“Innocence of Muslims” – Taking the Bait and Having a Field Day

14 09 2012

Writing on flags say: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”

No one has learned anything from past lessons.  The senseless violence snowballing throughout the Muslim world, supposedly in reaction to an amateurish 14-minute YouTube trailer for a film that no one can find in full length, is a stain on the 21st century.  The news media are presenting the cause of the violence as solely stemming from the anti-Islamic film, entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” which ridicules the Prophet Muhammad.  However, there is much more behind the causal factors of this epidemic violence than the simplistic headlines convey.  Here are some variables, based on my assessment, pertaining to this outbreak of violence, and all of them are interrelated:

  • Genuine emotions
  • Extremists Pulling Strings and Having a Field Day
  • 9/11 Timing
  • Grievances against People’s Governments
  • Taking the Bait

No doubt, many Muslims are expressing genuine hurt feelings and passionate emotions in reaction to insults and offenses targeting Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam, in the film trailer.  If we look back at the Salman Rushdie affair in the 1980s, we see that such sensitivities have not changed, and on the part of more orthodox and conservative Muslims, they have only intensified.  In addition, this film comes in a long series of anti-Islam expressions, like the Danish cartoons, the threat of Quran burning by Terry Jones, the accidental Qurans burned in Afghanistan, etc.  These recent incidents have only reinforced the narrative among many Muslims that the West is against Islam and permits such offenses with impunity.  That’s the perception fueling the anger and hatred.  Yet, there is no condemnation of killings in response to these perceived offenses, like the murder of Theo Van Gogh, for example.  Objective parity is not part of the narrative in this case.

Such hurt feelings and anger never justify the violence and vandalism that the recent protests have generated.  In the big picture, so many films, TV shows, art exhibits, and popular culture programs and performances have insulted Christianity and other religions.  Consider “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “South Park,” and “Monty Python,” to name a few, which are film producers and programs that have repeatedly ridiculed Christianity and other faiths with the sharpest irreverence and mockery, yet we never see violent reactions to them.

Among Islam’s ultra-orthodox and extremist elements, resorting to violence and calling for the death of the offenders are all too quick to the draw.  No one seems to pause and consider the consequences and damage to Islam’s image as a whole, as they become so consumed by their emotions and hatred.  There have been calls for peaceful protests by some, but mob mentality is hard to control especially once it gets out of hand.

This brings me to extremists pulling strings behind the scenes and having a field day.  Undoubtedly, extremist leaders at local levels see an opportunity in manipulating and exploiting the emotions and passions of the masses, especially those who embrace common extremist ideologies.  It is no coincidence that the attacks on the US consulate in Libya and the US embassy in Egypt fell on September 11th, which reinforces the theory that there is more to this violent fervor than just emotive reactions to the offensive film, which most protesters have not even seen (and for the record, the trailer is not worth one’s precious time).  Some analysts are also pointing to the revenge factor, especially in the case of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and his security detail.  In June Al Qaeda’s number two leader in Yemen was killed, and he happened to be Libyan.

Furthermore, the extremist Islamists are dismayed at being sidelined and even delegitimized upon the 2011 uprisings and revolutions that toppled decades-long secular dictatorships.  For just as long, these extremist groups spread throughout the region, although small in numbers, were forced to operate underground.  Once the revolutions took place last year through mostly nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, the extremists had the rug pulled from under them.  Even the Islamist parties that have come to power following the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have to balance their respective Islamism with moderate secular and liberal ideals and policies.  This also angers the extremists, who feel that these Islamist governments are “too soft” in their Islamism.  Particularly in the case of Egypt and Sudan, Islamist hardliners are pressuring the governments to capitulate on some of their demands to implement stricter Shariah rules and policies.  These Islamists constitute major political constituents in some cases, and so the governments cannot be seen as leaning too much toward secularism and liberalism.

Similarly, the protesters, especially the young men, continue to hold grievances against their own governments for failing to meet their needs, especially providing jobs and a better future for the next generation.  Thus, woven into this discontent about the anti-Islam film are the underlying grievances against respective governments, especially for socioeconomic reasons.  Change is not occurring fast enough for many, and this has been an opportunity to express their multi-layered anger.

Anti-Western and especially anti-American sentiments are also being exploited by various elements.  Many people in the region, but certainly not all, see Western values, especially freedom of expression, as “boundary-less,” meaning that these freedoms and rights have no limits.  This is not exactly true, because we have laws against “hate speech” and of course the exception to the First Amendment right to free speech and expression exists for the sake of public order and safety, prohibiting incitement of violence.  The “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” phrase aptly describes this exception.

