Monday, May 07, 2007

A good question

Abdulbari Atwan, in his regular column in Al-Quds al-Arabi this morning, challenges the liberals and the academics in the West and in the Arab countries to use some of their vaunted research expertise to explain in a suitably scientific and reasoned way what exactly is behind the rise and spread of the Islamic fundamentalism which in principle they oppose.

Actually, his argument starts a couple of removes from that. First, he says there is a worrying trend to use the case of Iraq as a supposed support for the idea that all opposition to Arab regimes is bad in one way or another: Either it is barbaric, or it is bought-and-paid-for ("agents"). On the contrary, there have been examples all over the Arab world of honorable and nationalist opposition, although given the nature of the Arab regimes, the leaders tend to end up dead or in jail or in exile. The conditions for a flourishing bona fide opposition are pluralistic democracy, respect for constitutions, independent judiciary and so on, and unfortunately none of the existing Arab regimes meets those conditions. Atwan goes through the cases of opposition in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, noting on the "good" side of the ledger a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who probably holds the world's record for being jailed and then released and then jailed again in an endless cycle. On the "bad side" is the case of the Syrian opposition, which he notes doesn't really deserve that name.

His point is not just that the armed opposition in Iraq and Palestine belongs to the class bona fide "opposition" of the legitimate and honorable type. Rather, his point is that the Iraqi case is being used in a noxious and damaging way to suggest that there is no such thing as legitimate opposition, because it ends up being either fundamentalist-Islamic in a "barbaric" way, or else ends up in league with the Americans. And here Atwan gets to his point about the liberals and the academics:
We respect the views of the liberals who criticize the fundamentalist Islamists and their ideas, but are we not entitled to ask them [the liberals] about what it is that supports this [fundamentalist] phenomenon, and uses it, one day, in the service of the American projects, and to strike at the liberalism, and the nationalism and the secular-left which they say should be encouraged. And [are we not entitled to ask them about] the spending of billions for the proliferation of this phenomenon in the region as a whole. And [about the fact that] where this phenomenon developed and grew and turned its weapons against the American occupation, they then turned on it and supported its suppression and used all their public-relations energy in distorting it?

Why do they not call things by their names, come out from under their cloak of generalities, and analyze the roots of this phenomenon in a scientific way that would be in keeping with the academic degrees which they hold, and with the top-level research methods in use in the Western and Arab universities that trained them?
In other words, Islamic fundamentalism is by turns used and suppressed by the Americans and their Arab-regime allies, but for all of the attention academics and liberals apply to the day-to-day happenings, where is the research that gets to the roots of this phenomenon? An excellent question, to be sure.

Finally, Atwan repeats his introductory point, which is that not all Arab opposition movements are bad. Here is the connection: There has been a failure, whether politically motivated or not, to dig around and expose the roots of Islamic fundamentalism and its political uses, and whether or not the motivation for this has been political, one of the important results has been to help discredit all opposition movements. And that is something Atwan sees as another important step on the road to the self-destruction of the Arab and Islamic worlds.


Blogger annie said...

a very good question indeed.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Alison said...

The covert funding of Islamic fundamentalists and their deployment as pawns to foil (Arab) nationalism is a theme explored by Robert Dreyfuss in his recent book ‘Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (American Empire Project)’

3:59 AM  

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