Arab Spring Rolls Into Fundamentalism
by Ranbir Singh
Independence to India did not change the political system in one important respect. Much colonial legislation remains intact. Most notorious is the Police Act of 1864 which was designed to quell dissent by unruly subjects rather than provide a public service. In fact the very idea of public ‘service’ is an anachronism in India where the ‘steel frame’ of the British Raj has changed little. Exams to join the civil service are competitive because it guarantees a job for life which brings not just money but generous perks such as housing, servants and above all the ability to kick those below you. This is a system designed to serve the rulers and not the ruled. Quotas to alleviate caste discrimination have become mere fights over a piece of this pie. Magnanimity is the best that Indian philanthropy can produce.
The very idea of altruism, of helping someone outside your own set ‘group’ is scoffed at in the neo-colonial environment that has endured. While Narasimha Rao was perhaps the most enlightened of Indian prime ministers in opening up the economy which has thereby unleashed the long pent up entrepreneurship for which Indians were celebrated abroad, important obstacles have yet to be dismantled.
The whole system breeds corruption and nepotism. Frustrated by being blocked at every turn India ’s best brains and talents have long seen exodus as the only means to get by or else escape their frustration in a nightmare world of drugs, alcohol and the increasingly degenerate soft pornography of Bollywood. It was for this reason that the mass civil disobedience launched by Anna Hazare was so welcome and tapped into a long suppressed psyche which few had dared to express. In doing so Hazare might have taken a leaf out of the Arab Spring where in almost parallel rage the masses also expressed their discontent in unprecedented shows of protest which eventually led to the fall of long established governments. Unlike India , the Arab protestors were true dissidents, operating in systems which did not even have the pretence at democracy.
It began with a hapless and harried vegetable seller in the small Tunisian town of Sidi Bouazizi who met the full force of the kleptocratic Third World state. In such claustrophobic environments it is impossible to simply work hard and improve one’s lot. Without the right connections and network the ordinary subject is at the mercy of repressive state organs manifested in bribery, extortion, police harassment, petty bureaucracy, a mind boggling array of rules that exist for no ostensible purpose, and no recourse to air any grievance. Having had his produce and scales confiscated and ignored by the governor who ignored him in a manner which had eerie echoes of French apathy towards demands for equality by a previous generation of Tunisians, Mohamed Bouazizi was an educated graduate who eked out a living as a barrowman. He took the ultimate act of protest in desperation. He burnt himself alive in public on 17 December 2010. The fire of protest engulfed Tunisia and led to President Ben Ali’s departure and the holding of free elections. Inspired by the Tunisians the disaffected subjects of other Arab autocrats also looked to free themselves from decades of being mere subjects and not citizens. Like dominoes they started to fall. In February 2011 Hosni Mubarak was forced from power in Egypt , by the very military which helped him rule. Gaddafi however fought back leading to civil war in neighbouring Libya until the rebels captured Tripoli in August. King Mohammed saw pragmatism and offered reforms. Elections were duly held in November 2011.
This however in many ways marked the pinnacle of the Arab Spring. In February Oman crushed protests. Yemen descended into anarchy. Syria has descended into civil war. But it was perhaps the crushing of protests in Bahrain which gave ominous signs where things were heading. Police and army crushed disaffection with the help of their larger Saudi neighbour. Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive states in the world. Freedom of speech, conscience, assembly and worship is not even on the agenda. Only oil revenues have lifted this totalitarian state from the Third World poverty in which it was once mired.
In many respects it was the polar opposite of Tunisia which in terms of women’s rights and modernisation was actually eons ahead in the Arab world. Saudi is touted as a western ally. Western dependence on oil has allowed the Saudis to operate mafia style protection rackets as they silence criticism of not just repression in their own country, but their ideological and financial support to Salafi and Wahhabi terrorism worldwide. It was this that was about to manifest itself.
