More on Islamism

First, before you do anything else, go to Eteraz’s petition to free the seven Iranian women who are about to be stoned to death for adultery. My excuse for not sending a similar email to Ahmadinejad is that I don’t think he’ll regard anyone with the name Levy as anything but an enemy; I’m not above using a pseudonym – I used to blog under an American one – but I suppose it’s different when emailing fascist leaders.

More to the point, Aisha Eteraz writes about the generational Jihad, or the phenomenon of Islamism resurging as a reaction to socialism. I wrote in the past about how after 9/11 Islamism became a distributed network of local movements, but Aisha tackles how Islamism rose in the first place.

Could neoconservatism and jihadism be part of the same global movement? Could the jihad and the new crusade be a generational phenomenon, a backlash against what modern youth see as the failure of the socialist and social liberal movements of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s? In the Middle East, one is often confronted with the following scene: one is at a large noisy dinner party with one’s relatives, on a Thursday or a Friday night, and while the sweets are being cut and the tamarind juice poured out into glasses, a screaming match occurs between the old guard socialists (aged 45 to 70, or thereabout) and their religiously conservative children. Most people in the West fail to realize that many young Muslim women are taking the veil against the wishes of their mothers, who fought and risked jail time to take the veil off. Young Arab Muslims express deep embarassment and anger over the failures of their parents, who sent divorce rates in the Middle East skyrocketing, who were not above getting drunk, and who oversaw socialist revolutions that gave way to brutal dictatorships in almost every instance.

In a general sense, this explanation of Islamism is cogent. Disillusionment with the failure of the left – and, after all, the Ba’ath party was originally social-democratic – certainly does make people more right-wing. In fact it’s likely to make them fascist, like Islamists, rather than merely authoritarian.

And yet, I can’t help noticing that not all Middle Eastern nations are equally Islamist. The Palestinians, who have had to face both Israeli oppression and the failure of Fatah, are fairly secular. In Lebanon and Syria women can walk around in T-shirts and jeans, and so could they in Iraq under Saddam. Although Syria and Iraq both have secular totalitarian regimes that brutally squash all dissent, including from Islamists, the overall culture in Syria still seems more liberal than this in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Kuwait.

Still, if this generational gap is real, then it’s likely that Islamism will subside as the Middle East has to face the failures of extremism, which beyond a certain point can no longer be blamed on the West. Hamas may seem corruption-free now, but if it gets to reign for 20 years, it’ll be as corruption-free as the modern Republican Party. And all it takes is one successful democratic revolution to put immense pressure on Islamist regimes in the rest of the region to reform.

5 Responses to More on Islamism

  1. SLC says:

    Well, Mr. Levy just couldn’t resist bashing Israel in this comment, blaming the so-called oppression of the so-called Palestinians for the rise of Islamism in the PA. As an aside, it should be pointed out that Islamism is much stronger in Gaza then in the West Bank, the latter being traditionally more secular. As I have previously pointed out, if the late and unlamented Hafaz Assad and the Syrian Government had been in charge of the so-called Palestinian territories and had been subject to the provocations that the Israeli Government has endured, Hama rules would have been applied and the death toll would have been in the 10s of thousands, just as happened in the Syrian city of Hama in 1982 when dictator Assad ordered his brother Rafi to suppress an Islamic fundamentalist rebellion therin. Brother Rafi surrounded the city with several hundred artillary pieces and proceeded to bombard it continuously for 2 days, resulting in the murder of upwards of 20,000 people. Unlike the US, British, and Israeli Governments, Hafaz and Rafi couldn’t have cared less about collateral damage.

  2. KH says:

    It’s a truism that Islamism has grown on the decay of the modernizing ideologies of the 20th century – secular nationalism, Arab socialism, etc. But there’s no reason to think that the failure of Islamism, assuming it’s in prospect, necessarily will lead to the victory of liberal democracy. (The Iranian revolution has had 25+ years to fail.) There was a time when it was thought that the only thing left after Nasserism, Ba’athism, etc., was liberal democracy, that there weren’t any other options. There were, & always will be.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Oh, I’m not saying there are no options but liberal democracy – only that liberal democracy is the option most poised to triumph. I’m basing this mostly on democratic movements inside the Middle East; Iran is flush with those, only they’re called reformist rather than liberal or democratic. Ali Eteraz posted a few days ago about how Ahmadinejad is now as popular as Bush; and in Iran, the people’s preferred alternative is liberal or social democracy rather than a Shah-style fascism.

  4. Bushbaptist says:

    Interesting to note that the moment some-one even mildly criticises Israel the wolves start baying. Having lived there and in several surrounding countries I can say that there are equally both good and bad on both sides of the Israel/Palestine issue.
    My view on repressive regimes? From worst to least would be:
    Saudi Arabia, Quatar, Egypt, UAE, Kuwait and Jordan. They are on our side too.

    Insular and even paranoid:
    Iran (not without reason), Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Tunisia, Morrocco.

  5. SLC says:

    Re Bushbaptist.

    I would like to have pointed out the good people on the so-called Palestinian side of the issue in Israel and the PA. There are probably some good people there; unfortunately one never hears from them as they would be terminated with extreme prejudice if they ever opened their mouths. This is to be contrasted with the Israeli side where people from newspapers like Haaretz and groups like Peace Now can talk and demonstrate without fear of having their chips cashed in.

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