But, most people in the region are not aware of these provisions and exceptions.  They simply see that an American national has funded and produced this vile film, and that the US government should take action against such offenses, and place boundaries or “reasonable limits” on free speech and expression.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have unequivocally condemned this film, as well as the violence in the Muslim world.  But, they have no authority to undo the constitutional laws that grant all Americans First Amendment rights and freedoms.  The First Amendment embodies the fabric of American values, and, by the way, it also grants everyone the freedom of religion.  We should never compromise on that.

The last few days have been extremely sad, tragic, and disheartening.  Too many breaches have occurred, including the murder of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues.  Also, the loss of life of protesters is, in my opinion, such a waste.

According to a Reuters article (9/14/2012), entitled “Anti-American fury sweeps Middle East over Film” –

“At least seven people were killed as local police struggled to repel assaults after weekly Muslim prayers in Tunisia and Sudan, while there was new violence in Egypt and Yemen and across the Muslim world, driven by emotions ranging from piety to anger at Western power to frustrations with local leaders and poverty.”

The article also explains the balancing act that Egypt’s President Mursi must play regarding the Cairo protests and US relations (Egypt is the second highest recipient of US foreign aid):

“Mursi must tread a line between appealing to an electorate receptive to the appeal of more hardline Islamists and maintaining ties with Washington, which long funded the ousted military dictatorship.”

The Salafists are involved in most if not all of these violent protests.  I have repeatedly written about the dangers of Salafists, even in Tunisia, as the Reuters article describes:

“Further west along the Mediterranean, a Reuters reporter saw police open fire to try to quell an assault in which protesters forced their way past police into the U.S. embassy in Tunis. Some smashed windows, others hurled petrol bombs and stones at police from inside the embassy and started fires. One threw a computer from a window, others looted computers and telephones.

A Tunisian security officer near the compound said the embassy had not been staffed on Friday, and calls to the embassy went unanswered. Two armed Americans in uniform stood on a roof.

The protesters, many of whom were followers of hardline Salafist Islamist leaders, also set fire to the nearby American School, which was closed at the time, and took away laptops. The protests began after Friday prayers and followed a rallying call on Facebook by Islamist activists and endorsed by militants.”

This is shameful, disgusting, and criminal behavior, not much different in measure than the film producer, and in fact is even worse because lives have been lost.

This behavior also exhibits extreme immaturity at so many levels.  Islam is the youngest of the Judeo-Christian faiths, and its internal ideologies and diverse compositions and manifestations are still evolving.  As one student put it, Christianity used to be very puritanical, with the Inquisition, the Crusades, witch-burnings, and the like.  Islam is going through its phases and evolutions as well, some aspects of which are still very medieval in their outlook.  It’s imperative for the world’s Muslims to reconcile the internal conflicts and facilitate enlightenment and stamp out the extremist ideologies that are so harmful.  Puritanism serves no purpose, especially in the modern era.  It is extremely counterproductive and threatens regional and global peace and security.

Another point for the Muslim world to ponder is this:  given all the anti-Americanism and knee-jerk emotional and violent reactions that we’ve been witnessing throughout the Muslim world, Western powers will think twice before helping Muslims again, and that might include the opposition in Syria.

Finally, why people continue to take the bait is beyond comprehension.  Clearly, this film was intended to provoke anger and emotions.  Yet, it seems that repeatedly Muslims fail to transcend the temptations to react, especially so destructively.  Consider that the Prophet Muhammad’s own reputation and character should speak for himself.  Does he really need people to defend his name violently?  Isn’t something wrong with this picture?  It only gives perpetual license to the world’s provocateurs, who are probably rolling on the ground laughing, at the expense of global peace.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views





The Conniving Judicial-Military Bedfellows in Egypt

3 06 2012

Ahmed Shafiq, the former Mubarak regime’s Prime Minister and one of the current presidential candidates, declared that “no one is above the law,” in reference to the recent verdict sentencing Hosni Mubarak to life in prison, and acquitting his two sons Gamal and Alaa and a number of senior officials and police officers responsible for killing numerous protestors.

Either Shafiq is delusional, or he is vying for an Oscar, all the while symbolically showing the revolutionaries his middle finger.  Well, the middle finger is representative of what the un-autonomous judiciary and current military regime (SCAF) in Egypt are engaging in with each other, for mutual benefits and advantages, in the combined effort to undermine the revolutionaries and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), as the presidential election approaches in a couple of weeks.

