Thanks to the efforts of the Speakers Action Group last Friday we had the opportunity to listen to a remarkable speaker – Professor Barry Rubin. He is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA). He is also author of many books on the Middle East issues.
He started with the statement that a titanic battle is going on in the Arab countries and the Middle East, which became more visible with the recent revolutions in the area. There are three groups, which define the face of that battle – the first one is Al Qaida. Although it is often in the news, it is not
the most important one. Its importance has diminished in the last few years.
The second one, which is very important, is Iran and its alliance – Syria, Hezbollah, the Shia movements, etc. The third chief group is the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Despite of having been suppressed for years, now the movement is rising into a prominence.
Right now this is the most important struggle in the world, although most governments and the mainstream media don’t recognize that fact. An example of that blindness is the situation in Lebanon, where recently they formed a new government with 60% representation of the Muslim extremists from Hezbollah. The change was mentioned in New York Times, but with the remark that the movement is gaining “some influence” in the government.
The situation is not much better when they discuss Turkey – the creeping Islamism of the Prime Minister Erdogan is usually ignored and its potential consequences never analyzed.
Reality is often distorted – recently TIME magazine carried an article explaining how well the Christians are treated in Egypt.
The Islamists are definitely making advances, although in Prof. Rubin’s opinion, they will be eventually defeated.
The forces involved and the indifference of politicians and media create the background for the events that took place during the last six months. While everybody was praising the “Arab Spring”, the Muslim Brotherhood declared a war against the West. They openly said that the West will be defeated, because it is weak. With the prospect of gaining real political power, they will be able to put their threats into practice.
The first country we need to watch is Egypt.
Not everyone who took part in the upheaval in Egypt was genuine. Of course, there were many people with sincere desire for a better society, but there were also Islamist groups ready to hijack the dissatisfaction. For example, the April 16th Movement had as their goal the lifting of the Gaza blockade. They didn’t go directly against the government, but waited until the protests were big enough and the process irreversible, to join the events.
The mainstream media paints a much distorted picture of the Muslim Brotherhood – they repeat their declarations made in English and ignore their real positions expressed in their Arabic publications. As a result, the organization appears as peace-loving and even secular. They even take seriously the claims of Tariq Ramadan (grandson of MB’s founder) that the MB was anti-fascist. The truth is that they have been marred by long years of violence and during World War II the Muslim Brotherhood actively collaborated with Nazi Germany against Britain.
A defining point in this chain of events will be the parliamentary elections in Egypt scheduled for September of this year. It is beyond any doubt that the
Islamists are going to win them. They are the best organized political force and now they are emboldened by the developments in the country. In the
beginning, the Muslim Brotherhood claimed they didn’t want to participate in a government, and then little by little they increased their ambitions and
Prof. Rubin predicted a radical majority in Egypt formed by the MB and other anti-Western parties. That will definitely change the balance of powers in the
region. Hamas is going to become more confident and with the increased supply of weapons through the Egyptian border, they will probably attack Israel.
Israel is going to retaliate and then Egypt would most likely interfere by providing more arms and volunteers to Hamas, but they will not get involved directly. Due to the disastrous condition of its economy, the country is simply not able to go to war. Under those circumstances, the West will be forced to notice how bad the situation has become.
Another effect of the elections will be the increased problems of the Egyptian Christians. There are a large number of them (about 10% of the population). They are treated in a horrible way even now and the proposed Islamic constitution would make their situation even worse.
Another country we need to watch is Turkey.
Once it was a secular republic, in which the separation of Islam and state established by Ataturk, was strictly observed. As a result, over several decades the country achieved significant progress.
Things started turning for the worst since Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party came to power. The secular principles are gradually abolished. The control over free thought is troubling – 75 journalists are currently in jail, more than in any other country in the world. The censorship is rampant (they even cancelled a Prof. Rubin’s column in a Turkish newspaper).
The previous close collaboration between Turkey and Israel has diminished – many Israeli businesses are discouraged or even banned from work in Turkey.
The academic freedoms in the Turkish universities are eroded, Islam is not only tolerated, but also encouraged to counter the secular thought.
Erdogan still talks about Turkey joining the European Union, but it becomes clear that he is not going to implement the reforms, which would make his country more European. Turkey is more interested in becoming a powerful player among the Islamists in the region by aligning itself with Iran, Hamas and other forces.
