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October 9, 2015 / 26 Tishri, 5776
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Rubin Reports: Egypt – If There’s No Danger of Radicalism and Islamism Why Can’t You Provide Evidence?

Egyptian Presidential candidate Aboul Fotou

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–What would he do when Salafists–the people who voted for him—attack churches, women not wearing “proper” clothing, and secularists? Call out the army and repress them? Remember, what is crucial is not just what the government does itself but what it allows others to do.

Have you seen any of these points–even one–mentioned in the mass media, much less being given a fair hearing? I have been told that the U.S. government has not seriously considered or developed any contingency plan on what to do if a radical, Islamist Egypt emerges threatening U.S. interests and making a future war with Israel more likely. Compare this with the fears of an Egyptian liberal at a time when many such people and the Christian minority are in despair. While real debate about Egypt is largely suppressed, we have a fascinating example of what the mass media will permit on the issue in Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol’s op-ed in the New York Times. Suppose you were skeptical about the dominant U.S intellectual-Obama Administration-mass media narrative of Islamism and events in the Middle East? The only way to get an op-ed into the newspaper is to accept its framework but inject a bit of doubt.

Thus, the title of the op-ed is “Can Islamists Be Liberals?” Not only do the hegemonic forces deem the answer to that question to be “Yes” but regard anyone who questions it to be fit only to dwell in the outer darkness.

What Akyol does so skillfully (the fact that he’s a Muslim makes it more permissible) is to avoid outright questioning of that thesis–if he said “no” one doubts his article would have been published–but to put the ball in the other side’s court – he challenges the Islamists to prove they are real democrats. Of course, his lead begs the question:

“For years, foreign policy discussions have focused on the question of whether Islam is compatible with democracy. But this is becoming passé. In Tunisia and Egypt, Islamists, who were long perceived as opponents of the democratic system, are now promoting and joyfully participating in it. Even the Salafis now have deputies sitting in the Egyptian Parliament, thanks to the ballots that they, until very recently, denounced as heresy.” Well, if you’ve been following this question closely, the outcome is not the least bit surprising. After all, Islamists have been running for election in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan for many years. Hamas ran and won in the Palestinian territories six years ago. (Funny, there doesn’t seem to have been an election since then.) Even in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has been running in elections for years, though usually as part of another party. So the issue is not whether they are willing to run, if offered the opportunity, but whether they are going to win.

Akyol continues: “For those concerned about extremism in the Middle East, this is good news. It was the exclusion and suppression of Islamists by secular tyrants that originally bred extremism. (Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s leading ideologue, was a veteran of Hosni Mubarak’s torture chambers.)”

Now that second sentence may be true but in a very different way than it appears to be. The Islamists of the 1930s and 1940s – before there were “secular tyrants” – were quite extreme. After all, for example, they sided with the Nazis and sought—albeit incompetently—to raise rebellions against the British and French as well as their own local rulers. Is it really hard to understand the difference between extremist ends and extremist tactics?

The goal is to seize state power and transform country and society. Precisely how one does it depends on the circumstances.

Thus, it is absurd to state as a fact, as Akyol does: “Islamists will become only more moderate when they are not oppressed, and only more pragmatic as they face the responsibility of governing.” That is a thesis about radicals that remains to be proved. It was said of Lenin and of Hitler, and more recently about Arafat and Khomeini.

It usually doesn’t work out that way, at least moderation can only occur after many decades have passed and many dead have fallen. At this point in his article, having appeased the deities of pro-Islamist “political [but not factual] correctness”, is where Akyol makes his ingenious point: “But there is another reason for concern: What if elected Islamist parties impose laws that curb individual freedoms — like banning alcohol or executing converts — all with popular support? What if democracy does not serve liberty?”

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.

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