As the crisis in Egypt continues, Western nations are faced with a conundrum of their own making: how does one simultaneously demand that Arabic nations abandon their “7th century” mentality, best represented by oppressive, often totalitarian regimes, even as one knows the current uprisings against such regimes will likely produce results utterly antithetical to Western interests? At this juncture, perhaps the best the West can hope for is clarity.
For the last ten years, both the Bush administration and the Obama administration have worked mightily to convince the American public that the “overwhelming majority” of Muslims are “on our side” with regards to the global war against terror. Yet if that were truly the case, then why has it been necessary to prop up autocratic regimes throughout the region for decades? With respect to Egyptians, a June 2010 Pew opinion survey reveals a decidedly different set of sensibilities: 59% of Egyptians back Islamists while only 27% back modernizers; there is 50% support for Hamas, 30% for Hezbollah and 20% for al Qaeda. 95% of Egyptians would welcome Islamic influence in their political arena.
If Hosni Mubarak’s removal hands Egypt over to the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most virulent Islamic terrorist organizations in the world, the Obama administration will be roundly criticized for sitting back and “allowing it to happen.” Already columnists in Israel are characterizing the administration’s wait-and-see policy as a “knife to the back.” Perhaps it is. But in one respect, such a policy is hard to distinguish from that of a Bush administration which sat back and allowed Hamas to gain control of the West Bank via a democratic election. Thus, while one can criticize the current administration for a certain level of naivete regarding reality, the idea that an American administration embraces democracy per se, irrespective of the outcome, is hardly new.
Where both administrations have faltered has to do with the idea of believing that democracy and freedom are interchangeable terms, and that the definition of freedom is a commonly understood concept which cuts across cultural boundaries. If the result of the Egyptian democracy movement results in Muslim Brotherhood gaining control of the government–with acquiescence of the Egyptian people–freedom in the Western sense will be nowhere to be found. If the people willingly trade a secular dictatorship for a religious one, it will be a terrible development for the West in every respect but one:
We will be forced to admit that substantial numbers of Muslims, perhaps even a majority, do not embrace Western values.
Such clarity may be the only bright light in an otherwise darkened sky. If the uprisings occurring in the Middle East result in democratically elected religious tyrannies which openly express their hatred of the United States and their desire to destroy Israel, perhaps those long-deluded into believing ideas such as terrorism is a “law-enforcement problem,” or that massive Muslim emigration into Western countries is little cause for concern, or that Western accommodation to Muslim sensibilities must proceed without hesitation, will be snapped out of their delusion. Perhaps phrases like “man-caused disaster” and “overseas contingency operation” will be tossed on the ash heap of history where they belong. Perhaps an Israel completely surrounded by enemies will awaken Jewish liberals in both countries to the utter bankruptcy of their multicultural and morally relative fantasies.
Perhaps those who have long tut-tutted the idea that we may be in the midst of a civilizational struggle will have the blinders removed from their eyes.
No one in their right mind yearns for a clash of civilizations. But for far too long, Western nations have largely dismissed the idea as neo-con warmongering, or the “politics of fear.” Those who have sounded the warnings are “Islamophobic.” Many Westerners simply cannot convince themselves that so-called radical Islam and moderate Islam may be one and the same thing, and that Muslims who are genuinely pro-Western are not only not the majority, but not even a substantial minority of the world’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam.
Despite such a possibility, many in Europe and America are thrilled with the prospect that a West which traded stability for democracy, even when such a tradeoff was the only practical reality, will reap a whirlwind of its own making. Comments at many websites reveal the fantasies of anti-Semites convinced that the march of Arab democracy spells doom for Israel. Again, while such thinking is contemptible, it too reveals clarity: substantial numbers of Europeans and Americans view their own culture with contempt. It is a contempt premised on the idea that a lack of perfection is tantamount to utter corruption, and that if everything isn’t worth saving, then nothing is.
Such talk is cheap and one need only remember the gut reaction of the overwhelming majority of Americans and Europeans immediately following 9⁄11 to know it. That was the day when the theory of Western comeuppance gave way to the reality of it. The West could be forgiven for not recognizing the enormity of Islamic discontent then. We have no such excuses now, especially if the Middle East continues on its present trajectory, one day at a time, while the whole world watches.
We can hope for the best possible outcome, but we must prepare for the worst, even if that means preparing for a worldwide war. We must begin recognizing we’ve spent the last ten years hoping that what we’d like to believe about the majority of Muslims is likely nothing more than wishful thinking. No one truly knows what the majority of Muslims think. Maybe not even Muslims themselves. It is by their deeds that we shall know them. In that sense, who finally gains control in Egypt, if democratically elected, will speak volumes.
Clarity may not be much. But it’s far better than self-inflicted, politically correct delusion.