By: Basil Wilson
It only takes a spark to start a prairie fire in the Middle East. The release of vile film produced in America was sufficient to trigger widespread conflagration throughout the Islamic world. Angry mobs attacked American embassies, consulates and symbols of the United States. The fundamentalist believers burnt flags and destroyed American property. This was not the shining example of the Arab Spring but a manifestation of the collision of traditional Islamic society with the new forces of globalization.
As the world observed in the throes of the Arab Spring which began in January, 2011, there emerged a new educated elite in Egypt quite familiar with social media and cognizant of the need to build democratic institutions. The thousands who tapped into the resentment of the Mubarak dictatorship were able to use mass movement to topple the Mubarak dictatorship.
Egypt moved quite gingerly and explosively to establish a democratic regime. In the election for the Presidency, the two dominant factions weren’t the upstarts who gathered en masse in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt but the Muslim Brotherhood and a faction representing the entrenched interest of the military. The Muslim Brotherhood won the first democratic election held in Egypt in modern times.
Similar events occurred in Tunisia. The corrupt dictatorship had been overthrown by a revolutionary uprising precipitated by the concentration of wealth by the dictator’s family. In the ensuing democratic elections, even though Tunisia had a long history of secularization, it was the Islamist who secured a majority in the ensuing democratic elections.
There are contending forces in the Middle East that will make the institutionalization of democracy exceedingly difficult. The balance of forces varies from country to country. Nonetheless, in every Middle Eastern country, Islamic fundamentalism is a potent mass force.
The United States government is hoping that Islamic like the Blood Brotherhood in Egypt will take a more moderate stance than the extreme factions in bed with Al Qaeda. Although the drone strikes have taken out the top leaders of Al Qaeda, grassroots operations continue to flourish in Benghazi, Libya, in Iraq and Pakistan. This internal dialetic in Middle Eastern countries is affected by external events such as what is taking place in Israel and United States policy in the region.
The conflagration that began on the anniversary of 9/11 will peter out but it does not take much to ignite an anti-American prairie fire among Islamic fundamentalists. Conservative forces in America take the posture that America is still an omnipotent force in the world and Mitt Romney has bought into the same neo-conservative foreign policy that led to the second Iraqi war and the war in Afghanistan. At least Obama had the wisdom to extricate America’s armed forces from the war theatre in Iraq. Iraq now has something of a democratic social order but relations between Shia and Sunni is far from a rapproachment. The Al Qaeda faction in Iraq is still practicing terror and killing and maiming the innocent.
Obama has set a date for the handing over of the war to the Afghanistan military so that the American troops will be able to leave by 2014. Those two wars have cost America dearly in human capital and in the cost to American taxpayers.
America can extradite itself from Iraq and Afghanistan but have no choice but to remain in the region to protect America’s national security interest. For the foreseeable future, the Middle East will remain a region where the clash of civilization and globalization will continue for decades.
Turkey started its modernization process shortly after the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the twentieth century. Attaturk, the founding father of modern Turkey, banned certain traditional regalia and forcibly adopted western culture. Despite Attaturk’s efforts, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is still an Islamic Party that governs Turkey, but one that represents the moderate wing of Islam and not the radical Islamic fundamentalists.
In addition to the clash of globalization and civilization, in the case of Syria, different denominations of Islam are fiercely struggling for political hegemony. That civil war continues to be destructive. There is also the realization that Islamic fundamentalists in kinship with Al Qaeda are an active part of the rebellion against Assad.
Juxtaposed to Syria is Lebanon where religious sectarianism has plagued that bodypolitic. There are Christian political parties, Hezbollah and other religious factions grappling to maintain a fragile peace.
The Palestinian question and Israeli security add additional complexity to forging any semblance of lasting peace in the region. If the situation is not already complicated, the existence of nuclear weapons in Israel and the veiled attempt by Iran to develop the scientific capability of making nuclear warheads makes the region a ticking time bomb.
China has had remarkable success in synchronizing Chinese civilization with the phenomenon of globalization. Since 1979, the Chinese have adopted a market economy with a state apparatus still under the control of the tightly controlled Communist Party. The Islamic world has reverted to theocracy and to the creed of Sharia law. They have not found a model of development compatible with their religious fervor and a rapidly changing world in which scientific inquiry is indispensable.
America should not try to play God. America must deal with the realpolitik of the region and recognize the limitation of American power. Any attempt to return to an imperial past will merely exacerbate the instability of Middle Eastern society.