No Exits?

April 12, 2011

 

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

So what is to be done?

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

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G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues. This essay originally appeared in American Thinker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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G. Murphy Donovan, check6dc@gmail.com

No Exit?

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

 

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

 

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

 

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

 

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

 

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

 

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

 

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

 

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

 

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

 

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

 

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

 

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

 

 

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

 

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

 

So what is to be done?

 

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

 

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

 

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

 

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

 

 

G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Egyptian Revolt and Imperial Islam

February 12, 2011

“Things are far worse than we have been told.” – T.E. Lawrence (22 Aug 1920)

The Arab revolt underway in Egypt may be unique. Previous popular uprisings were underwritten by anti-colonial sentiments. Contemporary revolts, (including unrest in Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, and Jordan) target nationalist or secular governments. The wealthiest Arab states, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, have been financing the ideological struggle against Arab secularism through surrogates like the Egypt based Muslim Brotherhood (al Ikwan) for decades. Now the most populous state in the Arab League, Egypt, may fall to the Brotherhood like a ripe pomegranate.

A brief history of previous Arab revolts offers some perspective.

The corrupt Ottoman caliphate in Istanbul was the target for the first Arab revolt (1916-19).  The goal of Sherif Hussien bin Ali was a unified Arab nation stretching from the Levant through the Arabian Peninsula. Bin Ali’s revolt against the Turks was successful with the help of the British – and then undermined by colonials with a different agenda. London had little sympathy for Arab nationalism; the English enemy in WWI was the German/Turkish axis.

Thus, the first conflict set the stage for an inevitable second revolt (1936-39) during WWII, against the British and a nascent Zionist Movement.  This uprising was limited to Palestine and was less successful than the first. Both revolts were, for the most part, footnotes to larger world wars where Arab interests were subordinated to big power politics.

Nonetheless, the two 20th Century Arab insurrections were part of a historical vector which eventually saw the creation of 22 separate nation states. The vision of Arab unity, however, was savaged by centrifugal tribal and national sentiments. Still, those early revolutions laid the political and military foundation for the so-called Arab/Israeli struggle which has defined war and politics in the Middle-East for the last 60 years. For many Arabs, including Arab Americans like Edward Said and Helen Thomas, the creation of Israel was merely another vestige of colonial injustice.

Today, the ongoing revolt in Egypt is nothing like previous struggles. Sunni angst has turned inward after six decades of terror and thrashing against Israel and real or imagined enemies in Europe and America. The apostate is slowly replacing the infidel as a primary target. In the process, radical Sunnis may have adopted the Shia mould of irredentist renewal.

Compare the many futile and impotent Arab wars of the 20th Century to the Persian revolution since 1979, a model of theocratic efficiency. Indeed, Iran is now on the cusp of first world nuclear status, defying an impotent West and positioning itself to challenge Arab/Sunni hegemony within dar al Islam.  Lebanon and Iraq are poised to join the Shiite Crescent too. Persian revanchism could well be the new model for radical Sunni imperialism in the Arab world.

Al Jazeera has been covering the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts with breathless abandon; celebrating the disturbances as the legitimate and “peaceful” aspirations of an oppressed fellaheen.  Somehow the looting, arson, and body bags in Cairo belie such arguments. Emirate propaganda organs like al Jazeera always speak with two voices; English language broadcasts offer dulcet tones of peace and moderation, putting the best spin on the insurrection. In contrast, Arabic language programs howl with hate and invective using expatriate Egyptian Brotherhood spokesmen.

Apologists defend the Muslim Brotherhood as a political reform movement and ignore the Qur’anic imperialism which underwrites the movement and its objectives. Indeed, the incendiary writings of Sayiid Qutb and, more recently, Yusuf al-Qaradawi (below), a Qatar based firebrand, are almost exclusively predicated on Islamic religious literature.

Al-Qaradawi is an archetypical mouthpiece for the worst Brotherhood vitriol. He is the author of numerous books and tracts, but more significantly, he hosts the most popular broadcast on the al-Jazeera network. His show, Sharia and Life, reaches over 50 million Arab speaking viewers with a message that reeks of paranoia, misogyny, homophobia, racism, violent jihad, and all manner of anti-democratic venom. Recently one of his fatwas alleged that Hitler was “Allah’s” messenger punishing the Jews. In another pronouncement, al-Qaradawi justified female circumcision and wife beating. He actually claimed that some Arab women enjoyed physical abuse. Al-Qaradawi also maintains a significant online presence.

It is no coincidence that al Jazeera and al-Qaradawi find refuge and financial support in Doha. The Emirates and Saudi Arabia, to paraphrase Churchill, seek to appease the Sunni crocodile, hoping that Arab autocrats will be eaten last. The many grievances of the Arab street are real enough; but Al Jazeera, a Brotherhood flack, has been shut down in Egypt for prudent reasons.

The Muslim Brotherhood, officially illegal, is the largest and most well organized political alternative to the Mubarak regime. Al Ikwan, like Hezb’allah in Lebanon, is in fact a government within a government, sedition leavened with health and humanitarian services.

Throughout the current revolt, al Ikwan in Egypt has maintained a low profile for good reasons. If Mubarak is deposed by a “people’s revolt,” surely to be followed by some kind of “moderate” interim government, then the Muslim brotherhood is in the catbird seat to make Egypt’s first legitimate election the last. Indeed, Egypt could be a replay of Algeria in 1991. Only this time, there is little chance that a theocratic electoral victory in Arabia’s most populous nation will be nullified.

Al Jazerra and its American network “partners” seemed to be channeling Jimmy Carter on the Sunday morning chat shows. Christiane Amanpour on ABC spoke of a “popular uprising” and freedom. Martha Raddatz spoke of “human rights and democracy.” Tom Friedman on NBC courted the “moderate Muslim center”. Possibly worst of all was BBC’s Katty Kay suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood be accommodated in any post-Mubarak government.

The hagiographic network coverage of the Egyptian revolt ignores every recent political precedent in the near East; the Iran revolt gave birth to the first Shia theocracy; a recent election elevated terrorist Hezb’allah in Lebanon. The electoral victory of fundamentalism in Algeria in 1991 had to be undone by the Army. An election also brought terrorist Hamas to power in Palestine. And now Tunisia and Egypt are tottering towards the abyss. Electoral alternatives to the status quo in the Arab League are not likely to be enlightened or democratic.

The Irish, who know more than a little about the debits and credits of revolution, like to say that the “devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” Mubarak may be a flawed ally, but other options are monstrous. Egypt is not only a linchpin for Middle East stability, but it, like Turkey until recently, has been a bulwark against the worst excesses of Islamism. If Egypt falls to Islam’s worst, the outlook for Israel and the rest of the Muslim world is bleak indeed.

The loss of Egypt to Islamic theocrats will more consequential than the loss of Iran. Elections are just another arrow in the fundamentalist quiver. Unfortunately, too many naïve observers in the West confuse voting with democracy.

The stakes in this most recent Arab revolt have little or nothing to do with Egyptian or any other variety of Arab nationalism. Democracy, economics, and social justice are minor players too. Another victory for Sunni radicals is the prize if the Egyptian revolt is successful. Egypt represents a tipping point – a validation of Imperial Sunni Islam and another stimulus for religious extremism.

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The author is a former Intelligence analyst with tours at HQ USAF, DIA, CIA, and NSA. He writes also at Agnotology in Journalism . This essay appeared previously in American Thinker and elsewhere.