Everyman’s Strategic Survey: The Middle East … What if?

downloadThere is a very interesting animated talk on The Atlantic that challenges a very common assumption, one which I hold and which I have presented here and in Army.ca, about Islam in the 21st century: it will need to (and Muslims will want to) undergo a reformation and enlightenment.

Shadi Hamid (PhD, Oxford), the author of the new book Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World, suggests that Muslims may not want to follow that path. “Perhaps his most provocative claim,” says Emma Green in another article in The Atlantic,  “is this: History will not necessarily favor the secular, liberal democracies of the West. Hamid does not believe all countries will inevitably follow a path from revolution to rational Enlightenment and non-theocratic government, nor should they. There are some basic arguments for this: Islam is growing, and in some majority-Muslim nations, huge numbers of citizens believe Islamic law should be upheld by the state. But Hamid also thinks there’s something lacking in Western democracies, that there’s a sense of overarching meaninglessness in political and cultural life in these countries that can help explain why a young Muslim who grew up in the U.K. might feel drawn to martyrdom, for example. This is not a dismissal of democracy, nor does it comprehensively explain the phenomenon of jihadism. Rather, it’s a note of skepticism about the promise of secular democracy—and the wisdom of pushing that model on other cultures and regions.

Public_Library_Woodstock_OntarioNow, in my defence I have never suggested that a reformation and enlightenment will, automatically, lead to liberal, secular democracy. I do not believe that democracy, liberal or conservative, can be easily transplanted unless the “soil” has been well fertilized with generations of institution buildinYork-Town-Hall-g. I do not see any indications that has even begun anywhere (beyond Israel and, perhaps, Jordan) in North Africa, the Middle east and South West Asia.

But, suppose Dr Hamid is right … suppose, nothwithstanding the evident spiritual “meaninglessness” of the Western world, that Muslims simply want a theocracy because tens, hundreds of millions of them believe that their god has ordained it. The the question becomes: what sort of theocracy?


Or something more benign, modern and sophisticated, something “reformed” or even “enlightened?”


Right now things do not look too encouraging .. not to me at least.

There seems, to me, to be a rising tide of anti-Western rhetoric and actions designed to shock and repel Westerners … almost like the fist shaking that sometimes happens before a weaker man attacks a stronger one. It seems almost as if some Arabs ~ especially, but also North Africans and West Asians ~ are trying to provoke the West into intervening, perhaps with a view to doing to the West what the mujahideen did to the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s?

Another alternative is that some (many?) in the Islamic Crescent want to achieve something I have advocated: separation, isolation from the West. I have suggested that we should impose it: isolate the region until it sorts itself out. What if some people want to do the same thing: to isolate themselves from Western influence while they impose a medieval form of Islam on country after country after country, from Morocco to Malaysia?

What is the situation? Any good insights out there? What should Canada’s foreign and defence policy responses be?

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