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.