Sunday, April 24, 2011

Terra Incognita: The Revolution Won't be Democratic

Terra Incognita: The revolution wont' be democratic
Jerusalem Post 04/19/2011 23:57

There was never a second Arab Awakening as it was never bounded by ideas, not even the democratic-Islamic ones.

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There will be no great democratic revolutions in Egypt, Libya or Tunisia a year from now. What are the signs? Let’s start with the obvious. US President Barack Obama has wished the people of the Middle East a happy Passover. He claims that the story of Pessah is being relived today in the “modern stories of liberation” taking place in the Middle East: “This year, that ancient instruction is reflected in the daily headlines, as we see modern stories of social transformation and liberation unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa.”

If Obama said it, there’s good reason to think it won’t happen. It isn’t because I don’t like Obama. Obama is great; a great orator, a crowd pleaser, a man who warms the hearts of many. But he tends to speak rather than do, in the apparent belief that history will record his words and forget that they were empty. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize without doing anything peaceful. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay, and that didn’t happen (it would have been a real Pessah miracle if he had brought terrorist inmates from the American base in Cuba to trial). He talked about getting America completely out of Iraq and doing something about Bin Laden in Pakistan, and that hasn’t transpired either.

But it isn’t just because Obama has been talking about freedom that we can be assured freedom is far away. If we go back and read the headlines about Egypt, we see that the usual good-natured, well-intentioned souls were telling us about how exciting it was to see what was happening in Tahrir square.

REMEMBER LARRY Derfner’s claim that “the incredibly brave people in Egypt inspire just about everyone in the world except us [Israelis].” Or Nicholas Kristof, of The New York Times, claiming that “a crude stereotype lingers that some people – Arabs, Chinese and Africans – are incompatible with democracy… [but] The record is that after some missteps, countries usually pull through.”

Let’s just put it mildly: those people who are inspired by the Egyptian revolution are the people I’d least trust to tell me which way the wind is blowing.

Why? Because they are so often wrong. Some of them are part of the same Michael Foucault dialectic that thought the Iranian revolution was going to produce progressive liberal democracy. Today’s Foucault – the anti-Israel University of California feminist philosopher Judith Butler – has claimed that “If the Muslim Brotherhood is elected to positions in [the Egyptian] government, and the elections are free and unconstrained, then that is a democratic outcome.”

The same progressive feminist philosopher has claimed “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.”

If the Butlers and Foucaults are so often on the side of totalitarian religious fanaticism in the guise of democratization, then it is hard to believe that we will see democracy in the Middle East, precisely because totalitarian religious fanaticism is not conducive to democratic institutions. In fact, this is what people have missed in Indonesia, which has often been held up as an example of where the Middle East might go.

Indonesia is not a great democracy. It is a country where ethnic and religious hatreds are common. Just recently, pornography was banned – not anti-democratic in itself, but part of a larger conquest of the public square by moralizing Islamists. A 19th-century Islamic religious movement called Ahmadiyya, that has many followers, has been banned in parts of the country. Democracies, at least the good ones, generally don’t ban whole religious sects.

The New York Times has done some excellent reporting on what the masses of inspired people got wrong about Egypt. Michael Slackman documented in late March that “religion has emerged as a powerful religious force” in politics, and the Muslim Brotherhood has been “transformed into a tacit partner with the military government.”

It turns out that all those who shouted, like canaries in the mine, about the role of the Brotherhood are being vindicated.

THE LATEST actions of the military in Egypt, banning Mubarak’s political party and jailing a blogger who “insulted” the military, are not very democratic. The same is true in Libya. The Times reporter C.J Chivers noted on April 6 that Libyan rebels are “less an organized force than the martial manifestation of a popular uprising.”

Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera thinks “They are the worst army I’ve ever seen in the field, absolutely incompetent.”

How are things going in Tunisia? We don’t know. Syria? There, the nepotistic leaders are killing people, and neither Al- Jazeera nor the US State Department seem to care. Bahrain? The kingdom is on the brink of outlawing its Shia opposition, and is sending thugs house--to-house to roust them out. The failure of the revolutions in the Middle East is not the fault of all the well-wishers. It isn’t really the fault of the secular progressive youths, the rock throwers, the Islamists or the feeble boastful rebels in Libya with their bulging ammo belts. The fault lies in the fact that there was never a second Arab Awakening. It was never bounded by ideas, not even the democratic-Islamic ones that Judith Butler tells us we should embrace. Sometimes riots produce successful revolutions, witness the Boston Tea Party in 1770 or the bread riots before the French Revolution.

But rebellion without ideas is like mortar without bricks – just a bunch of grey crap.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Terra Incognita 140: Islamism, Sex and the Old South
Terra Incognita: Sex, Islamism and the Old South
04/05/2011 22:54

The relationship between conservative Muslim societies, slavery and prostitution is more common than one thinks.

In a shocking article in Harper’s Magazine Lawrence Osborne tells of a “Pilgrimage of Sin: Booze, bombs and hookers in Islamic Thailand.”

