'Democratic' Arab Spring Becoming an Islamist Arab Winter
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a cruel dictator. He believes that killing his own citizens is collateral damage associated with governing, and he's not alone. Arab countries have been ruled by people like Assad for millennia. Yet the Arab Spring is changing the status quo in the Middle East, and today's shocked Westerners may, in due course, wind up longing for the days when the Assads of the Middle East were in charge.
A few days ago, President Assad said, "Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake." Some interpreted his remark as a threat, and it probably was -- at least in part. According to Reza Kahlili:
Two of the Middle East's dictators, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, want to form a united front against NATO ally Turkey for what they see as dangerous meddling in regional affairs.
Believing that it has blunted Saudi Arabia's influence in the Middle East, Iran is now turning its focus on Turkey in an effort to establish Iranian hegemony in the region.
Politics makes for strange bedfellows. Iran is ruled by Islamists, and it's a state sponsor of Islamist terrorism globally. Syria is a secular Muslim nation now threatened by the very forces Iran seeks to unleash. At this moment, Assad needs Iran's support. Next week, things may be different, and his willingness to cooperate with Iranian leaders could evaporate in the blink of an eye. In that sense, Assad's comment may have been sage advice from an experienced hand. He knows better than Western leaders what it takes to control the Islamists of the world, especially those in the Middle East. Simultaneously, Assad coddles and fights with Islamists. He's been doing it since the day he took office. For example, he uses groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah to apply pressure on Israel and Lebanon, but he doesn't hesitate to deploy Syrian troops to deal with Islamist elements in Syria who challenge his authority. The Muslim Brotherhood is a good case in point.
Reports of the number of deaths in Syria associated with Assad's ongoing crackdown vary widely, but roughly 3,000 Syrians have been killed thus far. As staggering as that number is, it pales against comparable incidents in the past. For instance, in 1970, in an operation that has come to be known as Black September, mild-mannered King Hussein of Jordan, King Abdullah's father, put down a rebellion in his country by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by killing between 10,000 and 25,000 Palestinians in one month and evicting the PLO from Jordan. Under the guidance of Yasser Arafat, the PLO fled from Jordan to Lebanon, where they set up shop and helped to foment the Lebanese Civil War, which eventually cost the lives of more than 100,000 Lebanese. Similarly, in 1982, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, crushed a Sunni rebellion in the town of Hama by slaughtering more than 20,000 of its citizens. By those standards, Bashar al-Assad has shown remarkable restraint during the unrest in Syria associated with the Arab Spring.
Given his current predicament, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak probably wishes he had ignored President Obama and other Western leaders when they urged him to step aside and let "democracy" prevail. As high-minded as that advice sounded at the time to ideologues in the West, in the Middle East it opened the door for Islamists to crawl out of the woodwork and begin the process of taking control. Having been emboldened by the Arab Spring, they are busily preparing for the Arab Winter, and what they have in mind extends far beyond the borders of the Middle East. With help from Iran, they hope to wipe Israel off the map and spread their violent version of Islam across the planet. Their first victims will be women, Muslim women specifically, followed closely by Jews, Christians, Hindus, other religious groups, and atheists. Interestingly, Islamists reserve their most intense hatred for their fellow Muslims who don't buy into their philosophy. That includes people like Bashar al-Assad under normal circumstances, and that's why a "moderate voice for Islam" is hard to find. Most Muslims who aren't radical are afraid to speak out because they understand the consequences.
The late King Hussein of Jordan, the late President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, and his son Bashar have at least one thing in common. They know their enemies, and they know how to deal with them. The militants involved in the Arab Spring aren't ordinary citizens. They're Islamists who want to rule the world and impose Sharia law, and they are on the verge of taking control in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. They seek to overthrow the existing political order in the Middle East and use it as a springboard to conquests around the world. It's obvious that Iranian leaders are spearheading the global initiative. They see Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a threat to their regional hegemony. At this juncture, Bashar al-Assad is their ally, but again, things change.
The next president should make a clear and public distinction between Islam the religion and Islamism the political ideology masquerading as a religion. That Islamism will no longer be accorded the respect due an actual religion but treated with the contempt due any fascist ideology such as Communism or Nazism.
The next president should draw a distinct line between all variants of Islamism, such as Wahhabis, Deobandis, Khomeini Shias, and other forms of Jihadi and Sharia Islam, with peaceful and tolerant forms of Islam such as practiced by Sufis and Ismailis. It is with the latter that the future of Islam lies.
And for any Moslem in the US who agitates for Sharia law, he is welcome to do so -- in a country that practices it, not in America. As for Islamic terrorism, its practitioners should receive a drone strike -- a policy of the current president that should be continued.
The current president has, however, utterly failed to champion the rights and religious freedom of Christians in the Moslem world. A truly American foreign policy would do so.
Wheeler is right. The time for pampering Islamists in the United States is over. They threaten everything we hold dear. Like tentacles from a rapidly spreading cancer, Islamists have established footholds in every country of the world, and they are fomenting unrest in hopes of bringing down every leader who doesn't pay homage to them and their cause. In the end, their goal is to eradicate the existing world order and replace it with one over which they have control. Western leaders ignore these facts at their own peril.
Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily. His latest book is titled If You Voted for Obama in 2008 to Prove You're Not a Racist, You Need to Vote for Someone Else in 2012 to Prove You're Not an Idiot.