Where Have All The Liberal Muslims Gone?

Offended by my refusal to see all adherents of Islam as knife-wielding jihadists an exasperated American acquaintance of mine once asked me, “So where are all the liberals in the Middle East, then?“. My reply was blunt: “In their graves where you, the British, French and Israelis put them!“. An exaggeration, perhaps, though there is no doubt that the anti-colonial movements of the Middle East in the 1950s and ’60s were primarily led by young, left-wing and secular Arabs, including Muslims, Christians and atheists. It is difficult to remember now in the post-9/11 world that the ranks of the early Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its off-shoots were filled with bearded Marxists not bearded jihadists. Unfortunately many of the most progressive individuals from that period perished through the actions of the old European imperial powers, their Cold War usurpers, and various authoritarian proxy states in the region (not to mention Israel, which played friend and foe with equal dexterity). The Muslim liberals died by torture, assassination and insurgency, or were left broken by imprisonment, impoverishment and exile, ironically at the hands or at the bequest of those who would most wish their presence today. Militant Islam filled the void left by the absence of militant democracy.

Recent events in Turkey show how hard it is to sustain a democratic secular nation-state, even one with decades of history and “tradition” behind it, when surrounded by dictatorships of one sort or another. Totalitarianism is a cancer which pollutes and infects all it comes into contact with. How many of the European territories who succumbed to fascist Germany in the 1930s and ’40s were themselves fascist? The presidential kleptocracy of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one outgrowth of this corrupt legacy of European colonialism, as the Daily Beast reports:

“When Bilal Erdogan arrived in the Italian city of Bologna in 2014, he was accompanied by a team of bodyguards. He was also met, quite literally, with a wall of protests. His security detail was delayed while his father, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, arranged for diplomatic passports for them.

He had begun work on his degree in 2006 at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., and then switched to a branch of the school in Bologna. In 2014, when Bilal secured an Italian residency permit for two years for himself, his wife and their two young children, it looked like they would settle in for a while in style.

The Turkish family rented an expansive, posh apartment under Bologna’s famed medieval Two Towers in the historical center near the university campus, and the Italian foreign ministry put Bilal under what’s referred to as protective surveillance, essentially trailing him and his private security details with armed guards wherever he went.

…in February of 2016, another set of cops was added to the surveillance detail. This time they were Italy’s financial police who informed the young Turk that he was under investigation for laundering around €1 billion ($1.12 billion) in cash, according to a summary of the court dossier, which was seen by The Daily Beast.

A month later, Bilal Erdogan was back in Turkey, citing “security concerns” for his and his family’s safety.”

As you may have guessed, few observers doubt the criminality of the Erdoğan family and their circle of cronies, or that hundreds of millions of dollars have been siphoned off from the coffers of the Turkish state to provide them with lifestyles akin to those of some Gulf potentates. Talking of which, Robert Fisk highlights the history of the controversy-mired former French head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the Independent while discussing a new book on Saudi-wannabe, Qatar, by the Lebanese economist and journalist Marwan Iskandar.

“Qatar helped (financially, of course) ease the way for Colonel Gaddafi of Libya to release a group of Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been tried on bogus charges of infecting patients with Aids. Sarkozy’s then-wife Cecilia, who later married an events organiser called Richard Attias in New York, returned with the hostages on the eve of Sarkozy’s election. But, Iskandar writes, “in 2008 and during his visit to Qatar, Sarkozy told the Emir [Hamad] of Qatar that he wanted to divorce because he is in love with another lady, the actress and singer Carla Bruni. He wanted to marry her but his wife insisted that he pay €3m, which he did not have. The Emir paid him the said amount and wished him a happy … marriage”.

The violent weeds of radical Islam were seeded and nourished by many hands, unwittingly or otherwise.

 

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10 comments

  1. Somewhat true. The west has foolishly overthrown ow weakened secular regimes across the mideast with extreme islam filling the void. But jihadism/salfism/takfirism is as old as islam itself and emanates from that religion and culture.

    1. Yes, but jihadism/salfism/takfirism was supercharged by Saudi Arabia, a Wahhabist nation-state created and legitimised by the Western powers in the 20th century. Iran and the dynastic dilettantes of the Gulf could have never boosted militant Islamism the way the Saudi’s have managed to do so. The kingdom in Riyadh has trodden the path since the days of Muhammad bin Saud and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the 18th century that the insurgent Islamic State is hoping to follow.

      1. It certainly was created and legitimised by the west but its ideological and religious destiny was entirely in Saudi hands.
        And is it the British,French or Israelis chopping atheist bloggers,Hindu priests and gay activists to pieces with machetes in Bangladesh?

  2. I have read Wikipedia-level descriptions of early Saudi history. From what I remember, the state as it exists today is basically a British creation. Does anyone have more information on the issue?

  3. Have a look at Bitter Lake , a 2015 BBC documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis. It argues that Western politicians have manufactured a simplified story about militant Islam into a “good” vs. “evil” argument. He gives very interesting information on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the rise of extremism. You can view it on you tube, the BBC never allowed this on their main BBC 1 and 2 and was only on their i player.

  4. Hmmm oh tell me how Britain,USA or Israel is behind the latest machete attack in Belgium,i would love to hear. ☺

  5. The Ba’thists were probably the most effective secular Arab political organisation.
    Their members include such eminent democrats as Saddam Hussein and the Assad family.

    1. Sure, but the Iraq and Syrian (and other versions) Ba’athism took on distinct tones of national socialism. Michel Aflaq may have started out as a progressive but he ended his life as a silent partner in the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and company.The Western powers encouraged the regional and ideological splits in Ba’athism and its adoption as the parties of state in Iraq and Syria.

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