Thursday, 26 November 2015

Al-Arabiya's Washington bureau chief on the collapse of Arab civilisation (he's not expecting it to recover any time soon)

It looks as though we'll be bombing Isil in Syria in the near future. Like many others, I have mixed feelings about this, mainly because it feels like classic displacement activity - a bold-looking course of action undertaken abroad in order to avoid having to deal in a muscular fashion with a serious problem here at home, where some 27% of Muslims polled by ComRes for the BBC in February expressed "some sympathy for the motives behind the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris". (As Rod Liddle put in today's Spectator, "Why Don't the French Just Bomb Belgium".) As for Cameron's claim that there are 70,000 "moderate" Sunni rebels in Syria, excuse us while we roll our eyes in disbelief. On the other hand, if anyone on earth deserves to have bombs dropped on their heads, it's the barbarians of Isil.

Labour has to decide how it's going to vote before Cameron allows the Commons a say. The "fluting blancmange" (as commenter SDG refers to Diane Abbott) was on the news earlier assuring us that Labour MPs would decide what to do on Monday, "after talking to their families, their constituents...." Their families? What do Labour MPs' families have to do with anything? Did the deluded minority who voted for Labour candidates in May do so on the basis of what their partners/husbands/sons/daughters/second-cousins-twice-removed thought about anything? (It did occur to me that the only way to get Labour's Corbynites to agree to bombing Syria would be to add "and Israel" to the plan - I suspect they'd back that in a flash.)

But once we've bombed this terrorist group and that vicious tyrant and any other bits of human trash that present themselves for being blown to smithereens - what or who actually does take their place? The only quiet(ish) states in the region seem to be those run by Jews or monarchs - and I'm not sure either alternative would be acceptable on what BBC foreign correspondents smugly used to call "the Arab street" (now presumably "the Arab crater filled with blood and multilated bodies in the middle of hell on earth"). Moderate, democratically-minded, non-tribal, non-sectarian Arabs? I seem to remember this was tried before, with distinctly mixed results. Which reminds me - whatever did happen to that advanced Arab civilisation that the BBC has spent the last 15 years lecturing us about? The obvious answer ("Islam happened to it, that's what") trips easily off the tongue, but even after the religion of peace burst onto the scene, sword in hand, screaming "Allahu akhbar, infidel scum!", much of the region was pretty damned impressively civilised compared to most of Europe. So what happened?

In September 2014, Hashem Melhem, who works for the Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Arabiya, wrote a fascinating article for Politico, entitled: "The Barbarians Within Our Gates" with the despairing sub-title: "Arab civilization has collapsed. It won’t recover in my lifetime." It strikes me as searingly honest and, given it's written by an Arab, bracingly self-critical. Here's a segment:
Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism—the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition—than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays—all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf—which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos—and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.
Is it any surprise that, like the vermin that take over a ruined city, the heirs to this self-destroyed civilization should be the nihilistic thugs of the Islamic State? And that there is no one else who can clean up the vast mess we Arabs have made of our world but the Americans and Western countries?
Here's some of what Hashem Melhem has to say about political Islam (i.e. Islamism):
...let’s face the grim truth: There is no evidence whatever that Islam in its various political forms is compatible with modern democracy. From Afghanistan under the Taliban to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and from Iran to Sudan, there is no Islamist entity that can be said to be democratic, just or a practitioner of good governance. The short rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt under the presidency of Mohamed Morsi was no exception. 
The article's conclusion is deeply pessimistic:
The Islamic State, like al Qaeda, is the tumorous creation of an ailing Arab body politic. Its roots run deep in the badlands of a tormented Arab world that seems to be slouching aimlessly through the darkness. It took the Arabs decades and generations to reach this nadir. It will take us a long time to recover—it certainly won’t happen in my lifetime. My generation of Arabs was told by both the Arab nationalists and the Islamists that we should man the proverbial ramparts to defend the “Arab World” against the numerous barbarians (imperialists, Zionists, Soviets) massing at the gates. Little did we know that the barbarians were already inside the gates, that they spoke our language and were already very well entrenched in the city.
The whole article can be read here. Melhem wrote a sort of follow-up article, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, entitled, "The Time of the Assassins: The Arab world has no counterforce to the murderers in our midst" (here). It's also well worth reading.


  1. Like you, I suspect there is an air of displacement activity about plans to bomb ISIL - not that I oppose it. Also, as you suggest, the far greater problem is what do we do about the ones who are here?

    It's a question no politician outside of the far-Right seems willing to ask, which means it isn't even being thought about, let alone having plans made to deal with it. And even if they were, what could they be that didn't bring ring with the echo of jackboots?

    All the same, and speaking of echoes, there is the unmistakable sound of a clock ticking.

    1. Don't worry, GCooper - Obama assured us that the world summit on climate change would defeat the terrorists. Maybe he thinks they'll be bored to death by the vapid, posturing nonsense he and the other non-leaders have been excreting. It's worth a try.

  2. Jeremy Corbyn's Smarter Brother19 December 2015 at 05:01

    Climate change? Don't say we were not warned :