Why the Arab Spring may lead to an Islamic civil war.
"Revolution is like Saturn, it devours its own children," Danton says in Georg Buchner's Danton's Death, a controversial play about the French Revolution. In the modern context that line might be changed to read, "Revolution is like Allah, it devours its own children."
Israel and America are convenient justifications for Muslims to kill other Muslims in the name of Allah. When Bin Laden wanted to overthrow the Saudis, he made war on them as the pawns of America. When the Saudis wanted to overthrow the Hashemites, they accused them of being the pawns of Britain. Now that the Salafis are confronting the Muslim Brotherhood, they are also accusing them of being the pawns of America and Israel.
The Jihadists are the children of the Islamic Revolution. The brats of the upscale millionaire Islamists running networks of companies in Egypt and Turkey funded with Saudi and Qatari cash. But the vested interests that begin revolutions are not always the ones who benefit from them. Germany sent Lenin back in a sealed car under the protection of its soldiers for the short-term goal of taking Russia out of the war. Germany succeeded in toppling a moderate Russian government and replacing it with radical Bolsheviks, and, thirty years later Soviet troops were occupying Berlin.
The Gulf States are already quarreling with the Muslim Brotherhood and accusing it of wanting to take them over. Even while both groups are working together to take over Syria, neither trusts each other. But the real threat to them is the chaos that they have unleashed. The Muslim Brotherhood revolutionaries, like their Bolshevik spiritual ancestors, are returning from exile in the West to carry off their revolutions, but the revolution doesn't end where they say it does.
The Islamist imperative of the revolution is to purge heresy and secularism, to restore true Islam, but there has never been any consensus on what true Islam is. Even Mohammed was forced to recant some of his prophecies attributing them to "Satan" and, not long after his death, Islam began to fall apart into quarreling factions who gave rise to the Sunnis and the Shiites.
Muslims can't agree on what Islam is. What they can agree on is that most other forms of Islam are heresy and, depending on the severity of the heresy, their practitioners may be freely killed. Islamic reform movements in their revolutionary purity have treated conventional Muslims as less pure for visiting shrines, using good luck charms or watching soccer. And every Islamic reform movement has opened the door for a new group that thinks they are a bunch of liberal heretics.
"Big fleas have little fleas, Upon their backs to bite 'em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so, ad infinitum." Islamic revolutions, like their secular counterparts, have countless smaller fleas who take Islam even more seriously and are even more determined to turn society into an exact ideal replica of 7th Century Arabia.
The Muslim Brotherhood might have been a flea on Egypt's back, but the Salafis are a flea on its back, and there are fleas on the backs of the Salafis. Revolutions solve these problems with an extended round of purges that ends when no one believes in anything anymore. The French Revolution drowned itself in its own blood, and the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist Party did likewise. By the time Mao and Stalin's last butchers were shown the door, Communism was no longer a revolutionary idea, it was just a rotting structure that would take several generations to dismantle.
For the Islamists the challenge is to firmly draw a line to their right and they cannot do that because Mohammed is on the other side of that line. Blaming Israel and "foreign elements" is a convenient way to avoid dealing with the logical consequences of their own ideology. It is also a demonstration of why ideological revolutions never prosper, but decay into paranoid tyrannies that are too afraid to loosen their grip on power because that there is no reason why what they did to the former rulers cannot also be done to them.
No matter how pure an Islamic party may claim to be, there are always newcomers who are even purer and more incorruptible. Every Jihadist gang can point to "extremists" who are too far over the line. And those extremists can point to their own extremists. And so on ad infinitum until all the fleas drinking blood are drowning in each other's blood.
Egypt has been the true heartland of the Islamic revolution because the foreign influences have given its "intellectuals" practical ideas that the Gulf clans aren't capable of. The Muslim Brotherhood's success has come from borrowing the ideas and tactics of the National Socialists and Communists. But that just makes them into a more foreign element than the purer Salafis and, in a game where victory comes to those who are willing to use violence in the name of the latest Islamic Revolution, what the Brotherhood's Arab Spring victories have truly brought it is a prominent place in an Islamic civil war.
The struggle over Syria is escalating and may well explode in a regional Sunni-Shiite civil war. Their only hope of averting this is another round of NATO intervention which exposes once again just how dependent the Muslim Brotherhood is on its Western enablers who have had to help it take power politically and militarily. But while the West plays Germany to the Brotherhood's Bolsheviks, whether the Brotherhood's Islamic Revolution will be able to take hold now depends less on its ability to manipulate a gullible leftist media and political establishment in the Eurosphere and more on being able to control the violence inherent in its own ideology.
The Muslim Brotherhood has two choices: it can either try to control the violence or direct it. Like the Saudis, it is likely to make the second choice. The Brotherhood is a terrorist group and organizing attacks through proxies is second nature to it. Iran was never able to let go of its terrorist habits, even when it would have been in its own best interests to stop. The Brotherhood isn't likely to be able to stop either. Its leaders likely imagine that the Sinai violence will allow them to play a triple game, seizing the Sinai, suppressing the opposition and keeping the Jihadi gangs pointed in Israel's direction.
But like the Saudis, they are wrong. The Saudis have redirected the Islamists who might otherwise be giving them the boot with double handfuls of money and foreign enemies. But all that means is that the Islamists have grown more dangerous and more experienced. Sooner or later the monarchies will fall, whether it's to Al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood is a minor detail. And the Brotherhood in its time will fall the same way.
Anyone can call himself an Islamic teacher and begin recording tapes calling for true Islam and then upload them to the internet. Anyone can dig up revolutionary texts from the last hundred years, rewrite them a little and lay out the principles for a truly Islamic form of government. And anyone can assure Western reporters and politicians that, despite all the bombings, their Jihadist gang is filled with moderates who are the only hope of keeping the true extremists at bay.
Another, less well-known quote from Danton's Death comes from Robespierre, loosely adapted from his own words. "The weapon of the Republic of terror, the power of the Republic is virtue - because without virtue, terror is unwholesome and without terror, virtue is powerless." This cycle of virtue and terror is an endless escalation, with virtue feeding terror and terror feeding virtue.
Revolutions like Allah devour their own children, and this one has only begun gorging at the buffet.
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