Politics & Policy

The Sequester and the Arab Spring

In the early days of the Arab Spring — Cairo, January 29, 2011
Like the sequester molesters, “Arab Spring” devotees have their own fantasy vocabulary.

‘Sequester” may be your word for the week, but it’s not mine. I’ve been diverted from the Beltway theater by an enterprise equally fraudulent, the “Arab Spring.” No, the plot line does not feature an Armageddon of budget slashing after which, somehow, Leviathan manages to land on his drunken feet and binge up an even higher tab this year than last. The Arab Spring, instead, is the tyranny of Islamic supremacism cruelly masqueraded as the forward march of “freedom.”

On Tuesday, the dead-tree version of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, my book on the subject, finally hit the bookstores after previously being available only as an e-book. Despite the digital age, people still love their paperbacks, so I’ve had the good fortune to spend this week talking about it.

Though seemingly unrelated, the sequester contretemps have provided a useful context. In the tortured argot of Washington, “sequestration” connotes “a reduction in government spending.” It is thus an exquisite weasel word, the kind that fraud-construction thrives on. Of course, the disease sequestration is meant to treat is only too real — our metastasizing cancer of debt. But the political class that lives today’s high life on tomorrow’s stolen prosperity naturally prefers the illusion of action to the pain that must accompany any real, surgical remedy. So it peddles placebos that have the ring of earnestness and effectiveness: “cuts,” “balanced approach,” and the like.

#ad#On examination, these words are seen for the nonsense that they are. In Washington a “cut” is not what your family does when it becomes over-extended — a spending slash, a commitment to live within one’s means. It is a nominal decrease in the rate at which government plans, despite our straits, to increase spending. So a “cut” lards debt on debt . . . just not quite as quickly.

And a “balanced approach”? It sounds so admirably Greek — as in the ancients, not the contemporary Athenians we sadly prefer to emulate. Balance, “moderation in all things,” is great . . . as long as you have a multifaceted problem. But what if your problem, very simply, is that you spend goo-gobs more money than you earn? That does not call for a “balanced” approach. If you think it does, try explaining to the waiter that you’ve decided to pay only half the check for the meal you just devoured because, after all, there should be more “balance.”

Like the sequester molesters, “Arab Spring” devotees have their own fantasy vocabulary. The whoppers are “freedom” and “democracy,” the ideals, we’re told, that have swept the Middle East, even as it sinks into repression, social unrest, and the persecution of religious minorities. Islam and the West use the same words, but we are not conveying the same concepts — just as a “cut” in your budget means something very different from a “cut” in Washington’s.

Freedom? “Let it be known to you that the real meaning of freedom lies in the perfection of slavery,” explained al-Qushayri, a celebrated eleventh-century scholar of Islam.

I offer this bit of Islamist wisdom as an explanation, not a put-down. Not that the distinction matters much. As Spring Fever makes clear, the culture of Middle Eastern Islam is convinced of nothing so much as its own superiority. It does not judge itself by non-Islamic standards, particularly the standards of Western civilization, with which it sees itself in a conflict that will end only when one side prevails.

The dynamic, classical, supremacist Islam of the Middle East teaches that Allah has given mankind, His creation, the gift of sharia: the “path,” the all-purpose societal framework — covering all aspects of life, not just spirituality — for living in dignity through obedience. “Freedom,” in this context, is to make the “free” choice to surrender oneself entirely to this path.

That is the antithesis of a freedom to chart one’s own course, the freedom of the West. Here, Allah is not the sovereign. Our faiths may guide us, but the people are sovereign, with a right to govern civil society as they see fit — including in contradiction of sharia’s provisions, which deny what the West sees as basic civil rights.

#page#Thus the folly of Arab Spring apologists, who envision a new generation of Muslim rulers, popularly elected and thus — the fable goes — responsive to the needs of their “constituents.” Responsive government, however, is the hallmark of societies in which freedom means self-determinism. In the Muslim Middle East, it is foolish to speak of “constituents.” The ruler’s fidelity is not to the people but to Allah. It is for the people not to dream but to obey, as long as the ruler is faithful to sharia. They don’t enjoy the prerogative of deviating from the path.

“Accommodation,” like “constituents,” is a term that echoes through the Arab Spring. Sharia must be accommodated — given pride of place in the Middle East and growing deference in the West. “Accommodation” turns out to be Arab-Spring for “balanced approach,” the oh-so-reasonable packaging of an idea that is actually perverse.

Almost never do we hear that federal law must accommodate, say, the law of Tennessee. When people’s principles are the same, their legal systems — a reflection of their notions about right and wrong — will mesh easily. When there is a conflict, it is not because of a lack of accommodation; it is because either the federal government or the state government is in error. We don’t accommodate error; we correct it, either in the legislature or in the courts.

#ad#Calling for “accommodations” is a polite way of saying that cultural values and the legal systems they create are incompatible. When a culture cedes ground to a different culture’s antithetical principle — when, for example, we are told free speech must “accommodate” sharia blasphemy laws that proscribe negative criticism of Islam — that is not a reasonable compromise. It is a corruption of the good. That is how a culturally confident society sees it.

There is a reason why the Islamic supremacists who run the Organization of Islamic Cooperation insisted in 1990 on having their own “Declaration of Human Rights In Islam.” The purportedly Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written by non-Muslim diplomats after the Second World War, does not work for them. Islamist leaders understood that Western concepts of civil rights and human rights do not jibe with sharia. They wanted their own declaration, reflecting their own very different aspirations.

Neither does “democracy” work for the Islamists on the rise across the Middle East — at least, not as we understand it in the West. For us, democracy is not a process but a way of life, a worldview implying basic assumptions about liberty and equality. To the Islamic supremacist, “Democracy is just the train we board to reach our destination,” as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now Turkey’s prime minister, put it in 1998 when he was the mayor — or, as he referred to himself, the imam — of Istanbul.

The destination Erdogan had in mind is power. Not the empowerment of free people that is the genuine augur of spring. The power of the “Arab Spring” is the imposition of perfect slavery. 

Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, which is published by Encounter Books.

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