Reuters’s Paul Chapman has filed a report from Tunis. There have been elections there, less than one year after an uprising ousted dictator Zine al Abidine Ben Ali. The former Tunisian strongman is said to be enjoying his retirement in Saudi Arabia. There, Ben Ali doubtless has seen news coverage of the bloody end of his neighboring desert despot, Moammar Gadhafi. Ben Ali is probably offering prayers of thanks that he got out of Dodge in time.
Election returns from Tunis show that the Ennahda party is the big winner. Ennahda won 90 of 217 seats in the country’s new legislative assembly. It’s not an outright majority, but it may prove sufficient for the Islamist party to form coalitions and rule the country.
Everyone from the White House and the State Department to the prestige press has hailed the “Arab Spring.” This regional uprising began when a street vendor set himself afire last December to protest the grinding oppression of the Ben Ali regime. The man, Mohammed Bouazizi, 26, despaired of getting justice. Ben Ali’s police had seized the young father’s little stock of fruits and vegetables. Said to be a college graduate and reduced to selling his pitiful wares on the street, the poor man could not pay off the thug cops of a thuggish regime. Our hearts must indeed break for Bouazizi. And for millions of his fellow Arabs condemned to live under such despicable governments.
The Scriptures tell us that the ruler does not bear the sword for nothing, but to be a terror to evildoers. In vast swaths of the Arab world, however, the ruler is the evildoer. Most of those countries — each of which has a vote in the U.N. General Assembly — are ruled by the most adventurous and brutal of colonels or tribal chieftains.
The dictators of Syria and Yemen are taking note, no doubt, of the unenviable fate of Gadhafi. Dictator chic is suddenly out of fashion — and out of Vogue. That famous journal of the hip and cool has “disappeared” a puff piece they did recently on the first couple of Syria.
The king and queen of the supermarket tabloids, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, had traveled to Damascus for a goodwill visit back in 2009. Angelina is an ambassador of sorts for the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees. No problem with that. And it was certainly a good thing to highlight the plight of Iraqi refugees fleeing from Iraq’s Islamist rulers. Thousands of Assyrian Christians have been driven from their homes in a land where they have lived a precarious existence since the days of the Apostles.
But Brangelina made the gross error of consorting with Syria’s bloody Bashar al-Assad and his most photogenic wife, Asma al-Assad. Vogue’s writers had profiled the fun couple of the Middle East in gushing terms:
[They] described Asma al-Assad as “glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” and said of her husband that he is “a precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer.”) At the time, [Vogue editor Chris] Knutsen stood by Buck’s story and Vogue’s decision to publish it, saying “We felt that a personal interview with Syria’s first lady would hold strong interest for our readers …The piece was not meant in any way to be a referendum on the al-Assad regime. It was a profile of the first lady.”
Okay, Bashar and Asma are not exactly Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, but they are still young. Bashar holds the office of “president” of Syria only because his late father, Hafez al-Assad, didn’t blanch at shooting down 20,000 anti-government protesters in the city of Hama in 1982. Pappa Hafez leveled the protesters’ town — including Sunni mosques — and reportedly paved a road over their bodies. Perhaps Brangelina even rode over that highway while they were in Syria goodwill hunting.
It would be wonderful to get rid of the Assad clan. They have been cats’ paws for Tehran and fully complicit in the murders of Lebanon’s elected leaders. They have aided Hezbollah as that overtly terrorist outfit targets Israel’s northern border towns.
Still, after the Arab Spring has come this Islamist Fall. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is almost universally described in the liberal press as “moderate.” Well, when compared with Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi and the Assads, they surely are moderate.
But the idea that MB-dominated governments voted in by purple fingers will give any regard to human rights is questionable. They openly avow their objective is to institute Sharia law wherever they rule. This brand of religious totalitarianism affords only one option to minority Christians, the few remaining Jews or Baha’i believers: submission. Wherever MB holds sway, Christians are reduced to the status of dhimmis — not exactly slaves, but certainly not citizens. Think of a fiddler on the roof.
This is what the Arab Spring is yielding during this Islamist Fall. It is a profound misunderstanding of democracy to think that merely by staging elections and showing off purple fingers of voters we can bring on a new order in Muslim lands. Edmund Burke said it well: “Men of intemperate minds cannot be free; their passions forge their fetters.”
Intemperate minds are what we see at work in the Arab Middle East. Opinion surveys throughout the region confirm that, by overwhelming majorities, the “voters” for these sham democracies believe that those who convert from Islam must be put to death. As long as this grim reality exists, there will be no democracy in the region.
Facile comparisons to occupied Germany and Japan after World War II break down upon examination. It is precisely because we had demanded unconditional surrender of those warlike nations and occupied them with irresistible armed might that we were able to dictate the terms of their re-entry into the community of civilized states.
We should be proud of what we accomplished in Japan and Germany, both of which are mainstays of the world economy and, with some salient exceptions (e.g. Germany’s persecution of home-schoolers), models of democratic legitimacy. We de-militarized and de-Nazified these vanquished regimes. We forced changes in their constitutions and in their educational systems. We shaped their economies.
We attempted no such changes in Iraq, Afghanistan or in any of the other countries in the forever turbulent Middle East. That is why, tragically, any claims of hope and change in this region — especially when based on American dollars — are fatally flawed. We are building our houses upon sand.
Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are Senior Fellows with the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.