Watching the Facebook generation of the Arab revolutions, one could not help fear that behind all the idealism of these liberal, secular and ultramodern youth in their jeans and mobile devices, there was obviously something more sinister brewing. In the wake of the French Revolution in 1789, Edmund Burke, often credited as being the founder of modern British conservatism, was not taken in by the exuberance which affected many radicals and people we would now term ‘progressive’. He went to the very source of the ideology which inspired the Jacobins. This meant reading Rousseau and behind the benign veneer of ‘The Social Contract’ Burke realised that the general will would lead to something nasty. Robespierre, Saint-Just and others did not simply create the Terror. They were its manifestation. The Terror allowed such people to arise and the Terror was the result Rousseau’s ‘general will’. The revolution was not perverted it was taken to its hideous logical conclusion. It was not a revolt of the masses but a coup engineered by the bourgeoisie and disaffected nobility.
Often thought of as a movement by the have-nots, the urban poor known as sans-culottes, the French Revolution devoured the very worst off in society as it crushed the Vendee uprising. The pattern was to be repeated in 1917. Lenin did not lead the Russian Revolution. Instead the Bolsheviks conspired to organise a coup which overthrew the liberal democratic government of Alexander Kerensky. Mao let Chiang Kai-Shek do all the dirty work in fighting the Japanese just as the Salafists were to do with the Facebook generation in Tahrir Square . Openly Islamist groups were noticeable by their conspicuous absence when protestors masses in Cairo demanding that Mubarak go. Christians protected Muslims as they prayed, and visa versa. It was easy to see why this would play to optimism and hope just as it would lead western commentators to use the word ‘moderate’ towards terrorist groups that were anything but that.
The liberals and secularists remained a confused lot even if they were not all just spoilt rich brats hermetically sealed off from the masses in what remains a largely conservative society. In protest against enforcement of the veil and also the virginity testing which was foisted on female protestors in Tahrir Square by the military, former student Aliaa Magdy Elmahdy posed nude for photographs which were then posted on the internet by her boyfriend, veteran political dissident Kareem Amer. Denounced as pornography it is actually rather chilling. One looks into Elmahdy’s eyes and blank expression realising that something ominous is on the horizon. Faced with the Orwellian totalitarianism of organised Islamist forces, Elmahdy resorted to the cuddly totalitarianism of the dystopia so bleakly described by Aldous Huxley in ‘Brave New World’. Her brave and lauded stance in standing up to literally deadly fanaticism was nevertheless made hollow by an attitude of “it’s my life” so reminiscent of broken societies of western inner cities, but with its roots going back to the ‘common will’ of Rousseau, prophet and god of the French Revolution. Her espousal that children should be the result of ‘love’ rather than marriage may have sounded warm and fluffy but its future could be predicted if one looked at the resultant broken society and the havoc it wreaked on the streets of English cities in August.
When social norms and customs break suddenly and violently, a grotesque chimerical offspring of Rousseau often takes their place to create an even more oppressive environment than the one just overthrown. In this case it would give the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nour all the ammunition they needed against a westernised bohemian elite disconnected from the masses. Western countries have welfare systems in place to help the most deprived and which have become effective income systems and surrogate male partners for the taxpayer to help support teenage girls for whom begetting limitless numbers of offspring is a sure means to a home and ‘independence’. Children grow up in an environment lacking a male role model, domestic stability and a disconnect between work and income, with natural parents who remain mentally stuck in adolescence long after they have passed into actual adulthood.
Nature abhors a vacuum. So we find that into this dystopia that addictive drugs, cheap alcohol, predatory loan sharks and parasitic pimps find their live hosts, while tribal formations based on volkisch ethnicity, street level religious fundamentalism and the amorphous gang give a sense of order and discipline that family and community once did. Under the present Eurozone economic crisis, declining fertility, ageing demographics and falling incomes how long can this welfare system remain afloat? In Egypt there is not even this much. The oil rich states that could afford it remain essentially conservative or import thousands of unwilling females to service the master race as sex slaves.
President Franklin D Roosevelt supposedly remarked of the famous Nicaraguan dictator in 1939 “Samoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Later American presidents could say the same of Mubarak, and France could say the same of Ben Ali. Indeed the autocratic ‘sons of bitches’ proved quite useful to the west in order to keep the more hardcore religious elements down, or in the case of Sadat and Mubarak at least pretending to do so while elevating them into positions of power.
