Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Twin Fascisms and the Terror War

Originally published on FrontpageMag.com.

The world's media have covered Sudan's genocidal campaign of rape and murder in Darfur as an isolated story, but the terror is related to broader issues in the Middle East. Recently, Abu Khawla, a Tunisian human rights activist and rare liberal voice in the Arab world, noted: "A deafening silence was observed throughout the Arab world on the horrendous crime being committed by their fellow Arabs in Sudan. ... The Arab silence can only be explained once we understand the true nature of the twin fascisms of Islamism and Pan-Arabism."

Indeed, Darfur – not Iraq, not Israel – is today's most significant arena for gauging the challenge to the West posed by Muslim/Arab fascism and terror.

Militant Islam has targeted non-Muslims worldwide, but Muslim Arab militancy also has an ethnic, racist component expressed as intolerance as well toward some fellow Muslims. The victims in Darfur are Muslim but non-Arab, and the slaughter there is only the latest in a series of genocidal assaults by Arab regimes against their non-Arab Muslim populations.

The challenge posed to the rest of the international community lies in the militant ethnic as well as religious bigotry so rife in the Arab world. How are this challenge and its threats to be addressed? Whether or not military confrontation with parts of the Arab world will be inevitable, it will not be sufficient. Arab regimes have engaged in and lost numerous wars in the last half-century without those losses diminishing the fascist elements in modern Arab culture.

In looking at the terror that has emanated from the Muslim, particularly the Arab, world in recent years, some in the West have sought to rationalize it and diminish its significance by compartmentalizing it and ascribing it to specific grievances in the places hit by terror. Other voices have pointed to Saudi Arabia's dissemination of militant Wahhabi teachings, including the promotion of Jihad and denigration of non-Muslims, particularly Jews and Christians, as a central source of Islamic terrorism. (The Weekly Standard recently published excerpts from a Saudi edition of the Koran distributed throughout the world, including to Muslim communities in the West, in which the original Koranic text is altered to introduce attacks on Jews and Christians and to delete passages that speak positively of them.) Certainly, this Saudi/Wahhabi campaign suggests that the terror pursued by Muslim groups cannot be dismissed as simply the work of separate groups, each responding to its own local grievances.

But the roots of the Islamic/Arab war against outsiders run deeper than Wahhabi hate mongering and calls to Jihad. The Saudis' aggressive export of Wahhabi militancy began largely in the 1980s, in no small part as a competitive response to the Khomeini revolution in Iran and establishment of a Shia theocracy there. Yet anti-Jewish and anti-Christian hate mongering had been widespread earlier throughout the Arab Middle East and had been promoted in government-sponsored publications in states led by secular as well as religious regimes.

Bernard Lewis wrote in 1986, regarding anti-Semitism in the Arab world, "The volume of anti-Semitic books and articles published, the size and number of editions and impressions, the eminence and authority of those who write, publish, and sponsor them, their place in school and college curricula, their role in the mass media, would all seem to suggest that classical anti-Semitism is an essential part of Arab intellectual life at the present time – almost as much as happened in Nazi Germany."

At the same time, the Arab world was widely subjecting the Christian communities in its midst to intense pressures well before the Saudis' campaign of exporting Wahhabism. Egypt, the most cosmopolitan of Arab states and run by a secular government, has long required its large Coptic Christian community, numbering around ten million, to live with onerous restrictions; even renovation or addition to a church needs approval at the ministerial level. Pressures applied to Christian communities have led to high rates of Christian emigration from nations throughout the Arab world. Of course, in Saudi Arabia no citizen can be a Christian, Christian prayer is officially forbidden, and conversion from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death.

But the most horrendous assault on Christians in the Arab world has been the decades-long campaign of enslavement, rape and murder waged against the Christian blacks of the southern Sudan. Begun virtually with Sudan's independence in the 1950s, the attacks and the killing have proceeded under both secular and Islamist regimes and have claimed more than two million lives – one of the worst acts of genocide since World War II. Khartoum's murderous policies have consistently had the backing of its brother Arab states, none of which has voiced any criticism of the aggression and some of which have lent active support to Khartoum's assault on the south.

But even the longstanding denigration of and attacks upon Jews and Christians do not fully encompass the targeting of others by the Arab Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa; in addition to the assaults on non-Muslims, there is, again, a targeting of those who may be fellow Muslims but are also non-Arabs.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein pursued the forced expulsion and mass murder of Kurds living in Iraq's north – Iraqi citizens and fellow Muslims – killing some 200,000 before he was distracted by his adventure in Kuwait, and he did so without criticism from his fellow Arab leaders. In Algeria, the Muslim but non-Arab Berber population did more than its share of the fighting against the French in the war of independence; but, with independence won, the Arab-dominated government embarked on a campaign of forced "Arabization" of Berber communities. In addition, since the outbreak of an Islamist versus secular civil war in Algeria in 1994, the largely secularized Berbers have been particular targets not only of the Algerian government but also of the Islamist rebels, who have wrought widespread carnage in the country. The people of Darfur – Muslim, but black – now being raped and murdered by the Sudanese government with the support of other Arab nations are only the latest example of Arab assaults on non-Arab Muslim populations living within the Arab world.

This chronic pattern of Arab intolerance and aggression on both religious and ethnic levels has implications for all the local conflicts in the Middle East. It is noteworthy, for example, that none of the populations that have been subjected to murderous, at times genocidal, assault – not the Kurds, for example, nor the Algerian Berbers, nor the Christian blacks of southern Sudan, nor the Muslim blacks of Darfur – were sovereign communities or even enjoyed an autonomy to which the Arab regimes objected; although, in the face of the destruction wrought upon them, they have all come to aspire to at least some autonomy.

Yet many people assume that, with regard to Israel, reducing the areas under its control or even compromising its status as an independent state will satisfy Arab claims and reconcile the surrounding Arab world to the Jews' presence in its midst, that sufficient concessions will win Israel peace. Israel has an interest in separating itself from the Palestinian Arab population, but beyond this the truth regarding territorial and other concessions is the opposite. For all the conventional wars and terror campaigns waged against them, all the horrendous tolls taken of Israeli lives, the Jews of Israel have, in fact, suffered less at the hands of their Arab neighbors than have the Muslim Kurds and the Christian and Muslim blacks of the Sudan and other minorities in the Arab world. They have done so precisely because they have an independent state, which enables them to defend themselves as those others cannot.

How are the Muslim Arab world's twin militancies, religious and ethnic, to be understood? There has always been an ethnic component in the Arab comprehension of Islam. The Arabs were creators of the faith, the Koran is written in their language, their armies disseminated Islam and their empires made possible its early flourishing, and many among them have tended to see themselves as the natural nobility of the Islamic world. In the modern era, a self-perception promoted by the more militant among Arab religious and secular leaders, a message to which many Arabs have been receptive, is similar to that fostered in Germany between the world wars: the self-perception of being a superior people robbed by others of its rightful place in the sun and having to fight to regain the superior status that properly belongs to it.

In the case of Germany, the fascist perspective changed only with defeat in World War II, and that defeat did not suffice. Democratization was key to the Germans' rethinking their sense of themselves and their relation to their neighbors and the rest of the world. President Bush's talk of promoting democratization in the Arab world has been disparaged as naive, unrealistic and grandiose. But it is essentially pragmatic, more so than the supposed realpolitik that has guided the failed Western approach to the Arab world over much of the past century; and it is likely necessary as well if the world is to be made safe from Islamic/Arab fascism.