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October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘ideology’

The War of Ideologies in the Arab World

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

If one were to ask an Arab what has happened to the Arab countries, and why the terrorism and extremism we see today did not exist in the 1950s and 1960s, the answer would probably point to the frustrations and struggles of dual identities: Arab nationalism and Islamism. After the collapse of Arab nationalism, Islamist movements and ideologies emerged to fill the void. The two developments that exposed the dangerous turn to extremism the Islamist movements had taken were the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the recent Arab uprisings, called the “Arab Spring.”

From the events of 2001 until the latest Arab upheavals, the West has pursued support for a moderate Islam in the region, to eliminate terrorism. Concepts such as a “new Middle East” and support for democracies rather than tyrants became prominent rhetorically. But do leaders in the West realize how rivalries and distrust persist among Muslims, between Muslims, and against other, non-Muslim minorities? Do the values of a moderate and pluralist Islam exist today or have they disappeared completely? If they exist, how can the West support such examples of moderate Islam?

Suspicion among Muslims and toward non-Muslim minorities has a long history, but has become aggravated especially now. Sunnis do not trust Shias and Islamists are suspicious of liberals, and tension is mutual, as each group reacts to the other. Many who do not belong to Islamist parties and who represent minority groups in Egypt and Tunisia are terrified of the Muslim Brotherhood and their more extreme counterparts, the so-called “Salafis” (imitators of the Saudi Wahhabis). An Islamist state could not be expected to guarantee liberty for everyone. Shias, for their part, are anxious about the power of political Sunnism and its impact on them.

Extremist and terrorist ideological networks are present throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The recent terrorist attack on Algeria, in which foreign hostages from Japan, Philippines, Romania, Britain and the United States were killed, is connected to the terrorist invasion of nearby northern Mali. Absence of security, arms smuggling from a collapsed Libya, and rising instability are aggravated, not resolved, by Islamists in power around the region. The horrible situation in Syria, with continued fighting between the regime and armed groups, is a breeding ground for terrorism. Lack of security and stability have spread in Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon no less than Tunisia and Egypt.

This shift to extremism in the Arab world did not happen overnight. After the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire beginning in the nineteenth century, Pan-Arabism came forward with a vision of resistance to outside rule through a “new” social order, conceived along Islamic lines. Some Egyptian and the Syrian representatives of pan-Arab nationalism believed in an authoritarian state that would unify the heterogeneous Arabs into a single nation and creed. Pan-Arab nationalism was secular, and was crystallised as a political movement in the 20th century by a Syrian Christian, Michel Aflaq, who founded the Ba’ath (“Renaissance”) Party in Damascus in 1940. Aflaq, a Christian, said that Islam could not be dissociated from an Arab nationalist identity, but that the state must be separate from religious institutions. As cited by Kanan Makiya in his 1998 book Republic of Fear, Aflaq wrote, “We wish that a full awakening of Arab Christians takes place, so that they can see in Islam a nationalist education for themselves.”

When Gamal Abd Al-Nasser took power in Egypt in 1952, the country became the spiritual home of Arab nationalism. But enthusiasm for this identity did not liberate the Arab nation from foreign hegemony; nor did it generate the freedom, development and democracy that the people and especially the youth desired. Arab leaders in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, as extreme ultranationalists, disregarded the principles of freedom and democracy. One of the main causes of the decline of nationalist ideology seems to have been the 1967 Arab defeat in the Egyptian-led war against Israel.

The failure of, and disappointment in, nationalism allowed Islamists to gain new ground. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Muslim thought was occupied by the critical, philosophical views of reformers such as the Iranian Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1839-97), the Egyptians Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) and Ali Abderraziq (1888-1966) as well as others who favored adoption of Western cultural achievements while preserving Islamic belief.

Memo to the President: Compromise on the Budget

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

We are about two weeks away from something called the sequester. This is a law passed by congress to ensure that congress balance the federal budget by threatening major indiscriminate deep cuts on all government programs across the board – including defense.