Like modern day corsairs the Arab autocrats demanded their regular pound of flesh in the form of aid packages which they spent on the latest military hardware in order to crush the aspirations of their own people in case rigged elections (if they were even held) proved to be even more unconvincing than the plebiscite held by Hitler in the 1930s. If this mechanism managed to camouflage the humbling of Europe and North America into an unofficial yet effective dhimmitude the extraction of jizya tax from the richer infidel nations was to lose its pretence once the ‘sons of bitches’ were ousted from power. The crushing of genuine liberal and secular aspirations through decades of claustrophobic oppression left religious forms and motifs the only means of expressing open discontent. In this atmosphere the results should have been obvious. The elections in Tunisia began the demise that anything democratic was ever going to result from the revolutions. This was the most secular of Arab countries and yet the Ennhada party, openly Islamist, won the elections of October 2011.
In Morocco that same month the supposedly ‘moderate’ Islamist Justice and Development Party won the largest number of votes. But it was Egypt in December which gave the most shocking result. In a country which once boasted the most liberal and pluralistic society in the Arab world the majority of votes went to the at times terrorist Muslim Brotherhood which deluded western observers have constantly started to refer to as moderate. It is anything but moderate. What was more shocking is that liberal, democratic and secular forces trailed behind the even more openly hardline and Salafist al-Nour party. Libya meanwhile sits on the brink of civil war in its current non-existent path to a democracy that will never materialise. Saudi Arabia extends its baneful colonialist influence over its new vassal states as democracy in the Arab world shows less signs of health than they did in the Weimar Republic.
The parallels are not incidental. Anti-Semitism has long been a stock in trade of not just the Saudis but even secular regimes. There was nothing like stoking up the burning hatred of Israel, as embassy staff in Cairo recently found out, to divert attention from very real problems of poverty, unemployment, runaway inflation and a claustrophobic environment even in the wealthiest states. Hate literature such as Arabic versions of Mein Kampf and the Protocols which are consigned in western countries to dingy backstreet stores and meetings by burly men with shaved heads and swastika tattoos, or dodgy neo-Nazi internet mail order sites, are proudly displayed in the book markets of the Middle East.
In fact before even the elections in Tunisia we had the example of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, elected by free democratic vote. As in many decolonised states, it is one person, one vote, once. Yet it is Israel which is criticised for inconveniencing the Palestinians when they are being attacked by rockets by a government which does not even believe that Jews have the right to exist. Secularism as we commonly understand it never did take root in these countries. Socialism never did mean absence of religion. It did not even mean effective plans at poverty alleviation. Nasser helped himself to large landed estates, dispossessed the owners and then parcelled out the ill gotten gain to his cronies. If the proletariat thought that this was their revolution the execution of leaders from organised labour just one month after the 1952 coup proved otherwise. Egypt lost its once vibrant mix of Jews, Italians, Armenians, Greeks, Maltese and French minorities, bulldozed from history just as Sophiatown was by the architects of apartheid in South Africa.
One group that Nasser did invite with open arms were former top Nazis like Remer who would help organise his repressive machinery. Johann von Leers became Omar Almin and churned out anti-Semitic hatred from the Information Ministry. Nasser was to inspire the young Gaddafi in taking power and also Algerian nationalists fighting the French. With the latter the painful reality became obvious that they were not going to be better off than under colonialism and, judging by the evacuation of pro-French harkis and subsequently other Algerians as they sought a better life in the highly racist environment of the former colonial power, actually quite a lot worse. One cannot just blame poverty. Algeria has reserves of natural gas.
Gaddafi could only build his Green Book ideas with oil revenues which would have modernised his country if the monarchy had stayed. Saudi, Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi used oil to at best create the veneer of modernisation with its very worst of self-indulgent consumer appetites. But political reform, secularism, freedom to believe was not even entertained. Citizenship was tightly limited to the designated herrenvolk master race. Where once slaves had toiled for masters, now Filipino and South Asian labourers work in conditions that flout all international conventions, shipped out of the main city centres which they are helping to construct like modern day helots. These oriental despotisms did not even abolish chattel slavery until the late twentieth century.