He regales his readers with the seeming contradiction between Malay Islamists in southern Thailand and the brothel culture they patronize. He meets five Muslim Malay men from Malaysia who have crossed into Thailand to visit the Pink Lady brothel. The five come from a southern state where Shari’a law has been enacted, and where the government considers Valentine’s Day “synonymous with vice activities.”

The author interviews local Malay men (southern Thailand has a large Malay minority), and finds that while they support the Islamist insurgents who murder Buddhist priests and kill policemen, they also love the female Buddhist prostitutes at the Pink Lady.

The relationship between Islamism, sex trafficking and prostitution is more common than one thinks. The 9/11 hijackers, Maj. Nidal Hasan of the Fort Hood massacre and radical preachers Abu Hamza al-Masri and Anwar Awlaki were all frequenters of strip clubs or prostitutes.

A RECENT article in The New York Times by Aubrey Belford reveals the latest twist in “Indonesia’s culture war between peddlers of titillation and Islamist conservatives.”

Ody Mulya Hidayat, an Indonesian Muslim filmmaker, has found a new secret to success – cast Japanese porn stars, with their clothes on, in his B movies like Evil Nurse 2. Aubrey writes that “many in Muslimmajority Indonesia will pay to see foreign porn stars perform – clothed – in local films. Just don’t expect Indonesians to own up to it.”

Why the obsession with Japanese porn stars in the “conservative” society of Indonesia, where porn is illegal and volunteer religious police routinely harass women for not dressing in appropriate Islamic attire? Perhaps the answer can be found in the deserts of Sinai.

A December 13 report entitled “Hostages, Torture and Rape in the Sinai Desert” by Physicians for Human Rights in Israel revealed that African migrants were branded, whipped and routinely raped by the Sinai Beduin. One young woman from Ethiopia related that the Beduin “would take me into the front of the pickup and do whatever they liked with me. The distress of this was too much for my husband.”

A third of the women interviewed by PHR claim to have been raped, and it is thought that many more are raped but, due to the shame, do not tell interviewers about it.

But when you go to the Sinai, the Beduin tell you they are a conservative Muslim society. They circumcise young girls, and their women are swaddled in embroidered black hijabs. So why does this “conservative” society engage in sex crimes against migrants? The same migrants in Israel are not raped by their employers, at least not that we know of.

THE ANSWER may lie in Iraq and the Gulf states. A recent article by the BBC related that “Ugandan women were trafficked into domestic slavery in Iraq.”

The report found 146 women who signed up to work in the country. Upon arrival they found they had been sold to Iraqis for $3,500. One woman recalled that she had been forced to work from 5 a.m. to midnight. She was also raped. Other women that Anna Cavel interviewed were raped as well. But Iraq is a conservative society. The women wear the black abaya, and since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the country has become more religious.

The story continues in the Gulf states. Many of the female domestic slaves (“servants”) imported from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere are subjected to sexual abuse. According to the Nepalese embassy in Saudi Arabia, “A majority of these women are raped, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted and have endured inhumane behavior.”

Lawrence Osborne, in his article on Thailand, related that some of the brothels in Bangkok were frequented primarily by Saudis and Gulf Arabs – people whose own countries either banned women from driving or have imprisoned Europeans “caught” making out on beaches.

All the stories related here have one thing in common.

A conservative culture claims moral superiority, but subjects members of other cultures to dehumanizing treatment and sexual abuse. It doesn’t seem like it can all coexist. But a very similar society existed in the American Old South.

The Old South was a conservative place, with a culture in some ways similar to what is found in the Islamic world. It was a society of large families that guarded the honor of their women. It imported servants and slaves, and took pride in its hospitality.

Historian David Hacket Fischer relates in his excellent book Albion’s Seed that this patriarchal society “condemned as unnatural and even dangerous to society” single men and women, and that arranged marriage was common.

The Byrd household of 18th-century Virginia may have been typical. The slaves were beaten and burned with hot irons. “Women were held to the strictest standards of sexual virtue. Men were encouraged by the customs of the country to maintain a predatory attitude toward women.”

William Byrd II kept a diary of his sexual exploits.

In a month-long debauch he “played with Mrs. Chiswell and kissed her on the bed... I neglected my prayers... we saw Molly King, a pretty black girl...[and] Jenny, an Indian girl, had got drunk and made us good sport... at night I asked a negro girl to kiss me... came to Mrs. Johnson and rogered her twice...I went to Mrs. Fitzherbert’s... walked away and picked up a girl whom I carried to the bagnio [bathroom] and rogered her twice very well... endeavored to pick up a whore but could not.”

Byrd would not be out of place in today’s Islamist states, where conservative laws, slavery, rape and sexual avarice can all be found in the same place.

Byrd’s diary reveals both his religious feelings – he complains often of “neglecting” his prayers – and his outright disregard for sexual mores. The “negro” and “Indian” women he encountered, the prostitutes and domestic white servants, were all fair game because of his sense of entitlement.

Is there any reason to think that the Beduin of Sinai or the Malays of southern Thailand feel differently?

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.