Thursday, March 17, 2011

JASMINE REVOLUTION: A MIRAGE IN THE DESERT

The Jasmine revolution, if it can be called a revolution, has failed. As it had to. Liberty, freedom and the will of the people, ideas that the modern world holds dear and, paradoxically, that have made many go wrong in their interpretations of what has happened, should eventually prevail. Change will triumph. But that revolution, the real one, is still some decades and much bloodshed away.

MJ Akbar, an astute observer of events past and present, foresaw in 2002 that most of the Arab world was 10 to 15 years away from its French Revolution. Unfortunately, he saw the developments through a bifocal lens – liberal and Muslim – and France distorted his vision. That is why in the flush of the moment in Egypt, he saw what is still distant: Gandhian values, democracy, cries for freedom, the works. That is why elsewhere too he saw the republican spirit at work. Fareed Zakaria, wearing almost identical spectacles, was a little more circumspect in his assessment of the developments in Egypt. While he felt that fears of a theocracy were overblown, he conceded that the most likely outcome was an “illiberal democracy” in which “the elected majority restricts individual rights and freedoms, curtails civil society and uses the state as its instrument of power.”

Was this Arab revolution ever going to be a secular clash between dictatorship and democracy, between suppression and freedom, as the modern non-Islamic world believes it would? Or, if it had succeeded, was it going to result in one tyranny replaced by another, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and some Pakistani analysts – made wiser by first-hand experience -- believed it would?

The manner in which the regimes in Libya and Bahrain have suppressed those opposing them with brutal force is an answer in itself. Closer home, Pakistan did the same to defeat and kill Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti and crush hostile Taliban etc. Earlier, in Afghanistan, it had installed and supported perhaps the most tyrannical and oppressive theocratic regime that the world has seen for a long time, and is now headed inexorably down the same slope itself. In Iran, the one country where a revolution truly succeeded in the Muslim world, a corrupt monarchy was replaced by a tyrannical, intolerant theocracy that continues to brutally crush its opponents. Let us not talk of Indonesia and Malaysia or, to a lesser extent, Bangladesh, because though they are Islamic states, culturally and civilisationally they still remain somewhat tethered to their pre-Islamic past.

Islamists have never stopped saying that Western style secularism, democracy and liberty are alien to Islam. Islam means submission to the will of God and obedience to His law.The law is laid down explicitly and submission to it enforced in varying degrees across the Muslim world. Submission, thus, comes naturally, both to those imposing it and to those submitting. As a direct consequence, so does use for force, as recent developments in Pakistan have graphically illustrated once again.

Rebelling against a secular or semi-secular tyrant is relatively easy because he enforces submission to his own laws. But to interpret it as a mass craving for liberal values is erroneous, to say the very least. Findings of the Pew Research Centre, as highlighted below, on the views of Egyptians and Pakistanis, in fact, point in the opposite direction: fundamentalism is on the rise. Figures for Pakistan are in brackets.
  • Role of Islam 95% (88) of those who feel Islam is playing large role in politics think it is good, while 80% (79) of those who think it is playing a small role think it is bad. Islam must play a much bigger role.
  • Traditional Muslim practices 82% (82) favor stoning adulterers to death; 77% (82) favour chopping off hands of robbers; 86% (76) want death for those who leave Islam.
Perhaps it is good that the Jasmine revolution has failed. Had it succeeded, most likely a new and more unpredictable set of Islamist tyrants would have forced people into submission, after the dust had settled, and not liberal democrats ready to be one among the people, running governments of, by and for them. As far as the non-Muslim world is concerned, that phase is best skipped.

Yes, it cannot be denied that the challenge of change has knocked on the Arab door. But that door is not going to open easily. For that to happen, the Islamist boil has first to burst. Is there evidence of that happening anytime soon? In Shia Iran the mullahs are fully entrenched; in Sunni Pakistan forces they represent are on the verge of swamping the state; extremism is ascending across the globe.

History tells us that tyrants who rule in the name of God are most difficult to overthrow, for they enforce submission to His laws as interpreted by them and do not recognise or respect change. There is no evidence to suggest that the Tsunami that will make the ones in the Muslim world submit to the will of the people has begun to move yet. The failed revolution was no more than a mirage in the desert.
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