Balancing the budget means that no more money is spent by the government than it takes in. If there is no action by congress along those lines the government can ‘borrow’ the money by raising the debt ceiling or by selling bonds to foreign governments like China. Meaning it can just print more money and ‘owe itself or China’ the money to pay be paid back with future revenue increasing our debt exponentially as we continue to have to ‘borrow’ to meet government expenditures because of an unbalanced budget.
Although I hope I’m wrong – it seems like the sequester will happen. That is not a good thing. There is no way of telling what the exact impact will be.  But I don’t think it is rocket science to realize that when there are automatic deep budget cuts across the board to all government programs – including the military – not to mention entitlement programs like welfare, workfare, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and farm subsidies;  …that people will suffer.
No doubt food prices will increase; joblessness will increase; government revenue from taxes will decrease and taxes will increase to try and offset that; there will be less money for anyone to spend; consumer demand will decrease; production will decrease; more jobs will be lost; the market will crash; retirement funds heavily invested in the market will no longer be able to help support the elderly; social security will decrease; Medicare and Medicaid payments will decrease, the ill will suffer; our national defense will suffer; and who knows what else… In short it’s not a pretty picture, no matter how you paint it.
The fault lies with both the executive and legislative branches of government. Neither wants to budge from their ideological positions. Congressional Republicans will never agree to any deal that does not include a reduction in government spending. The President refuses any further cuts the budget which will surely increase the deficit. He feels obligated to protect entitlements to the wealthy and the poor.
The problem with his position is that if the government keeps printing money, it will become devalued. In a world based economy this will surely cause unprecedented inflation. We may end up with a simultaneous depression and inflation… who knows.
The President has thrown down the gauntlet. He says that if congress doesn’t act blame for the sequester will be their fault.
Perhaps. But history will not be kind to the President. If the worst happens, it will be under his watch. History will record that whatever catastrophic economic event happens under his watch will be his fault. And he may go down as the worst President in American history, despite his good intentions.
It is true that the public blames both sides but see the Republicans having greater fault I this. I see it as two stubborn sides that consider their own liberal or conservative principles having greater value that saving the country from financial ruin. I really don’t know what they are thinking.
But whatever the truth is about whose fault it is, history will record that the Obama Presidency will be the worst failure since that of Herbert Hoover.
Somebody better blink in this game of chicken.  I don’t care who it is at this point. But if the President wants to have any kind of decent legacy he ought to make sure someone does.
Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

A Nation’s Search For Meaning

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, renowned psychologist Victor Frankel attributed his survival in the death camps to his feeling that his life had meaning. Those who lost that feeling of significance died.

It is not only people who need a sense of meaning; nations also need it – particularly the nation of Israel.

The search for meaning was the undercurrent that inspired last week’s elections. It wasn’t the economy or security. It certainly wasn’t the universal draft issue.

“Zionism has nothing to do with religion,” declared the First Zionist Congress. In a way, the Congress was right. Religion suits the community or family structure. It is a type of mobile Judaism that can be packed into one’s knapsack after the inevitable pogrom. Return to sovereign statehood requires much more than religion: It requires a return to an all-inclusive Jewish culture.

What content has filled the renewal of Zion in our days? We all know that without some common vision, society disintegrates. What meaning will there be to our national renaissance without the foundations of our shared faith?

All the debates at the start of Zionism revolved around that question. The Socialists won in a knockout. It was the Labor Party that presided over the establishment of the state of Israel and led it until the mid-‘70s. The Right never put forth an alternative vision. It adhered to the practical aspects of Zionism – settlement and security – without ever attempting to infuse meaning into its actions. Socialism collapsed along with the Soviet Union in the ‘80s, and when the Left was elected to lead Israel in the ‘90s, it rode the wave of “international brotherhood” alone. The socialist vision was replaced with the peace vision.

Twenty years later, we are at the end of the Oslo era. Israeli society has suffered a bloody awakening from the peace illusion, the public arena is void of any vision, and our national soul thirsts for meaning. It turns out that our national existence has no meaning if it is detached from its foundations in Jewish identity and faith – interwoven with modernity.

The Likud – the nationalist party with the glorious history, Jabotinsky’s teachings, and the popular connection to Jewish tradition – has all that it needs to infuse our society with meaning. But all of those important components were tucked out of sight in last week’s elections. The fact that the Likud did not even publicize its platform was no mistake: “We’re going to win anyway, so why get into arguments?” was the dubious logic behind that decision. And the nationalist ruling party turned itself into a party of suit-wearers with a negative campaign and no message or meaning.

On both sides of the Likud, parties that proposed a new agenda flourished. They have not yet infused their messages with real meaning, but at least one of them, Jewish Home, provided the scent of Jewish content as it quickly climbed to a projected 18 seats in the polls (it won 12 seats in the elections) – almost half of its support coming from non-observant voters.

Initially, the public was surprised when polls showed that a large number of voters were debating between Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Likud consultants expected the base attack on the Jewish Home to bring six secular mandates back to the Likud – but that didn’t happen. The Likud, which had fled from its own message and did not provide society with any type of meaning, did not garner those votes. If the Jewish agenda was suddenly unacceptable, those voters could easily vote for lack of meaning in more attractive packaging. No need to go back to voting for the lack of meaning offered by the old suits.

That is how Lapid’s party became the second largest party in Israel, while the Likud found itself shrunk and hunkering down between two fresh-faced parties advocating a new national agenda: one a civil agenda, and the other a Jewish-oriented agenda. Neither party provides meaning at this point. They are both too preoccupied with the “how” and not the “why” or “to where.”

If we in the Likud will understand the deep reason for our party’s decline; if we will refresh our ranks and provide the public with a new vision and a national answer to the “why” and “to where” – we will retrieve the votes that went to our younger sisters, and continue to securely lead Israel with our national vision.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/moshe-feiglin/a-nations-search-for-meaning/2013/01/30/

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