Islamic militants take to the streets
Fear of death has not deterred them
But What Should the US Do?
The widening conflict in Egypt and the rising body count contains the fundamental feature of classical tragedy, magnificent mortals pitted against cosmic forces whose heroic efforts are doomed to failure. For some time now I have been writing about the situation in Egypt and the possibility of an armed conflict between the Islamic theocrats and secular military strong men, as they contend for power in that oldest and most populous of the Arab nations.
One can simply enter “On Egypt” in the search engine on this blog to review the paper trail, and it will reveal why I am not surprised that it has come to this tragic state of affairs in that ancient country. The record will show that I have always believed it would come to something like this i.e. open armed conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Armed forces that will result in one side vanquishing the other.
Let me hasten to confess that I have no crystal ball and do not claim supernatural powers. Nor do I have vast intelligence agencies briefing me. Instead I rely on the lessons of history and take the Islamist at their word. Hence at the onset of the so called Arab Spring, an impromptu movement for popular democracy in the Arab world characterized by disruptive mass demonstrations directed from Facebook, I have always been skeptical that the movement would result in anything like the western democratic societies as many had vainly hoped.
In fact I have consistently argued that we were far more likely to wind up with a “Tyranny of the Majority,” as Alexis de Tocqueville, that prescient 19th century tribune and incisive analyst of American democracy called it. Even in the US, this has been the case when the racial caste system is taken into account. Hence in this land of ancient grievances, the most potent of which in the modern era being based in religious disputes and secularist vs. theocrats, democracy is a synonym for tyranny. In such a scenario the common place bromides about the virtues of popular democracy do not apply; ideology is contradicted by reality and thus things fall apart.
We have been assured of this result by no less an authority than the official ideologist of the Andropov regime in Soviet Russia, who confessed that the powerful Communist Party of the Soviet Union collapsed mainly because “when reality disagreed with our ideology we dismissed reality.” That’s what some “experts” who now talk about restoring “democratic government” in Egypt are doing. As history has repeatedly demonstrated: In the Muslim world, when unfettered popular elections allow the majority of the populace to express their political will, they often elect Islamic parties to power.
It has even happened in Turkey, a nation founded on the principle of separation of church and state. Indeed, the key to understanding the present conflict in Egypt is to grasp the significance of the Turkish experiment with constructing a secular democracy in an Islamic country. Kamal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, had figured out that there was a correlation between the modernization of western societies and the separation of church and state that had occurred there.
He saw that in a modern secular society science is given primacy over religion, physics over metaphysics, and merit over tribalism. Ataturk recognized that these changes were the essential building blocks of modernity. And he understood that if the Islamic countries were going to ever catch up to the West they would have to undergo a similar religious reformation as that in the west, and he put measures in place to insure the development and preservation of secularism in Turkish politics and public policy.
But the secular character of Turkish society in now threatened by the success of the Justice and Development Party, which is an Islamic Party. One female Turkish journalist that I recently interviewed – and who wishes to remain anonymous – is horrified by the rise of this Islamic Party to power. She is hoping that the military will intervene to stop them from passing repressive laws against women and curtailing other civil liberties. And she is very worried about the fact that some top military men have been removed from their positions, since Ataturk had envisioned the military as the guardian of Turkey’s secular democracy.
Islamic Demonstrators in Turkey
A frightening sight to secular democrats
The Egyptian government has been able to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood only by employing the heavy hand of the military since the middle of the twentieth century; which is why Muhammad Morsi is the first elected civilian leader in Egypt’s history. The entire history of the modern Egyptian state is marked by the rule of military strongmen: Abdel Gamal Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Honsi Mubarak, all army officers. And for most of this period the country was governed under martial law, a system which gave extraordinary powers to the government.