This is a region given to even less to racial and cultural diversity than it is to economic cooperation. Desperate to show their commitment to Arab nationalism, minority Christian communities helped become its leading ideologues. Michel Aflaq after all founded Ba’ath. While Aflaq, and later Hannan Ashrawi and George Habash, manifested their anti-Jewish animus, the Christian minority in an independent Palestine and a post-Saddam Iraq face extinction. Ancient communities and cultures such as the Assyrians are in dire straits at risk of permanent exile from their own homeland. It would not be the first time. Turkey is often touted as the example which Arab states should follow. Until recently political Islam was proscribed in Turkey . Now under the Justice and Development Party of Recep Erdogan it rules it. But then how secular was Turkey? Ataturk replaced Islam with the surrogate religion of Turkish nationalism which made the rump of the once powerful Ottoman Empire even less pluralist than it had been under the sultans. The jihad against the ancient Christian communities of Armenians and Assyrians became a genocide which was continued by the secular Turkish nationalists. The Greeks were almost completely expelled. Even Muslims face the wrath of the state as Kurds were denied even the right to exist as a people. That right has only been grudgingly granted very recently and remains precarious.
So even the use of secularism entails an identity which is organic and volkisch and lends itself to the exclusion of others. This has been one of the main obstacles to Turkey joining the EU even though it insists it is part of Europe . With the current economic crisis however, this will certainly be one Christmas where Turkey is going to be rather pleased that for decades Europe has told it to ‘get stuffed’. The intolerance and racism produced by aggressive secularism in Turkey then was always going to be a rocky road for its former Ottoman colonies to follow. Pan-Arabism always did have the unhealthy echoes of German Romantics such as Fichte.
As such the indigenous people of Egypt now face a bleak future. The sight of tanks openly running over Copts and soldiers openly shooting Copts on the streets in front of live television cameras should be evidence enough. These will not be regimes which will be in any way friendly to the west. The receipt of billions, yes billions, in western aid (and taxpayers’ money) does not guarantee any democratisation or respect for the rights of women and minorities. It is nothing more than a mafia style protection racket, modernised only in the sense of it being a new way of collection jizya, the poll-tax levied on non-Muslims who were granted a grudging existence as third-class citizens, dhimmis.
It is not just of course Arab countries. Pakistan has long persecuted the Christian minority and that is only set to get worse. Most of the Hindus and Sikhs have been expelled or forcibly converted and the minuscule Bene Israel community of Jews has long since left. Malaysia openly discriminates in favour of Malay Muslims and against the Chinese and Indian minorities so that Hindu temples are destroyed at official behest. Indonesia once the most tolerant of all Muslim countries is fast jettisoning the diversity it once so valued in Sukarno’s doctrine of Panchasila, to becoming a hub of terrorism.
Salafism is fast overtaking oil as Saudi’s main export and threatening minority groups wherever it holds mechanisms of power in its vice like grip. In this new Middle East where Saudi influence is fast replacing the American and French tutelage of western-backed autocrats, realities need to take note of political realignment. As has been the case in Africa, China will move in to offer aid to dictators who unfortunately embarrass their western ‘allies’ by shooting, torturing, raping and incarcerating their own people. Western powers feel that they cannot antagonise China because it is about the only place that is doing well right now. But China’s boom is not only limited to a small portion of its population, it depends on manufacturing which rests on the ability of western consumers to buy it and by arresting enough of its own citizens who can provide the necessary slave labour in the camps in order to produce it. On the former element China relies on America ’s most favoured nation trading status. China of course will find it difficult in dealing with regimes which are busy stoking up Islamic separatist sentiment in Xinjiang but this has not been a problem yet in its dealings with the hardline Islamist regime of Sudan.
The west appears enamoured of China , oblivious to the instability which bubbles just below the surface. Those that praise China as the future are even more incorrect than they were about predicting an outbreak of democracy in the Arab countries. This is due to hope which it itself driven by fear. It is also driven by a mindset which refused to recognise the harsh new political realities and above all wishes to exclude the relevance and importance of India.
How long will western nations keep up this game of ‘alliance’ with what are becoming uncompromising Salafist regimes that hate America and all its stands for? The breaking point is already happening with Pakistan , a strange ally in the war against terrorism if ever there was one. Pakistan and its master Saudi Arabia had provided financial, human and ideological support to al-Qaeda, Taliban and similar groups. Anyone with an iota of knowledge in this sphere would then hardly have been surprised when Bin Laden was found in Pakistan , that ‘dependable’ ally in the war on terrorism.