In a press conference, Ahmed Shafiq said this about the MB (Al Jazeera Egypt Live Blog):

“Shafiq also attacked the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Muhammad al-Morsi, saying that his party represented ‘backwardness.’

‘I represent all Egypt, they represent an isolated category.  I am national reconciliation, the Brotherhood is revenge. I represent tolerance, the Brotherhood is isolation and discrimination.  My history is known, theirs is dark,’ he said.”

As if that will win the hearts and minds of Egyptians!

The rumor on the street is that Shafiq and SCAF plan to shoe him in somehow as the presidential election winner, after which he will acquit Mubarak and establish rules and policies that will continue the regime’s status quo ante.  The rumors might not be too far off the reality.  Egyptians know their politicians and political games well, warts and all.  As Mona Eltahawy put it in a recent CNN interview:  “The people are not stupid.”

These developments are a travesty of justice.  Many are rightly pointing out, what else should we expect?  The judiciary consists of the same characters and judges that worked for the Mubarak regime, and there is no light between them and SCAF.  Why should we expect any impartiality and judicial ethics?  Someone correctly tweeted, this is not a trial at all, it’s “black comedy.”  The Washington Post quotes a Tahrir Square protester:  “All of this is a charade, and we don’t accept it,” said Amal Ramsis, 40, as she protested in the square.

The same article by Leila Fadel states the following:

“Dissatisfaction with the ruling could push revolutionaries who had planned to boycott the runoff election for president into grudging support of Morsi, an uncharismatic conservative Islamist, experts said.

‘The Brotherhood might be able to capitalize on this to push the line for revolutionary unity against the regime,’ said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt analyst at the Century Foundation. ‘The anger could push those planning to sit it out to cast a vote for the Brotherhood against the old regime’.”

In the case of Egypt, I’m afraid the cart was placed before the horse, although given the SCAF’s control over everything, I understand how difficult it has been for the revolutionaries to chip away at that rock-solid boulder of the former regime.  Ideally, the constitution should have been revised first, the judiciary purged completely and personnel and judges replaced with more reputable and credible people, and then the presidential elections should be held.  However, the complexities of the situation are understandably formidable.

Clearly, SCAF and company have not heeded the lessons of Tunisia and Libya.  The public is not demanding cosmetic changes, as regimes have done in the past, but complete overhauls of their dictatorships and institutions.  It’s unfathomable that, given all the events of 2011, SCAF still does not get it.  Instead, they continue to play underhanded tricks to remain in power and perpetuate their influence over institutions and the elections.  Sad to say this, but they are proving to be as blind and zealously power-hungry as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Perhaps they should be reminded of some of these great quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“A lie cannot live.”

“A right delayed is a right denied.”

“In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?”

“The first duty of society is justice.”

And certainly the revolutionaries do not need reminders about their resolve, but nonetheless, I leave you with this MLK quote, which is very inspiring:

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.  And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.  A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.





The Tunisian Model: A Promising Outlook

5 03 2012

I spent the last week in Tunisia and returned last night.  One year after the revolution, Tunisia looks impressive, and the outlook for the country’s economic and political development seems promising and bursting with potentials.  Tunisia is not without problems and bumps in the road to formulating some sort of hybrid Islamic democracy, although no one expects a smooth glide to post-revolution successes in all aspects of society.  That would be naïve for sure.

Tunisian nationalist pride is evident everywhere, and in terms of economic health, one notices construction projects proliferating the skyline in Tunis and elsewhere.  The souk (market) in the old quarter of Medina in Tunis is bustling with activity, but the number of tourists is still not up to standard.  Clearly, the usual crowds of foreigners filling the Tunisian streets and major sites are missing, and this is cause for worry, as the Tunisian economy relies heavily on tourism.  It is not peak tourist season yet, as that happens in the warmer summer months.  But still, people are anxious about uncertainties ahead and the ability to draw foreign investments and tourists.  French and German businesses are quite active in Tunisia, hiring young, tech-savvy Tunisians.  A Gulf-based Islamic bank has been built in Tunis.  The foreign investments are trickling in, but there is still a greater need for more.

