About a fortnight ago I wanted to write a blog and say that it might be helpful not to see what’s happening in the southern Mediterranean countries as another manifestation of Islamic fundamentalist takeover but by the time I was getting my head around it, I saw an excellent article by Ian Buruma, one of the preeminent European experts on East Asia (Japan and China mainly) and – as it has become increasingly evident – on Europe and the Middle East as well:
If that wasn’t (from the limited point of view of my own self-promoting purposes, bad) enough, along came another insightful piece by Olivier Roy, one of Europe’s leading experts on Islam, writing in a leftwing British publication that usually prefers to mince no words when it comes to saying what’s what:
And then came what I believe is the last word from the biggest daddy of them all among Middle-East-watchers, the great Robert Fisk, weighing in superbly on the issue:
All that I have to add is that I’d lost count of the numbers killed in Algeria since the stolen election of 1992 but thought I’d read some time ago that about 100,000 people had been killed. Ian Buruma’s article talks of 200,000 killed. And counting.
Would so many have had to die if the Islamists had not been cheated out of victory with French and American acquiescence but been allowed to come to power, to fatten on power, to get corrupted, perhaps even debauched, the way their Iranian counterparts – be they Mullahs, Revolutionary Guards or the hated Basij militia – have become? (Iran, the country whose entirely democratically elected leader Mohammad Mossadegh was got rid of in what is now openly acknowledged as a CIA-organized coup. Iran, a clear majority of whose population today was born AFTER 1979 and has little patience with the regime.)
Everyone, everyone, in every country in the world has some basic expectations: dependable supply of food, water and electricity, convenient transport, jobs (oh yes, jobs), access to a few creature comforts taken for granted these days in almost every city and town and perhaps even small town in the world, namely refrigerators, television sets, computer screens, dependable mobile phone networks and so forth. And oh yes, the freedom to practice a faith or the freedom NOT to practice a faith, pursue one’s interests in culture, associate with anyone like-minded in the pursuit of shared goals (read trade union rights here, among others.)
How many Muslims in any corner of the world would say they disagree completely with these aspirations? These are the aspirations of all of humanity, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, Daoist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Animist or Atheist.
The Economist suggested six years ago that the Islamic Jehadists were only the latest incarnation in a long line of groups including some of the Anarchists of a century ago in Europe, who had used terrorism and that: “…after a while, the more rational anarchists realised that terrorism seldom achieves the ends desired of it — as the IRA has recently acknowledged.”
Already, now that the democratic groundswell has moved from Tunis eastward to Cairo and then westward to Benghazi and eastward, much eastward to Bahrain and Yemen, but again further, much further west to Tripoli, people – the vast numbers of people in the Arab world and beyond who are watching the events but perhaps NOT the powers that be in Washington, Jerusalem, Beijing and a few other capitals – might be wondering whether the issue has actually moved beyond Islam and whether Islamophobia too is trundling along on its last legs.
In this Mediterranean Samudra Manthan (a Hindu mythological term meaning the great primeval churning) pitting the democratic devas (gods, but in this case the common, decent people) and the asuras (demons, but shall we say despots and entrenched elites there and elsewhere), who will be the winners?
And who’s afraid of democracy?