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Hichem Karoui: ‘Democratic’ Killing...
September 16, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

It has become a kind of tradition: every time a group of people commit a horrendous crime and pretend that it is for the defence of more than one billion Muslims, we – the elite of the Muslim countries – find ourselves obliged to apologise for what the absolute majority of Muslims did not do. We never tired of explaining and re-explaining that Islam is not about hatred, not about revenge, not about forcing people into believing in what we believe and doing what we do. Nevertheless, violence continues. The blind madness of a bunch of bloodthirsty terrorists often overcomes the commonsense of the silent majority that witnesses the repetition of those crimes, powerless. We rejoiced for the victory of revolution over our corrupt dictators, but soon realised that George Bernard Shaw was right: “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

When a foreign embassy is attacked in any country, it is the responsibility of the hosting government. Those who assaulted the US legations have therefore one goal: to undermine the relationship between their governments and the USA.

Commenting on the fateful killing of the US ambassador – a man who supported the Libyan revolution – and three other Americans in the rampage of Benghazi, Mrs Clinton, Secretary of State, described the movie that caused the assault as disgusting, and explained that the US government could do nothing against its release. However, the mob will never get this. Unfortunately, the repetition of such violent protests against the anti-Islamic expressions in the West shows that there is a problem on both sides. Yet, it would be completely wrong to describe it as a “clash of civilisations” or a “West versus Islam” clash. For obviously, these incidents do not involve the populations of our respective countries, but just groups of radicals and extremists from both sides.

Then come the investigation of the security and intelligence apparatuses and the prognostic of the experts... but as usual... too late!

Since so many years, we are following and observing such phenomena as radical groups, extremists, fascists, anarchists, supremacists, cultural essentialists, in Islamic societies and the West. Every time, we discover that we barely understand what happened. Why?

Because of the diversity and complexity of the Muslim world,  there is always a need to summarise trends and to clarify, for both policy makers and the non-expert public. True. These trends are generally divided into categories, such as: radical fundamentalists, scriptural fundamentalists, traditionalist, modernist, secularist liberals, secularists and authoritarian, etc.

The first question is how each of these categories stands vis-à-vis the current problems, namely: government, human rights, society, terrorism and violence, etc…? The second question is: what is the agenda, the ideology and the politico-legal legacy of each of these trends?

Overall, we can recognise in the above ranking the different currents crossing Muslim societies and find their main characteristics. It is understandable that the United States is particularly interested in this aspect of political activity in the countries concerned, especially since September 11. However, it is important not to fall into the always-unfair generalisations. Some comments are then worth making in explaining why we fail in predicting and preventing violence:

• Many shortcomings are ours and are thus connected to our misrepresentations: i.e. our cognitive system. Example:

The type of political tendencies amid Muslims, which we mentioned above (as an example among many) is not without recalling the typology of political power given by Max Weber: traditional, charismatic, rational-legal. The interesting point here is that the ideal type, which is basically a stylised reconstruction of reality (i.e. a model of intelligibility), will become the preferred instrument for the pursuit of meaning and causal explanation. In the typology proposed here also, we must take these categories as working instruments more than as fixed and permanent realities. As instruments, they can conduct research and provide conceptual tools for further fathoming. As “fixed realities,” they are sometimes denied. Indeed, there is not in our view a “liberal secular Muslim” in its purest form, nor is there a pure “modernist” or a pure “traditionalist.”

Take the example of the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan: he is the head of government in a secular state, but himself, is he secular? We know that his party is neither more nor less than the old political organisation, “al Fazila,” which is close to both the “Muslim Brotherhood” and “Hamas.” They are Islamists, no doubt; and some of them – particularly Hamas – are labelled “terrorists” in the USA. Today, many Islamists hold power: how is the USA going to deal with them?

• Most of the time, the behaviour of Muslims today is a composite of several elements, some of which seems paradoxical. It is true that education and milieu greatly influence the behaviour, but other factors also play a role, especially at the individual level: personal experience, desires and ambitions; while the psychological should not be overlooked, because the higher is the hierarchy of a political group in society, the more important its impact.

• Some Islamic movements may be classified as radical or moderate and may have characteristics of both trends at once.

• There is also the fact that political groups can change from a moderate attitude to an extremist one, and vice versa. The example of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which went from a violent organisation to a much more moderate one, is worth citing. Remember also that most political movements that have engaged in the struggle for independence have acquired their “letters of credit” by the guns, before reaching power.

• Finally, with all our efforts at studying and classifying the social movements, we are still bypassed. The mob is deaf and blind. Violence and political murder may jeopardise an entire process of social engineering. What happened in Egypt, then in Libya, before spreading across the Muslim world, after the release of a provoking movie on Muslims, was at first sight uncontrollable. The free expression is sacred in democracy; but when it ends up with invading and devastating embassies, consulates, killing diplomats, and foreigners, what becomes of our knowledge? What is it worth? Worse: what is a democracy worth if it allows uncontrollable mobs to do what they want?

When I see what happens, I cannot resist citing Art Spander, who said: “The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid.”

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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