The infrastructure functions well, despite the revolution’s overwhelming impact.  Locals informed me that the electricity never shut off, and water keeps flowing in the tap.  There is still unemployment and in the south one finds poverty and labor disputes, plus the grape vine reports serious concerns about Libyan migrants and some unsavory characters crossing into Tunisia from the Tunisian-Libyan border.  In general, Tunisia finds herself at a crossroads:  from reading the locals’ faces, it appears that for the most part everyone is very pleased to see the former dictator Ben Ali go.  Yet, there is anxiety about the way ahead, but nothing like the tension we find in Libya and Egypt.  Tunisia even prides herself as the potential future model for the Arab Middle East, whereas at one time the “Turkish model” was cited.  Tunisians see themselves as the torchbearers.

In order for Tunisia to truly live up to that image, the post-revolution government will need to develop effectively, particularly focusing on employment demands and improved income distribution.  The degree of corruption in the Ben Ali era has left an indelible mark on the Tunisian people, and they are firmly determined never to allow that to happen again.  Many political institutions remain intact, which, one scholar tells me, will allow the future government to function well.  They won’t have to rebuild institutions from square one.  The constitution is still being drawn up, but some speculate that it might be completed within a year.

Of course, there are still some Ben Ali era elements lingering within Tunisia, and I was even told that some Qaddafi family members have fled into the country as well.  These elements only add to the collective anxiety, but overall, Tunisia appears to be on the road to political development and long term prosperity.  These processes will take time, and the Tunisians are very much aware of that.  Everyone I spoke to expressed great optimism, and some even expressed Tunisia’s trailblazing role in triggering the regional uprisings as also a sign that Tunisians will serve as the role model for the post-dictatorship governments to follow.  Right now, Tunisians are sorting out what that model will look like – secular liberal democracy, or some combination of Islam and democracy – and while the subject may be contentious, the discourse and debates I observed were nothing less than civil and respectful.  One year later, Tunisia is deeply and collectively introspective, and may eventually emerge as the model for the region to follow.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.





Syria, the Big Russian Bear, and Iran

8 02 2012

When I lived in Damascus, at the time the TV had only two channels.  One of them used to broadcast Russian ballet performances quite regularly.  Also, Iranian pilgrims were everywhere.  An entire segment of the Syrian tourist industry has been set aside just for Iranian pilgrims visiting important Shia shrines.  I saw busloads, and I even learned that certain hotels were exclusively serving Iranian patrons.

So, the official public UN stance of Russia in vetoing the resolution last week, along with the Iranian regime’s less public military and security support for the Assad regime, all come as little surprise to me.  But, both Russia and Iran are playing a most heinous and ominous role in the destruction of the Syrian people, including countless unarmed civilians, women, men, and children alike.  Michael Weiss published an article in the Telegraph that explicitly describes what’s happening in Syria, and the complicity of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in the slaughter of thousands:

For those who haven’t had lunch today, I encourage you to see up-close what Russian weapons and Iranian and Hezbollah ‘military consultants’ have helped accomplish in Syria. This video is of a young boy in Homs. His entire lower jaw has been removed from his head and I’m told that this is more watchable version of the footage; an earlier reel went round where he hadn’t been anaesthetized yet.”

(NOTE:  You can find the hyperlink to the video inside Michael Weiss’s article:  http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/michaelweiss/100135384/russia-iran-and-hezbollah-are-already-intervening-in-syria-why-arent-we/WARNING:  It’s very graphic).

 

“Vladimir Putin’s copper-bottomed support for Bashar al-Assad at the UN Security Council can be taken in one of two ways. There will be those who claim that here was one organized crime lord pledging solidarity with his human ferret counterpart. The two men really do understand each other and are even beginning to replicate each other’s CVs.  Assad is doing to Syria what Putin did to Chechnya a decade ago and under the same pretext of combating “terrorists”.  Moscow had its dodgy apartment bombings in 1999, blamed with credible evidence on the FSB, to justify the razing of Grozny. Damascus has had its spate of “suicide bombings” lately, blamed by the regime on the following actors: al-Qaida, the United States, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian opposition and loyalists of former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam. Footage showing the mukhabarat’s theatrics before and after these incidents matters not at all because the Assad regime, with a little help from Russia Today and other Kremlin mouthpieces, has also blamed “foreign media” for presenting a mere domestic misunderstanding as a full-blown humanitarian crisis.  Taken another way, Putin’s support for Assad is a foreign policy “victory” that comes at just the right time for Russia, weeks ahead of a presidential election. 

…If certain comment editors have difficulty finding Syrians on the ground who want NATO fighter jets overhead, I’ll be glad to introduce them to several.

