Islam and politics in the new Middle East

ABDULLAH DOMA AFP/GETTY IMAGES Libya’s interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil (R) holds a joint press conference with oil and finance … Continued

ABDULLAH DOMA

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Libya’s interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil (R) holds a joint press conference with oil and finance minister Ali Tarhuni in the eastern city of Benghazi on October 24, 2011 where he sought to dispel fears that the North African nation would adopt hardline Islamic rule, a day after he declared sharia law the primary source for future legislation.

As democratic movements bring down autocratic regimes across the Middle East, Islamic parties are moving into the newly opened political space. Many Americans understandably find this development alarming because the terrorists who attacked us on September 11, 2001 claimed to follow Islamic tenets.

People inside and outside the Middle East worry that women’s rights, minority rights, freedom of expression, and due process might be threatened if Islamic parties take power. (These worries multiply when people hear the phrase “Sharia Law.”) However, it would be wrong to confuse the 9/11 terrorists with religious parties in the region. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, for example, is Islamic and is also committed to democracy and the fight against terrorism as our NATO ally.

To understand what’s going on today in the Middle East, a little historical perspective is helpful.

Secular, nationalistic parties have ruled most Arab states since they gained independence after World War II. They were anti-colonial in nature and many pursued policy agendas based on social justice. Over time, however, their desire to maintain power superseded their ideals. They monopolized the political system, jailed opposition leaders and thrived on corruption.

With political debate severely limited, places of worship became an outlet for average citizens’ political expression and organizing. Now that these religious organizations can participate in the political process, their decade of organizing experience has given them an advantage. Everyone, however, is still learning how to operate in an open political system.

Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, recently held free and fair elections and Ennahda, an Islamist party, won a plurality of seats. In Egypt, the most populous Arab state, the Muslim Brotherhood is also expected to perform well in the upcoming election. And in Libya, days after Moammar Gaddafi’s death, the leader of the National Transitional Council announced that Islamic law would be the “basic source” of new legislation. These parties are learning that real politicking is different from simply opposing a regime, and that their words and actions have consequences. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement on female tourist attire that it was forced to soften and clarify when the tourism union complained.

Now that these parties are entering the political process, how should the United States respond?

First, while we don’t have a firm idea about who these new leaders are, we know they are not the extremists who attacked us on 9/11. Every country goes through a process to determine the role religion will play in society, and these new democracies are in the midst of that process. We should not confuse faithfulness to a religion with support for violent extremism.

The United States should judge emerging leaders by how they govern, not by their religious identity. We will have every reason for concern if these parties support divisive policies that violate religious freedom or undermine the other creeds of true democracy. Drifting away from those principles and exchanging one type of tyranny for another would be tragic.

But let us be hopeful. Governing is hard work, and even hardliners may moderate their positions when faced with the practical realities of building new societies.

Finally, the United States must fully engage these new governments, be they religious or secular. No one knows how the Arab Spring will ultimately play out, but we can support American ideals and advance U.S. interests if we have a seat at the table.

Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District and co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Written by

  • FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER

    Get real, Mr. Ellison. The United States is increasingly reducing the role it might play in the new multi-polar world with its stubbornly untoughtful arguments such as presented in this article that it belongs to the US to judge the Islamic World’s (or the Eurasian World’s or the Latin American World’s, or the Common-Interest-Grouping World’s) leaders. The US is no longer in a position to lecture to China. Pakistan is ready to cooperate with the US, but no longer in a servile fashion. It is not intimidated by threats of “We’ll bomb you back to the stone age”. Elsewhere in this newspaper, it is argued that the World Energy Map is being redrawn, with the Western hemisphere, from Alberta to Brazil, being the main energy-resource axis. Maybe so. But, dependent as the US may be on energy resources, there are consumer and investment goods as well as intermediate inputs (including oil) in this world that are more important than oil. Islamic countries, from Algeria through Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia to Indonesia are fast becoming manufacturing giants that can compete quite advantageously with even China. So, my advice is that Americans and Westerners, for their own good, stop this occidentalo-centric nonsense and embrace the emerging multipolar world. As for spirituality, a well-defined morality (including an enlightened approach to managing the climate change challenge) is going to be key to humanity’s survival. I invite Mr. Ellison and readers to read Jurgen Habermas’ excellent new book “What is missing — A post-secular spirituality”.

  • gneubeck

    Radical Muslim groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and their stated intention to reconstitute the Muslim Caliphate, impose Sharia, and to eliminate all non-believers, is a direct challenge to the survival of Western Civilization and its Democratic values. Circumstances that make the professed beliefs of any American president of paramount importance. In this regard, our citizenry should DEMAND a full explanation of Obama’s pronouncements on these critical issues, statements which project an undeniable Muslim bias.
    Barack, in a public speech, you sarcastically mocked Jesus Christ’s ‘Sermon-On-The-Mount’, and other passages from the Bible that relate to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Your sarcastic ridicule of the Bible as a bedrock of Christian beliefs is offensive to a plurality of Americans. In your subsequent speech to an ultra-liberal group in San Francisco, you further denigrated Christian American’s by deriding us for, in your words, “Clinging to our guns and Bibles.” Your disdain for the Christian faith is palpable in your words and policies. As is your ingrained contempt for Israel.
    By inescapable contrast, whenever you refer to the Muslim Koran, it is always with pointed verbal emphasis as; “The HOLY Koran says”; “the HOLY Koran”; ‘the HOLY Koran”. Further you have appointed know members of The Muslim Brotherhood to positions of authority in your Administration; have declared America to no-longer be a Christian Nation; and, have directed NASA that their “primary mission is outreach to Muslim communities.” Barack, do you also espouse to the teachings in the Koran concerning the elimination of the Infidels, or all Non-Believers?
    Americans of Christian and other non-Muslim faiths await your response Barack! For once in your life, step forth and give an adult, non-deceptive, response. Greg Neubeck

  • FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER

    Response to gneubeck,

    “The Muslim Brotherhood’s [...] stated intention to reconstitute the Muslim Caliphate”? Where do you get that information from? An official Muslim Brotherhood website?

