Politics & Policy

Middle East Howlers

If we expect the successors of Mubarak and Qaddafi to be freedom-loving democrats, we will be dangerously disappointed.

A “howler,” the Wall Street Journal called it in an editorial yesterday. That certainly is a fitting description of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s latest mindboggling foray into Middle East analysis. It makes sense, she maintains, for American armed forces to get “kinetic” in Libya but not in Syria because Moammar Qaddafi is a brutal dictator while brutal dictator Bashar Assad is really a “reformer.” Perhaps she has been watching too much al-Jazeera, this former first lady who was so instrumental in her husband’s airbrushing of the terrorist kleptocrat Yasser Arafat — a peace-seeking statesman . . . at least between intifadas.

Al-Jazeera is the Islamist communications hub. The network’s brightest star, Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood, fresh from his triumphant return to Egypt to dance on the grave of the pro-American Mubarak regime, recently issued a fatwa calling for Qaddafi’s murder. And in the network’s showcase cause, the annihilation of the Zionist entity, Assad and his Hezbollah confederates are just what central casting ordered. Yet, according to Secretary Clinton, al-Jazeera is the place to which people turn for the “real news,” the serious analysis you just can’t get from the talking heads on U.S. television.

Another howler . . . or is it? Fox News, for example, is fast becoming the Arab Spring Channel.

On its weekend talking headliner, Fox News Sunday, anchor Chris Wallace spent several minutes grilling Newt Gingrich on his marital infidelities. “Man to man,” the host hectored, the former House Speaker must have had some glass-house qualms. After all, he was cheating at the very moment when he was leading the charge against Mrs. Clinton’s intern-chasing husband. Gingrich — who is not yet even a declared presidential candidate — is a long shot for a nomination that won’t be decided until over a year from now. Yet Wallace thought it essential, right now, to get to the bottom of indiscretions that are nearly two decades old.

Tough questioning — fair, but tough and unyielding. That is Mr. Wallace’s trademark — or at least it was until Sunday’s program shifted to the breaking news in Libya. Without congressional consultation, much less endorsement, the Obama administration had just dispatched the nation’s armed forces to take sides in a civil war. Problem? Not at all, not for Mr. Wallace’s giddy guests. One after the other, Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I., Ct.), longtime Islamic-democracy-project enthusiasts, gushed over the “rebels” and the joys of America’s finally being aligned with the “Arab street” (i.e., the people who celebrated the 9/11 attacks and, just this month, the murder of the Fogels, a family of Jewish settlers in the West Bank). Without a hint of challenge from the formerly dogged Wallace, McCain and Lieberman seemed to compete over who could ooze more affinity for the “freedom fighters.”

The pattern continued through the program’s concluding panel of pundits, in which Fox’s Brit Hume, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, and Fortune’s Nina Easton glowed over the “rebels” of the “Arab Spring.” But who are the rebels? There was apparently no need to tarry over that seeming irrelevancy. It could only distract from the truly urgent question of whether we are doing quite enough for them — whether President Obama’s Alinskyite play of helping these “freedom fighters” while claiming not to help them will be enough for them to prevail.

Perhaps not, the consensus seemed to be. It will probably take arming them and providing other logistical support. It was left to the house lefty, Juan Williams, of all people, to point out that we really don’t know much about the rebels — except that some of them seem to be anti-American Islamists. Maybe, he suggested, we ought to find out more before we start passing out matériel that could one day be turned against us.

Williams had stumbled, at long last, on the fact so inconvenient that it must not be spoken: The “Arab Spring” is actually the Islamist Spring. Islamists as “freedom fighters”? Now that’s a howler. The very concept of “freedom” in Islam is markedly different from the “freedom” at the root of Western democracy. Islam envisions not individual liberty but its antithesis, perfect submission to Allah’s law — and the Judaeo-Christian notion of equality is nowhere to be found. There is a reason why Islam has no democratic tradition.

The Islamist mission is to impose this law, sharia, a totalitarian code to be enforced by rulers who would be just as authoritarian as the despots they are replacing. There is too much evidence to permit the Arab Spring heralds to refute this proposition head on, so they deflect. They spin Middle East developments as a major defeat for al-Qaeda and its philosophy of extorting change through violence.

This, however, confounds ends and means. Al-Qaeda’s approach — holding that even Muslims should be killed if they won’t hew to the terror network’s construction of Islam — has always been an outlier, attracting only a fringe of Muslims. In contrast, its goal of imposing sharia as the gateway to Islamicized societies is not merely an al-Qaeda goal; it is a majority position in the Muslim Middle East. It is not al-Qaeda that is trying to put Muslim apostates to death in Kabul; it is the U.S.-backed Afghan government. It is not al-Qaeda that is administering “virginity tests” in Cairo; it is the U.S.-built Egyptian military.

The biggest difference between Qaddafi and the coming Islamist despotism is that the latter, faithful to its ideology, promises to be intractably anti-Western and disdainful of non-Muslim religious minorities. Thus Arab Spring enthusiasts tend to develop laryngitis when it comes to the taxonomy of their “rebels.” Nor, other than the mantra that troop surges have succeeded, is there much chatter about the spring that came early for Iraq and Afghanistan — where non-Muslims are persecuted, homosexuals are abused under the guidance of the clerics, Iran’s influence grows, and the “Zionist entity” is dutifully reviled. (Anybody want to bet me on whom the new Iraq will support in kinetic Islam’s next faceoff with Israel?)

Only days before Secretary Clinton’s Assad howler, we had the Arab Spring’s first blooms in Egypt. In a referendum, Egyptians voted by more than 3 to 1 (an overwhelming 77 to 23 percent) to adopt a framework for swift new elections — the opposite of the deliberate transition process that would have given non-Islamist democrats a fighting chance to build effective secular democratic parties and institutions. The plan voters endorsed quite intentionally will enable the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve electoral success in parliament this September. The Brothers will then be poised to rig the presidential election three months later, and to control the drafting of any new Egyptian constitution. We already know that one part of the current constitution will remain sacrosanct: the article establishing Islam as the state religion and sharia as fundamental law.

Arab Spring fans told us the urbane Egyptians were even more determined “freedom” seekers than the tribal Libyan “rebels.” They scoffed at those among us who warned against having too much confidence in the Egyptian military — which has been mentored by American counterparts for the last 30 years — as a hedge against the slide toward Islamism.

In the event, the military — which, like the Brotherhood, mirrors Egyptian society — predictably favored the Brothers. To stoke the illusion of a true democratic uprising, Secretary Clinton sought to meet with the anti-Mubarak vanguard. They rebuffed her. It’s not hard to understand why: She is an American, and they despise Americans; she is tilting at windmills, and they are hardheaded Islamists. Meanwhile, campaigning Muslim clerics and activists publicly framed a “yes” vote as a call for more sharia and a denial to the Coptic Christian minority of an equal role in civic life (for in Islam there is no separating civic life from sharia). The Islamists won going away.

So what we can expect from the “rebels” if they oust Qaddafi? What can we learn from the Egyptian election — coupled, in Iraq and Afghanistan, with rampant anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and abuse of non-Muslims despite years of U.S. democracy-building? You won’t find out from watching the talking heads. They’ve decided not to ask.

 Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.


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