Here is al-Sheikh: ‘As an activist and a coordinator for the Khaled Bin Waleed brigade, I state that we in Homs, Idlib and Damascus suburbs call for unilateral American and British intervention. We also want to improve our relations with the US administration and people after the revolution, but we need you to save us. We are getting slaughtered, save us’.”

You don’t need me to point out that the United Nations has miserably failed the Syrian people.  The UN is broken and is far from democratic.  If anything, this whole incident underscores the need for a UN overhaul; at a minimum, there should be provisions for those countries that wish to implement the R2P mandate in cases such as Syria to override Security Council vetoes.  I am a diehard believer in state sovereignty, but I am a human rights activist first and foremost.  Russia, Iran, and China have done a tremendous disservice to humanity.  Now, Assad is having a field day in exterminating his own people:  protesters and by-standers alike, civilians making a run for it to grab some bread (now in dire short supply), families huddling in their homes, and individuals picked off by snipers.

This reminds me of the bloody, ruthless killings in the former Yugoslavia.  The Yugoslavia analogy is not off base… remember how long it finally took Western powers to intervene in Bosnia and stop the massacres?!!  You’d think that we all have learned from lessons past.

The Syrian people have the right to live without fear.  Most of all, they have the right to live.  What the hell happened to the “Responsibility to Protect” civilians, that was so potently invoked in the case of Libya?  I write this with a very heavy heart for Syria, and wish that ballet performances would have been the extent of Syrian-Russian relations.  Sadly, it’s not.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.





The Road to Hell in Egypt

5 02 2012

I was traveling when someone told me what happened at the Port Said soccer match in Egypt last week.  My shock and disbelief are indescribable.  As soon as I returned home, I checked the news, and the Egypt Independent reports an alleged sinister conspiracy by former NDP (Mubarak’s ruling party) figures, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and the Interior Ministry to exact revenge on the revolutionaries.  Here’s what one of the articles alleges:

“‘I do not rule out a conspiracy and believe that there are some security officials and policemen involved in this. How else do we explain the complete lack of security interference during the game to protect fans who were being slaughtered and thrown off the bleachers for over an hour and a half?’ said Ahly player Mohamed Abu Treka in a touching interview published in the independent daily Al-Shorouk.

Parliament’s fact-finding commission has released some information from their ongoing investigation that implicates security officials and members of the defunct National Democratic Party, particularly Gamal Mubarak’s close friend and business associate Gamal Omar, according to state-run Al-Akhbar. Port Said residents reportedly captured a known criminal and ex-convict who was inciting protesters to attack a police station in the city after someone there recognized him as one of the perpetrators of the stadium massacre.”

Another piece in the same news source says:

“Reports of decapitations, bodies being thrown from the stadium’s uppermost bleachers, and defiled corpses come pouring in across news and sports shows, while live images reveal rows of central security officers watching from the sidelines, doing little, as had come to be expected of them.

The scene left a gash in the national consciousness, and questions piled up immediately.  As retired goalkeeper Nader al-Sayed lamented during his televised sports show’s live coverage of what has been since repeatedly referred to as a massacre, ‘This is not normal. This is the result of a malicious and sinister plan, carefully plotted and expertly perpetrated, and we all know by whom.’”

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has announced support for SCAF’s timeline for the presidential elections, rejecting calls for expediting the civilian transition of power that so many are pressuring the current military officials to uphold.  Plus, two high-profile figures have been charged with “insulting Islam.”  A famous comedian actor, Adel Imam, has been given a three-month jail sentence “for insulting Islam in films and plays.”  And, Naguib Sawiris, a telecom tycoon, “also faces trial on a charge of showing contempt for religion in a case brought by another Islamist lawyer. Sawiris, a prominent figure in Egypt’s Coptic Christian community, was accused of showing contempt by tweeting a cartoon seen as insulting to Islam.”

What does all this tell us?  It indicates a merging between ultraorthodox Islamist puritans with military power-mongers, a very, very dangerous combination, which can lead Egypt down the path of fascism.  In other words, Egypt might be on the road to hell.  For many, it already has been hell.

The Port Said massacre comes on the first anniversary of the “Battle of the Camel,” when Mubarak unleashed thugs on camel and horseback into Tahrir Square, ambushing the protesters.  Now, with the 2012 Port Said massacre, I would say that the Egyptian people, and especially the revolutionaries, should remain on high alert.  There’s no telling what kind and when the next onslaught and ambush might await them.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.