When criticized on this policy by the US and other western governments the Egyptian strong men said martial law was necessary in order to keep the Islamic militants in check, preventing them from wreaking havoc. They were convinced that if the Muslim Brotherhood ever took over the country they would establish Sharia i.e. Islamic law. As modern secular men the military has been consistently opposed to the Islamicization of Egypt. That’s why the Egyptian activist, who led the pro-democracy movement that toppled the Mubarak regime and forced the military out of politics, were begging them to overthrow the Muhamad Morsi government before he was halfway through his first term as President.
The reason millions of Egyptians who had cursed the military establishment just a year or two ago now enthusiastically sing their praises, is because after giving them a taste of power they now recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood, like all Islamic parties, is fundamentally opposed to a secular democratic society.
Hence no matter what they say, they are committed to establishing an Islamic Caliphate. Yet to the careful and informed observer all of this was predictable, as you can see from reading my essays on Egypt. To grasp what has happened here one need only remember that the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt was the incubator in which the theology of Sayyid Guthb, the theologian whose writings inspired the modern Jihad, was hatched. And they have not repudiated these beliefs.
Thus in order to understand the Muslim Brotherhoods political behavior, understanding their view of politics is essential. The most important thing to understand about their attitude toward democratic politics is that Sayyid Guthb preached that all the troubles of the contemporary world are rooted in the separation of church and state. To them all the world should be living under Sharia Law, which they believe was handed down from God/Allah and is therefore the perfect plan for a fulfilling and righteous human community.
They will not be easily deterred
They also believe that all leaders of predominately Muslim countries that are not governed by Sharia law are apostates worthy of death. They are referred to as “Jahlili,” which means a barbarian or savage who is living in contradiction of God’s Plan. Sayyid divided the world into “Dat El Islam” and “Dar El Harb,” the difference between the two is one is governed by Sharia Law and the other by laws of man. In his view these societies are natural enemies and the latter must be subordinated to the former by any means nescissary, Hence they view it as their duty to eradicate secular democracy in Muslim countries because they are sacrilegious abominations that interfere with God’s perfect plan. There’s is a totalitarian doctrine; Just like the Communists who believe that Marxism is a socio-political version of what physicist call “Unified Field theory,” a theory that explains everything.
However since the standards of physics is far more exacting than Marxism physicist readily admit that they have no such theory; yet the Marxist are certain that they have. Hence in any coalition with communist their objective is to eventually take it over and impose their worldview. If you add to the certainty of the Marxist that they have the “science” that explains every aspect of human society, to the Islamic theocrat’s view that their plan was handed down to man by God almighty himself, even a blind man can see that there is no compromise to be found with them. Hence they must be defeated!
It is this understanding on the part of secular military men, supported by Egyptians who have witnessed enough of the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach to governence to know that they cannot be trusted to safeguard democracy and religious pluralism. This has led to the present violent conflict between the supporters on the Muslim Brotherhood and those who support the ideal of secular democracy. Since Americans would not wish to live under religious dictators, and it is not in the interests of the US to have an Islamic fundamentalist government in Egypt, it would be both hypocritical and self-destructive for President Obama to follow the advice of those who are calling for him to cut off aid to the Egyptian military.
Although the scenes of carnage we see on our television screens are troubling, the consequences of an Islamic fundamentalist government would be far worse – remember the mass executions in Iran after the Ayatollahs came to power in an Islamic revolution spurred by American meddling? This is a situation where all of the choices are bad. Hence while moralist look for a perfect solution, politicians must choose the lesser evil. In the present instance this means supporting the Egyptian military. Anyone who is not capable of making this kind of old blooded decision based on realpolitik should choose another profession – such as a preacher or philosopher.
The Carnage in Syria
Slaughtered innocents are everywhere
Alas, the most critical lesson of the Egyptian crisis – and other upheavals in the Middle Easy – is that the US is not the world’s policeman and thus cannot control the behavior of other nations. That is a lesson we should also remember when our political leaders talk about wading into the Syrian Quagmire, where thousands of people are being slaughtered as I write. The region is on fire and the danger zone is everywhere! We will continue to monitor this developing situation in the Arab world with great interests.
The Middle East is Being Reduced to Rubble
And America has no solution to this.
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 21, 2013