Monday, August 30, 2010

Muslims Who Don't Want to Live Under Islamist Dictatorships Urge: Help Us By Telling The Truth

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By Barry Rubin

I constantly receive mail and contacts of various kinds from Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Turks--among others--about how much they like my writing. In fact, many of my ideas and inspiration comes from conversations with these people. You'd be surprised to hear some of the names, countries, and positions of those involved in these dialogues.

It's a complex issue but to put it simply: those in the West may romanticize or refuse to criticize radical Islamists and Middle East dictatorships but that doesn't exactly thrill those who live under these regimes or who fear seeing their countries being taken over by extremists who repress and maybe will kill them.

I wrote an entire book about this situation and these people, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, John Wiley Publishers (2005). That book, and other things I've written, explains both my tremendous sympathy for these liberals and reformers as well as why I didn't advocate a policy based on the belief that the United States could democratize the region or solve the problems of these societies by overthrowing the ruling regimes.

During my last speaking trip, which usually focused on the battle between Islamists and nationalists, there were Arabs or Iranians present at each event who enthusiastically endorsed what I said. In one case, a Palestinian wearing a very large kafiyah sat in the front row nodding at my main points. Afterward, he explained that he was a Palestinian Authority supporter who hated Hamas and thought that group was ruining his people's chance for ever getting their own independent state.

And don't even get me started on Iran, where a large majority opposes the current regime, and Turkey, where an even larger majority opposes the current regime. These people, almost all of them Muslims, are anti-Islamist and prefer a democratic state. They may not be "moderate Muslims," that is religious reformers, but they are Muslims who are moderates. They don't respect Westerners smug in their "virtues" of being so Islamophilic, tolerant, and "pro-Arab" as to saddle the poor victimized Middle Easterners with horrible, repressive regimes and permanent violence.

Most of the people who hate and oppose revolutionary Islamism can be most accurately called conservative traditionalists. They prefer Islam as it was practiced before the age of Iran's revolution and Usama bin Ladin. They don't like Israel and have plenty of complaints about the West (though there are also things they like about both) but they don't want to go to war or spend the next century seeking revenge either.

A minority of them are real democrats, courageous people who know what their countries need to do in order to get out of their current morass. The majority is just fed up with terrorism, ideology, dictatorship, economic impoverishment, social stagnation, and using Zionism or imperialism as excuses for all of the above. The Western "sympathizers" who endorse every reactionary cultural and political tendency as "authentic" do them no favors.

For example, in response to this article I wrote pointing out that the amount of hatred and incitement coming from the Muslim majority world far exceeds that in the West or Israel, I received two letters from Middle Eastern Muslim readers.

One, from an Iranian, noted: "Best article yet! keep it up!"

And another reader--presumably Iranian--writes to me as follows:

"I read your Rubin Reports with great pleasure and anticipation. I find you are among the very few Westerners who are not giving into political correctness vis-à-vis Islamic terrorism, the new fascism. The dance of appeasing Muslim radicals (or the rest) is most dangerous and will lead to diminished freedom and the end of the rule of rational law.

"I fear so much that my grandchildren will be subject to a totalitarian theocratic rule that I search for a way out of [this situation to live] in the West. There are majorities in some places in the Middle East—Iran, the prime example—who are fed up with the ideology of hate and of death and of darkness, and long for peace and freedom and happiness. We are fed up with antisemitic people and governments and we want to rescue reason from theocratic dogma.

"Thank you for what you do. I hope Westerners read your work and pay heed. The alternative is hatred, violence, and the rule of evil."

Note the implications of those last three points;

Hatred by Islamists and radicals: Not only of the West and Israel, Christians, Jews, or Bahais, but also of Muslims who have a different interpretation of their religion or who are "too" secular, and also at times of various other groups who are Muslims (Berbers, Kurds, Shia, Sudanese Africans).

Violence: Not only against Westerners and Israelis plus local Christians but also against all of the groups mentioned in the previous paragraph plus women who deviate from what the Islamists want, homosexuals, and others.

The Rule of Evil: Not over Westerners but over those Middle Easterners (again, mostly Muslim) who live under such regimes or will be drowned in revolutions in the uture.

So, if one supports Islamists like those who rule Iran and the Gaza Strip, pro-Islamist (abroad) dictatorships like that in Syria, those who are close to ruling Lebanon, and revolutionaries who want to impose Islamist totalitarian regimes, is this "pro-Muslim" or "pro-Arab?" Presumably, it is like saying that backing the Nazis made one a friend of the German people or supporting the Stalinists proved that one loved the Russian people and those in its satellite states.

Or perhaps everyone who doesn't want to be ruled by Iran, the Taliban, Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other assorted dictatorships are Islamophobic or racist?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

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