Lessons for the Middle East from MLK

16 01 2012

On this Martin Luther King holiday, it is all the more fitting to shake our collective fingers at violent dictators like Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and remind them that, as MLK put it so eloquently, “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Truth and justice do not hide behind guns, bombs, and torture devices.  And, history has shown that the former carry moral legitimacy that far outweighs the morally bankrupt expediency of violence and brutality.  The former also is more powerful in disarming the bully than the latter will ever be in oppressing the innocents.

Fear is never the best weapon.  It’s a temporary emotion, and tyrants will only have temporary effectiveness.  Noncooperation, noncompliance, and disobedience will always be stronger than tyranny, especially when they are infused with an infectious stubbornness that will not die.   This is Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy, and also MLK’s.

Today Al Jazeera is reporting that Imad Ghalioun, a member of the Syrian parliament, has defected and joined the opposition.  According to Al Jazeera –

“Imad Ghalioun, who represented the central city of Homs, told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV on Sunday night that the city is “disaster stricken” and has been subjected to sweeping human rights violations. Ghalioun said he was able to leave Syria before a travel ban was imposed on officials.

He said there are many legislators who support the uprising but have not said so publicly.”

It’s just a matter of time, for fear is temporary.  Stay stubborn in the path of truth and justice.  I leave you with a quote by MLK:

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.





Danger Ahead: Tipping the Ideological Balance in the Persian Gulf

10 01 2012

Attacking Iran would be an ideological victory for hard-line Salafists / Wahhabis, tipping the regional balance-of-power in favor of the ultra-orthodox.  This is not a minor consequence.  Like it or not, Iran’s Twelver Shiite national ideology is somewhat of a counterbalance to the ultra-orthodox Salafists in the region.

The Egyptian parliamentary election results show that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice party gained 193 seats (45.2%), and more worrying are the gains of Al-Nour, the Salafist party, which has 108 seats (25.3%), according to Jadaliyya.  And the Saudis are arming themselves to the teeth.

Now that tensions are rising with Iran, and supposed progress in its nuclear program may trigger further confrontations, what policy-makers are potentially failing to see is that Iran’s demise might translate into the ideological hegemony of hard-line Islamists, namely Saudi-oriented Salafists / Wahhabists, throughout the region.  That is not a good thing for Western national interests, nor is it good for the Middle East region, as it is the antithesis to liberal democracy, and I will even go as far as to say that it potentially will arrest the region’s development prospects.  That is a controversial statement to make, I know, but nonetheless, that is my opinion.  Theocracies by definition restrict people’s rights and freedoms, which in turn arrest comprehensive socioeconomic development; and Saudi Arabia, which exports its hard-line ideology globally, is the epitome of a totalitarian religious-police state.  If the region is tilting in that direction, then that’s very bad news for secularists, liberals, and in my view, women and minority groups.

Western powers need to be very careful about which regional horse they want to back in the showdown against Iran.  There’s no denying that the Iranian regime must be contained, but the danger is a scenario wherein we might inadvertently end up backing and empowering hard-line Salafi-types in the effort to keep Iran in check.  The longer-term ramifications, even ideological ones, must be thought out carefully, or else we’re doomed to repeat history.  Can we say “Afghanistan”?

In a January 9th opinion piece in the Tehran Times, former Iranian Ambassador to Syria, Hossein Sheikholeslam, placed the blame for the current turmoil in Syria squarely on Western powers allegedly backing the opposition Salafists.  He says:

The Arab governments that have dispatched representatives to monitor the situation in Syria actually have terrible records in terms of human rights and political liberty in their own countries. This hypocrisy shows that instigating a civil war in Syria is the real goal of these countries. The recent wave of suicide bombings in Damascus is a clear illustration of this policy, which is directly sponsored by the United States and is being implemented by the Salafis.”

Yes, we must be mindful of the source of that quote.  However, if there’s an element of truth to this, then we risk backing a horse that could potentially emerge as a Frankenstein’s monster down the road, not unlike what happened with the Cold War zeal to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan by supporting the most diehard militants in the Af-Pak region (i.e., the Reagan Doctrine).

And, this quote is in no way cited in support of the Assad or Iranian regimes on my part, so please do not misconstrue my comments.  My posting is only meant to serve as an analytical caveat.

As I remind my students, the Middle East is a 3-D chess game, with a lot of moving parts.  We must tread very carefully.  Expediency can lead to mistakes, some far too costly.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.