A very sad case is Lebanon – it has suffered a civil war for decades. After the 2006 war the West promised that it will free the country from the grip of Hezbollah and Syria. The Western countries assured the government that Hezbollah would be under control. None of the promises was fulfilled – now the extremists control the Lebanese government. The recent electoral success of his party would encourage him to accelerate that process.
They even vowed to “liberate” the Lebanese territories “occupied” by Israel, even though no such territories exist. That means that in near future Hezbollah is going to attack Israel again.
When faced with such looming disasters, one may think that the US foreign policy in the Middle East would propose some adequate solutions. Nothing is further from the truth.
Under Barack Obama, the USA carries out a policy, which practically supports its enemies and is based on ignoring the reality. In Obama’s world only Al Qaida is bad and worth fighting against. However, the Muslim Brotherhood is considered an organization, with which the USA can find common language. The involvement in the Libyan tribal war doesn’t help either. It is almost frightening to watch how the USA is destroying its power base in the region.
Not only does that distorted view affect Israel, but it also puts in a difficult situation Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which are considered allies of the USA. Obama’s solution is to appease the emerging Islamism and let the threatened countries fend for themselves. Despite the new realities, he still sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the main issue, just as it was in the 1970’s.
That was reflected in his recent speech about the Middle East. Many commentators paid attention to his demand that Israel withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.
The same mindless approach is demonstrated toward the vote for the proposed independence of Palestine coming this September at the United Nations. The USA will have to veto it, thus causing the rage of many dictatorships. The issue should have been resolved early on through pressure, like withdrawal the economic support for the Palestinians until they get involved in real negotiations. Besides that, several of the major Western European countries stated that they would vote against the unilateral independence. According to Barry Rubin, that was not the important point in the speech – much more important is the demand that Israel must return to those borders BEFORE the negotiations for Palestinian independence begin.
Prof. Rubin emphasized that he supports the two-state solution of the conflict, but only if there’s a solid agreement that the Palestinians would adhere to.
But as of now, the US administration doesn’t support Israel and is not committed to brokering a lasting peace. Rubin joked that we should expand the Stephen Harper’s power to become a US President, because he has a much better grasp of international politics.
Despite the difficult situation, Israel is more united and able to prepare to withstand military attacks, if necessary. The economy is strong. He reiterated his point that his point that Islamism will be defeated, but nobody knows how long it would take and how many people would die.
That ended Barry Rubin’s lecture. On my way out I overheard in the elevator an elderly lady telling her friend that some of what he said sounded a little bit
Do you think that he was too optimistic? Or maybe there was a dose of the old Jewish fatalism in her words?
I find his optimism justified – now Israel is in the unique position to confront successfully the raging Islamism with the help from the West (as soon as the
West is forced to get its head out of the sand by the grim new realities in the Middle East). Moreover, now the Muslim fanaticism is ready to attack the West
as a political force, it is no more a collection of odd terrorist characters. That would leave the Western countries with no other choice, but to react adequately.
Let me tell you why I think so. In the last 800 years, the Muslim world has contributed very little to the world civilization. That fact shows even in the confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis. During the last Israeli Apartheid Week in Toronto, there was a screening of a documentary about the “Jaffa oranges”, which the evil Jews supposedly stole. Then I went to a Palestinian poetry reading, where I heard the verse: “They steal my food and call it Israeli salad.”
It’s a funny food obsession. It reminds me of the quarrels between the Turks and the Greeks – what’s known as Turkish coffee is called “Greek coffee” in the Greek restaurants. But while that coffee war is limited to the restaurant battlefield, the Palestinian food obsession is presented as an injustice of apocalyptic dimensions, which is worth dying for.
I am not sure if Israel has any food demands, but here is another story presenting a different level of the reality. A few days after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a Japanese friend of mine, who is a professor of nuclear physics at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, sent me an urgent message. He wanted me help him find in Canada a specific radiation detector (RAM GENE-1), made by Rotem Industries Ltd. in Israel. It was one of the best detectors in the world, but at the moment sold out in Japan. I couldn’t locate it in Canada, but I found few different brands. My friend was reluctant to buy anything else and told me that they’ll somehow manage to get the work done with the RAM GENE’s they already own.
So what’s the point of this? The point is that a person, who fights over a salad, is not a match to a person who makes the best radiation detector in the world,
especially when the salad man is trying to destroy the detector man’s country. He has no chance, no matter how strongly he believes that Allah has blessed him with power.
The Arab countries have no power and they’ll maintain that condition for as long as they live in the shackles of the backward Islam. And that is the basis of the optimistic point of view, which tells us that the West will win.
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