It is also here that America and western democratic nations will have to seek a new alliance, this time with a nation that is actually democratic. India has long been sidelined. But as the Arab Spring oxidises into a new nightmare India will have not just strategic but also economic and political importance. But above all its contribution will be spiritual. Unlike the Salafists who the western commentators in such ‘liberal’ mouthpieces such as The Guardian are desperate to call ‘moderate’, anything manifestly Hindu is decried by the very same people and publications as fascist and fundamentalist. Yet even today considering the diversity it has, India manages surprisingly well. Further economic reforms and democratisation can only increase and magnify this most important part of its heritage. India after all was where a previous generation of persecuted people in the Middle East fled when nobody else wanted them.
This is how the Parsees, followers of Zarathustra, fled persecution and forcible conversion to become one of India ’s most prosperous and respected communities. Until offered free passage by the newly created state of Israel Jews had prospered in India for two thousand years without any animus from the host community and majority. Where did the Dalai Lama and his followers go when China invaded their homeland and wiped out Tibetan Buddhism? To India . Yet needlessly the liberal chattering class mouthpieces such as ‘The Guardian’ spout the sort of anti-Hindu venom one would normally associated with the followers of Maulana Maududi in Pakistan ’s Jamaat-i-Islami, while calling his very same disciples in Tunisia ’s Ennhada party as ‘moderate’. Why do western commentators, liberal and conservative, socialist and capitalist, racist and anti-racist, atheist and Christian, secular and religious, Left and Right, have this needless hatred of Hindus? This easily spills over into hatred for India . The Guardian constantly gives voice to ideologies which if in power would treat this newspaper in the same manner that Lenin dealt with prosperous peasants known as kulaks – if one defines prosperity as owning one cow and barely having enough to eat.
To even acknowledge that India was the only country in which Jews flourished without any anti-Semitism from the majority host community flies in the face of the established discourse which sees India as nothing more than a poverty stricken land of communal hatred which can all be blamed on the caste system of Hinduism. Anti-Hindu discourse is firmly established in the minds of people who would normally regard themselves as open and multiculturalist. Needless hatred is ingrained simply for the purpose of appearing to be objective and balanced. After all it is far better to denigrate an ancient culture, civilisation and people who cannot fight back because they are denied an effective voice on a par with others, especially when they are not known for resorting to hijacking, suicide bombing and engaging in forcible conversion. In fact Hindus are even softer targets than Israel in this desire to find new scapegoats. At least Israel has its defenders even if that small country, the only genuine democratic state in the Middle East, is constantly blamed for all the problems in the region.
As India becomes one of the rising nations it should honour its international obligations by taking in refugees which will no doubt be created by the vice like grip of Salafism. Just as the western nations ignored Hindus and Sikhs being forced to wear discriminatory badges under the Taliban as a sinister echo of Nazi badges denoting ‘Juden’, they have more recently ignored the extermination of Christian minorities in Palestine and Iraq , and the mowing down of Copts in Maspero in what can only be described as Egypt ’s very own Kristallnacht. What will it take for democracies to wake up? They are not only complacent, but send taxpayers money as aid when the Eurozone itself is barely surviving.
In Afghanistan it was the destruction of the ancient stone giant Buddhas at Bamiyan and finally 9/11. Will it take the destruction of the pyramids and Sphinx for these very same democratic nations to realise that just by attaching the appellation of ‘moderate’ will not make these hardline fanatics become fluffy and cuddly characters out of a children’s television programme? Just as with 9/11 will it take more terrorist attacks launched with same brazen openness as the corsairs who once raided southern Europe for slaves promoting the construction of watchtowers in order to warn the population with the spine chilling cry of “Beware the Turks!”? It is about time they start to once again construct those watchtowers. In the meantime, and in the absence of any concerted effort on the part of nations whose very civilisation the Salafi imperialists seek to destroy, what of those groups who will suffer the inevitable persecution and much worse?
