Playing With Fire
If any thing, the gruesome assassination of the American Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans, the other day by the fundamentalists in that country in the city of Benghazi vindicates the point that I have written in these columns on a couple of occasions that the so-called Arab Spring has not necessarily ushered in democracy in the Arab world. All told, the recent Arab history suggests that whenever any authoritarian ruler has been overthrown through street riots and violent demonstrations, the concerned country has come under the garb of fundamentalist forces. Look at what happened in Iran after the fall of Shah. Even Iraq, despite the presence of Americans there, is turning back towards the middle ages, thanks to the fundamentalist Shia leaders who now control the country after the overthrow of the Sadam Hussein regime. Equally instructive is what happened in the Gaza strip. Street protests against the then Palestine leadership of Yassar Arafat, coupled with American pressure, resulted in an election that both the Palestinian Authority and Israel said was a mistake. The fundamentalist extremist Hamas got 70 per cent of the vote, and quickly set to execute moderate Palestinians and firing rockets into Israel.
The Arab Spring that began in Tunisia and then engulfed Egypt, Yemen and Libya, might have given the majority to form the government, but this majority has been dominated by the religious leaders, most of them fundamentalists, and it is they who control the new governments. What is significant is that these religious leaders belong to the Sunni sect and therefore have no problems having wonderful equations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sheikhdoms, which are certainly not citadels of democracy and have directly or indirectly furthered the cause of Wahabism or Islamic fundamentalism all over the world. In other words, an Islamic Arab world is further strengthening the Islamic terrorists in other parts of the world, particularly in South Asia, South-east Asia, Central Asia and many parts of Africa. Just see the way a section of our Indian youth working in the Gulf countries is increasingly getting radicalized, which, in turn, has given rise to ethnic tensions in Kerala and southern parts other parts of the country, something unimaginable few years ago. In fact, one will add to what veteran journalist MJ Akbar has said on the subject of Islamic fundamentalism/ terrorism. According to him, the fourth world war (thanks to terrorism) is increasingly interlinked with a vast stretch of land in between the rivers Nile and Ganges. I think, from India’s point of view, the area is not bounded by the Ganges; it has been expanded up to the Periyar river. Going beyond India, one could in fact argue that the vast landmass in between Indonesia and Egypt has now become the playground of the Islamic fundamentalists.
What is really worrisome is that the American Ambassador was killed because some film made in the USA was critical of Prophet Mohammad. The fundamentalists did not realise that America, like any democratic country, is a democratic country guarantying freedom of expression. Overwhelmingly a Christian country, it has allowed movies that have been critical of Jesus Christ. In fact, only last evening I saw an old British movie on “Henry and his six Wives”, directed by an eminent person of Indian origin, Waris Hussein. In this, one saw how King Henry destroyed many Churches owing allegiance to Rome. But no Christian in Britain and the USA went on a rampage and demanded the head of a Muslim director.
In fact, by their recent actions, the Islamic fundamentalists are challenging the very basis of nation-states. They will not expect the country concerned to punish its citizens if they indulged in anti-Islamic activities. They think that any Muslim anywhere in the world can punish who they think is guilty. This is a dangerous phenomenon, indeed. We have seen it in India in the recent riots in various parts because of the alleged ill-treatement to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. We had seen it earlier when there were huge rallies and protests against the controversial cartoons sketched by an artist in Spain.
The point that I am trying to underscore is that the Arab Spring has been virtually reduced to be a Sunni assertion not only against other religious viewpoints but also against other strands of Islam. That explains why until the writing of this column, I have not come across any state of condemnation of the dastardly assassination of the American diplomat from any Arab country, including the USA’s closest ally Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which Washington supported so much when the Arab Spring was at its best in the streets of Cairo. Ironically, the latest round of anti-America protests began in Egypt and there the American Ambassador has been hiding under strong security cover. In fact, in Egypt, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, whom Americans are supporting against the Egyptian Army for getting complete power and jurisdiction over the country’s defence and foreign policies, has planned a series of protests at the at the US Embassy in Cairo over the low-budget anti-Muslim film made in the United States. As I write this, reports also come that the protests against the US have spread to Yemen, where hundreds of protestors stormed the American embassy. In Libya, it seems, the attack was orchestrated by the Brotherhood’s friend al-Qaida to avenge the death of a senior Libyan member of the terrorist network; here the controversial film became just an excuse.
Interestingly, the fact remains that al-Qaida, like Brotherhood, has become a great ally of the US in the war against Assad regime of Syria. And in Syria, America’s best friends happen to be Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two countries from where financial support to sponsor Sunni fundamentalism all over the world emanates.
But then consistency and principles have never been the virtues in American foreign policy. In fact, all the leading countries associated, directly or indirectly, with Islamic terrorism, whether it be Saudi Arabia or Pakistan (which many American experts consider to be the epicenter of global terror network) happen to be closet allies of the United States. Pakistan and Egypt happen to be the two countries which get maximum American military and economic assistance; but it is in these two countries that America is the most hated country, if various opinion polls are any indication. Maybe America loves playing with fire.
By Prakash Nanda