Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Middle East: Brave New World or Scary New Master?

By Barry Rubin

“How many goodly creatures are there here!How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,That has such people in't!”

 “Caliban has a new master….Freedom, hey-day! hey-day, freedom! freedom, hey-day, freedom!
--William Shakespeare, “The Tempest

If you want a sense of where the Middle East is going, consider this viewpoint from an unlikely source. Suat Kiniklioglu is not just a member of the Turkish Parliament for the ruling (Islamist) AK party, he’s a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee and deputy chair of the party’s foreign affairs commission. In other words, he’s a very important person in Turkey’s ruling establishment and especially foreign policy.

Yet rather than take an optimistic view about the advance of Islamic politics in the region, he’s very worried, worried enough to write a column entitled, “Back to a Barbarian Age” in the May 16 edition of the Islamist newspaper, Today’s Zaman.

What is this barbarianism? It consists of rising group hatred and looking down on others as culturally inferior and uncivilized. One might think he’s about to launch still another attack on the West as evil, imperialistic, and anti-Muslim. Not at all.

His complaint is:
“We are now back to the very primordial identities that once dominated our political behavior and determined the group to which we belonged or were seen as belonging. We are no longer socialists, conservatives or liberals. These days we are first judged by what tribe we belong to and more increasingly what faith we believe in.”

Yes, he continues, “I am constantly reminded in Europe and the US that I am a Muslim.” It is interesting to not that he was born in Germany and clearly that played a role in making him identify himself as a Muslim (and not just a Turk) that he ended up in the AK party.
But his complaints are about the Middle East:

“When I travel in the Middle East, I am reminded that I am a Sunni. The Middle East is being ravaged by barbarians who want to divide the world into Sunni and Shiite. We can no longer make any political assessment without entertaining these ethnic, religious and sectarian identities. We are truly back to the Middle Ages. All of our accumulated knowledge, sophistication and political culture seems to have been lost. The Middle East is pervaded and increasingly infected by the sectarian rivalry between the Shiite Persians and the Wahhabi Saudis, who are now fighting proxy wars all over the region. As if we are all in agreement with the Saudis’ extremely harsh interpretation of Wahhabism, we Sunnis find ourselves in the same camp.”

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Note what he’s saying here. On one hand, there  is a Shia bloc led by Iran; on the other is a hardline Sunni Islamism which he blames on Saudi Arabia but might just as well refer to the Muslim Brotherhood. These two camps are now waging war in Syria for their “primordial and primitive agenda.” These “barbarians” (Islamists) “have blatantly hijacked the push for a normal democratic order in Syria,” instead committing acts of terrorism that must be condemned

And then he concludes: “With all its sins and shortcomings, the secular order we [Turks] established over the last eight decades has taken hold and promises to support our sociopolitical order.”

Why would a leading figure in an Islamist party identify the era of rising Islamism as a “great shame…[in which the Middle East ] fell prey to the thirst of barbarian bloodshed”?.


Barry Rubin, Israel: An Introduction (Yale University Press) is the first comprehensive book providing a well-rounded introduction to Israel, a definitive account of the nation's past, its often controversial present, and much more. It presents a clear and detailed view of the country’s land, people, history, society, politics, economics, and culture. This book is written for general readers and students who may have little knowledge but even well-informed readers tell us they’ve learned new things.Please click here to purchase your copy and get more information on the book.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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