Copts, Mazdeans, Assyrians and others will do their best to seek asylum as being third-class dhimmis does not guarantee as much as physical existence and even at best is intolerable. As western nations waste taxpayer money on jizya payments disguised as unconditional aid, the harsh lessons are to be found in Sudan. Here a substantial Christian and animist minority successful wages war and gained its own independent state. Not only could this provide a much needed refuge for Christian minorities but will also be a dependable western ally. But this harshest lesson is that no accommodation is possible with an ideology which is hell bent on genocide, colonialism and the annihilation of ancient indigenous cultures and peoples. South Sudanese saw the only recourse was separatism to be apart permanently from the noxious contagion that was spreading and turning traditional communities into mindless terrorist zombies. Separatism for these minority groups has been happening since the days of the pan-Arabist Reich as the brain drain robbed states of their most talented, wealthiest and skilled human talent. It is now happening as people desperately try and seek asylum. Soon western policies will need to face reality and stop living in a false utopia.
The Arab Spring has become the Arab Long March into the Night. Minorities in the supposedly ‘liberated’ Arab states face a ‘Hindu’ future. This means that they will struggle to find any sympathetic voices in democratic nations who busy with their own crises, demographic as much as financial and social, will avert their gaze and issue diplomatic bland platitudes of sympathy (which is more than Hindus get). They will find the only possibility of physical existence in exile from the lands which they called home for thousands of years.
The ancient civilisations of which they are heirs before being crushed by an Islamic imperialism which a guilt-wracked west refuses to acknowledge even existed, will survive better in museums than in the exiled diaspora communities which the very same liberal and left forces that act as apologists for Salafis by calling them ‘moderate’, will demand that they assimilate in order to prove that they are not backward, racist and inward looking.
If we are facing cold hard facts then the inconvenient truth is that no western nations will risk its main source of crude oil and the essential shipping lane of the Suez Canal by antagonising the newly emerging hardcore religious dictatorships of the embryonic Salafi empire. It took over forty years for apartheid to be defeated in South Africa as western democratic nations averted their gaze to mass deportations and the classifying of the entire population by race by a government of unashamed Nazi sympathisers. East Timor only achieved independence after Indonesia exterminated a third of its population through rape and mass killings over three decades.
Sometimes it is the most innocuous as opposed to the most dramatic event which makes us sit up and take notice, something so familiar to us that when it is disturbed it impinges on our sense of normality. What the Sharpeville Massacre did not do in 1961, Basil D’Oliveira managed to achieve at the end of that decade against apartheid. By banning ‘Dolly’ from entering that country as a player for the England team, South Africa lost all pretence at being civilised. Quite literally it was just not cricket. What will it take for western nations to sit up and take notice that reassurances from the Islamist groups are about as sacrosanct as that useless scrap of paper which Neville Chamberlain brought back from Munich in 1938? When will they realise that the protection which the Muslim Brotherhood guarantees for women and minorities are as empty as Hendrik Verwoerd’s defence of apartheid as being nothing more than good neighbourliness?
At some point the mask will have to drop. The leftist chattering classes with their fake smiles will realise that blaming the entire problems of the Middle East on a thin strip of Mediterranean coast that just happened to be called Israel was never going to cut it. But then ideologically Nazism always did owe more to the alternative bohemian and avant-garde characters than has hitherto been acknowledged. Destruction of entire communities, rape, abduction, forcible conversion and the slaughtering of innocents on live television and mobile phone recordings can only stretch excuse making so far. The stream of refugees will make it harder to ignore what is going on.
Terrorist attacks on European states more deadly than anything enacted by the corsair pirates will force the stark realisation that the protection payments packaged as aid are no longer enough to keep the barbarians at bay. Salafis will get bored of the jizya payments to fix the economies which they have only further bankrupted and will translate this restlessness into demands for anschluss of Europe with the Maghreb.
The same useful idiots who raged against Israel will find that their anti-Americanism was as misplaced as their anti-Semitism when the alternative is a Europe being carved up between a resurgent Khalifat and the competing Fourth Reichs of Russia and China. At this moment too they will realise that the very India which they hated with such venom may finally prove to be their saviour; economically, politically, but above all spiritually.
As I mentioned in the beginning, India at least has democratic organs of protest. Discontent does not have armed insurrection as its only aspiration. Elections do take place. The only attempted putsch was Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, and she paid dearly for that having to submit to the electorate of what has remained the largest democracy in the world while its neighbours resemble the Middle Eastern despotisms in having fallen prey to civil war and military dictatorship. Once India finds its Mohamed Bouazizi moment the country will defy its detractors by moving forward as a leading light of the new millennium.