more enduring democratic Middle East emerges. The hard theological shell of Islamism will fall off and a multicultural butterfly will appear. But aren’t we deluding ourselves?

According to a Pew poll, Muslims overwhelmingly identify themselves as Muslims first, nationality second. In Western Europe, the reverse is shown – Christianity comes a distant second to national affiliation. (Interestingly, in the U.S., religious and national identification is evenly split.) The report also notes that the, “Muslim publics have an aggrieved view of the West — they blame Western policies for their own lack of prosperity. Across the Muslim publics surveyed, a median of 53% say U.S. and Western policies are one of the top two reasons why Muslim nations are not wealthier.”

Although the report sites lack of democracy as a root cause for this view, ambivalence among Muslims toward democracy is best expressed by the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, who said; “Democracy is like a train. We shall get out when we arrive at the station we want.”

In such a volatile environment, Islamism need only bide its time.

The Islamist knows that Westerners are interlopers. With our caravans of good intentions and cattle prods to domesticate, we are a passing event – transitory. The Islamist need only hide in his lair, ignore our prodding and wait until we either lose interest or become absorbed in some other prey. Then he can crawl out of his cave, stretch out before the dawn and once again be master of all that he surveys.

About the Author

- Robert Maley has worked in publishing, banking and – as incongruent as it may seem – the theatrical world. After many years of living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he now resides in the more pastoral setting of Virginia. A playwright with an MFA from Columbia University, he has had several plays produced off-off-Broadway. Presently, he is a critic of the Cultural Marxism to which he once allied, especially as it pertains to the arts, faith and academia.

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  1. Hanny K. says:

    I’m really shocked. Other countries fight to get a democracy and those people don’t want it. It’s really shocking. In my opinion, they are too intolerant.

  2. paulejb says:

    What the mainstream media doesn’t know about Islamist radicals would fill the Library of Congress. They are too ignorant, biased and lazy to bother to get the real story. As with bad news about the economy under Barack H Obama, bad news about the radicalization of Muslim North Africa is always “unexpected.”

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