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Twelve years after the attacks on America by Islamist mass murderers, mass murder proceeds apace in the Muslim Middle East. Unfortunately, the real nature of the bloodshed still eludes many American policymakers and the public as well.
Consider the three forces that have been involved in that region for decades. First, there are the traditional dictators: the now-dead Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the now-deposed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and the always-despised Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Their corrupt, brutal regimes have been relatively secular because they haven’t wanted challenges to their power; to the extent they’ve used religion, it has been to keep the masses in line.
But in this region there have never been the values, culture, institutions, and practices of a free, open society. It’s always been kings and strongmen ruling servile subjects.
Second, there are the theocrats: the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the ayatollahs, and the mullahs. They are the medievalists, the pre-moderns, infused with the ideology of Islam, with the goal of even more repressive and brutal dictatorships under Sharia law.
Americans are wrong to imagine that the Islamists and their program, which brought down the World Trade Center towers twelve years ago, are simply blowback for real or imagined recent U.S. government foreign policy slights. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, who hated everything modern. Its slogan: “Jihad is our way; and dying in the way of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.” Its goal: to make the savage past the future. Islamism is a virulent ideology just like Communism and Fascism and its acolytes are not motivated by traditional geopolitical logic.
And third, there is everyone else. There are the masses in Egypt who were frustrated by poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and political corruption of dictatorship. They helped overthrow Mubarak and then, facing Islamic repression, helped overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood, hoping that the new military dictatorship might be better than the old one.
There are the masses in Syria who were frustrated by poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and political corruption. They rose against Assad and 100,000 of them have been slaughtered. Sadly, their ranks are becoming dominated by Islamists. So the Syrian civil war now pits a traditional dictator against the partisans of theocracy. It’s a no-win situation.
What is clearly needed and clearly lacking in the Muslim Middle East are strong voices for Enlightenment, modernist values : a respect for human reason as opposed to blind faith; individual liberty and autonomy; free markets; and honest governments limited to protecting life, liberty, and property.
Those voices might come from Muslims in the West. But too few do. Since the 9/11 attacks, there have been no masses of American Muslims in the streets of American cities denouncing Islamists and making the promotion of Enlightenment values among their coreligionists Job One.
Europe is worse. When a Danish paper in 2005 published cartoons of Mohammed, thousands took to the streets of European cities demanding death to the infidels. Increasing numbers of Muslims choose to live in the West and enjoy what life there offers. But the vast majority of them fail to uphold the values on which the West is based.
The Muslim Middle East is going through a wrenching transformation from pre-modern to modern, a process that took many bloody centuries in Western Europe. What it needs most desperately are strong advocates for the philosophy of reason and freedom that underlies the modern world.
Atlas Society Select Articles on 9/11 and Terrorism
Islam’s Dreary Cultural Darkness by Edward Hudgins (September 14, 2013)
Are The People Of The Middle East Fit For Freedom? by Edward Hudgins (May 14, 2004)
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.