The Arab Spring, the Autumn of Terrorism
By Basil Wilson
Does the Arab Spring mean the autumn of terrorism? Osama Bin Laden met his just fate last Sunday at the hands of American Commandos. The initial revelation is that he was not just the face of terrorism but in his recluse state remained engaged in nefarious plots against the United States and the West. Osama’s death and the trove gathered at the compound should diminish Al Qaeda as a terrorist threat.
In the nineteenth century, the world made some progress in what paradoxically could be called the “civilizing of war”. The Geneva Conventions have attempted to refine war and one essential principle was and is to differentiate combatants from civilians. That differentiation became murky during World War 11 with the bombardment of Dresden, Germany, the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Hitler’s genocide against Jews, Gypsies and those deemed expendable. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, through religious fanaticism, found ways to justify the innocent slaughtering of civilians as occurred in the United States on 9/11/2001.
In the early decades of the twenty-first century, the rise of religious fanaticism represents a serious threat to world peace. Nowhere is that more evident than the Middle East, which is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Islamic fundamentalism in the form of Al Qaeda justifies all forms of atrocities in the name of a deity. Jewish fundamentalism in the form of a greater Israel uses biblical teachings to justify the occupation of what is defined as “holy land”. Once religious zealotry becomes the order of the day, rational thought becomes non-existent.The Obama administration hoped that the United States could find common ground among the Palestinians and the Israelis in forging a two state solution. Abbas, the Palestinian leader and Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister have not been able to find the pathway to peace.
The Arab Spring that is re-shaping the fundamentals of Middle Eastern society has also had a profound impact on Israeli-Palestinian relations. The two Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas who were in a virtual civil war have established a unity front.
Further complicating this coming together of Hamas and Fatah is the more independent position of the post-Mubarak Egyptian government. The new Egyptian government has sought to establish a rapprochement with Iran and has allowed Iranian vessels to pass through the Suez Canal. The post-Mubarak government has also unsealed the border between Gaza and Egypt. The Egyptian government has been careful that it will adhere to the Peace Treaty that was signed with Israel. But elections are due and a newly democratically elected government could produce a foreign policy less friendly to Israel.
Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, are adherents of Islamic fundamentalism. Hezbollah remains an implacable foe of Israel and a growing political force in Lebanon which has for decades been torn by religious divisiveness. The Arab Spring has shattered the status quo in Syria but it has not had much impact on Lebanon.
The uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have exploded in a multiplicity of directions. The dominant school of thought appears to be disillusionment with absolute governments and a yearning for a democratic society. That is unmistakably the case in Tunisia and Egypt. But the uprisings are multi-faceted. We have seen even in Egypt that Islamic fundamentalists have launched attacks on Egyptian Christians.
Democracy is by nature an untidy process. Democracy is in essence the negation of religious fundamentalism. This is why the American founding fathers judiciously separated state from church. Western civilization has long since had its reformation. In some respects it is too early to proclaim the Arab Spring leading to an Islamic reformation that would transform terrorism into an anachronistic force.Prior to the Libyan uprising, Qadaffi became an ally in the war against terrorism. When the Arab Spring came to Libya, Qadaffi refused to accommodate the democratic forces and currently Libya in an asundered state with Qaddafi occupying the capital, Tripoli and the rebel forces aided by NATO occupying the eastern half of the country. The impasse of the two contending forces demonstrates the complexity of the Arab Spring.
Dictators do not necessarily go gently into that good nightAssad in Syria has already demonstrated his willingness to butcher democratic opponents. The estimate is that Assad has already shot down over 500 citizens of Syria demanding political reforms. Thus far in Syria, what we have observed from a distance is a movement that has embraced democratic precepts, not Islamic fundamentalism.Islamic fundamentalists are a force in Yemen and that presents serious problems of national security for America as Al Qaeda is a force in the deep recesses of Yemen. In Bahrain, it is a struggle between Sunni and Shiites. Shiites make up the majority in the kingdom.
What would help the democratic forces in the Middle East is the realization of the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. What would be useful is the timely rise of secular democratic forces in Israel but based on the current dialectics of Israel politics that is unlikely.
The death of Osama Bin Laden and the Arab Spring will reduce the appeal of terrorist ideology. The United Nations must assist in restoring the principles of the Geneva Convention to the extent that the wanton killing of civilians is no longer seen as justifiable. The democratic forces in the Arab Spring are still in an embryonic stage. Hopefully the Arab Spring will reduce religious fanaticism to a relic of the past.