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Rubin Reports: How to Make the `Bad Guys’ into `Good Guys’ By Pretending They’re Moderate Guys

A protest by Salafis in Cairo

A protest by Salafis in Cairo
Photo Credit: Al Arabiya News

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There are  two types of revolutionary Islamists in the Middle East today: the Muslim Brotherhood and the “Salafists.” Of course, the Muslim Brotherhood is in fact a salafist group, in the sense that it wants to use Islam as it can be most strictly and repressively interpreted and create a dictatorship based on a radical interpretation of Sharia law.
And that is the first important point to understand.   The difference between Brotherhood and “Salafists” is purely tactical. The Brotherhood has learned how to maneuver politically, an advance similar to what Lenin instituted for the Marxists of his day. You can’t just declare a revolution and change everything overnight.
No, the Communists argued a century ago and the Brotherhood advocates now, instead the road to victory is to create a disciplined movement, build a mass base, construct front groups, create (temporary) alliances that split your opponents, and march step by step to total power. Just as Lenin planned to get the capitalists to sell him the rope with which to hang them, the Brotherhood plots the same course with the infidels.
So far the Brotherhood has been pretty successful.
In contrast, the Salafists are less elegant. They put it all on the table – total Islamism now through direct action and violence.
These thoughts were prompted by an Associated Press article on Tunisia, the only Middle Eastern country where secularists are going to make a stand against the revolutionary Islamist movement that is advancing everywhere. In addition, since the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is in a coalition government with liberals, Tunisia will be a test case for lots of issues.

So can liberal Tunisians expect any real Western help or sympathy? Well, as we’ve seen in Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria the answer is pretty much “no.” Why? Because the prevailing Western narrative—which is dominated by the far left— holds that it is the Brotherhood and not the liberals who are the “good guys” in the Middle East.

Think of how “unnatural” this is. There are leftists in the region and real liberals, too, who are the precise counterparts of the current Western elites in terms of ideas or of Western democratic societies in terms of goals.  Shouldn’t all those academics, intellectuals, journalists, and government officials be cheering the liberals and booing the Islamists, including the Brotherhood? Marxists and Communists used to call the equivalents of the Brotherhood, “clerical fascists.”

Here’s a rare example today of old-fashioned leftism from the  Communist Party of Great Britain’s newspaper, December 1, 2011:

“In 1979, a wave of euphoria for the uprising against the shah of Iran swept through the left, which failed to warn of the danger that was presented by other bourgeois forces, particularly the mullahs. The left adopted the attitude of ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’, rather than adopting the position, developed by Marx and Engels, and later by Lenin and Trotsky, that the working class should focus on defending its own interests, developing its own independent organisations and maintaining a strict separation from the bourgeoisie.”

Refreshing, isn’t it? Makes you yearn for the good old days. And the article continues:

“As Engels and Lenin, in particular, made clear, our aim is not bourgeois democracy, but socialism. We defend bourgeois-democratic freedoms not as an end in themselves, but only in so far as they facilitate the independent organisation and struggle of the workers.”

So Marxists aren’t supposed to support reactionary clerical regimes (said to be “bourgeois”) while Marxists only pretend to be for democracy in order to get Communism. But nowadays most of the Western left does back the Brotherhood or at least serve as its public relations’ agency. Forget about ‘Islamophobia’. The real attitude of these circles can be called ‘Islamomania,” a belief that Islamist groups are the true revolutionaries of our time, the “progressives” of the Middle East.

Why should Western liberals, or leftists for that matter, support reactionary clerical regimes (totalitarians) that only pretend to be for democracy in order to get Islamist dictatorships (Iran, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, Hamas’ Gaza Strip, and coming soon to Egypt, etc.?)

Can you think of one liberal Muslim, in the West or in the Middle East, who has become a hero to Western onlookers? No. Such people remain small in numbers and obscure in terms of publicity.  In a few cases, they are let into the Western media but only to argue that the Brotherhood is going to be their protector. This is what happened after the brief period of cheerleading for the Tahrir Square “Facebook kids.” If you are a liberal or secularist Middle Easterner or Western Muslim don’t expect any support from liberal secularist Westerners.

How do you make the bad guys into good guys while ignoring the good guys? By making the even-worse guys the apparent threat. Al-Qaida is evil and now so are the Salafists. In Egypt, that role is also assigned the army, which will soon be out of political power. But the “mainstream” Islamists then become the hero, even as they persecute the liberals.

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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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