  • agapn9

    Pre-government the rule is – ethics of he ruling class is the determinant factor in predictability – Aristotle (Paraphrase of staements made in his Politics and Ethics).
    Historical evidence can only be used once the group has a track record.
    The rules of engagement are based on mutual self-interest (do they something we need like oil).

  • mhr614

    Does Ellison approve of the killing and exile of the Coptic Christians of Egypt? Why does he no comment on it?

  • alexkatt

    “People inside and outside the Middle East worry that women’s rights, minority rights, freedom of expression, and due process might be threatened if Islamic parties take power. (These worries multiply when people hear the phrase “Sharia Law.”) However, it would be wrong to confuse the 9/11 terrorists with religious parties in the region”

    This is a bit of a straw man argument. You don’t have to be a terrorist to oppress the nonmuslim communities in Iraq or Egypt or elsewhere. You only have to use Sharia as the basis of your laws as Sharia has an inferior juridical status for all nonbelievers. There were no nonmuslim communities that flourished in any of these Islamic lands under the autocrats, and that will be even more so under the Islamist majority governments.

    “faithfulness to a religion with support for violent extremism.”
    You are every correct. But faithfulness to some religions does mean an inferior social and legal status to the “unbeliever” .
    As a member of a historically oppressed people, I am sure you can appreciate the plight of the Copts in Egypt or the Assyrian Christian communites in Iraq.

  • alexkatt

    excellent point. I am betting he will never be brought into that discussion

  • riskpref

    he does but you don’t understand; he acknowledges that there are ugly extremists (as with 9-11, and isn’t this true of EVERY religion).

    so it is up to those who are fair minded to understand that because some act in a reprehensible way, this is not the way with the vast majority. wasn’t it the Muslim Brotherhood that played an instrumental role in negotiating the release of the Israeli soldier from Hamas?

  • alexkatt

    sorry that should read”

    “We should not confuse faithfulness to a religion with support for violent extremism.”

    You are every correct. But faithfulness to some religions does mean an inferior social and legal status to the “unbeliever” .
    As a member of a historically oppressed people, I am sure you can appreciate the plight of the Copts in Egypt or the Assyrian Christian communites in Iraq.

  • riskpref

    and how about Muslim Palestinians in Israel (rights to build and own businesses)? Ellison correctly qualifies his position with the fact that ethnic differences take time to iron out and resolve. consider the anti-semitism in Europe, especially eastern Europe and Russia; and in the US … some that still exists.

  • riskpref

    where has gneubeck been for the last year? it is clear from Egypt that theMuslim Brotherhood is a very diverse group; the same is true of the spectrum of Jewish political parties in Israel.

  • alexkatt

    How can you “iron it out” when the inferior status it is stated specifically in Holy Scripture and that scripture is immutable ??

    re the Palestinian issue, this belief in unchangeable scripture is part of the reason this Palestinian-Israeli conflict goes on.
    Parts of both communities actually believe God was in the real estate business and allotted them a specific parcel of land, so why should they give it up ?

  • ccnl1

    The nitty-gritty of Islam:

    Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added “angels” and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni “Wannabees” of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:

    The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

  • eliseom

    Why “engage” at all? You’d think that after Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East wars we’d be a lot smarter. Exxon et al can take care of themselves without any help from the State Department or the military.. Or do you really believe we’re in it for love of democracy and mankind?

  • jblatt

    Those who fear the influence of the Muslim religion on Middle-East politicians should equally fear the influence of the Christian religion on Western politicians.

  • maxfromcambridge

    No where in his screed does Rep. Ellison admit that “minorities” will be crushed by Islamic majorities in this Arab Spring…imagine being a gay Christian in Egypt…one of the more progressive nations in the region! What about gauging a society by the protection of its minority’s rights…like the Congressman’s in America !!!

  • awabnavi

    Like when God told Bush to attack Iraq?

  • awabnavi

    “Minorities still exist in Muslim countries. PROOF that Muslims do not CRUSH “minorities” like the CHRISTIANS CRUSHED the Native MAJORITIES in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, etc. Comparing the two religions it is clear that the CHRISTIANS “CRJSHED” the MOST.

  • awabnavi

    “Minorities still exist in Muslim countries. PROOF that Muslims do not CRUSH “minorities” like the CHRISTIANS CRUSHED the Native MAJORITIES in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, etc. Comparing the two religions it is clear that the CHRISTIANS “CRUSHED” the MOST.

  • awabnavi

    Why are you Americans so darn concerned about the ME? Why don’t you just mind your own business and stay out of the noses of others. OH! I keep forgetting. ITS THE OIL.

  • jatihoon1

    Do not be alarmed. Next century is Asian century, where two third of the world population live and developing.Most of people living in these countries, such as India and China are non- Muslim and most of these people are practicing Buddhist or Hindus, who believe in non-violence and are strict followers of ,”AHISNA PERMO DEHRMA,”{ NON VIOLENCE IS OUR TRUE RELIGION. OR CREED”}Once the Wahabai money stop flowing from Saudi Arabia, a tolerant Islam will emerge and will change the course of radicals Islamist or otherwise.Education, modern education in technology is going to be and is the new God/Allah/ Ishwar.Ladies gentlmen, hold your tongues and swords sharpen the MIGHTY PEN OR PENCIL, Facebook or twitter here we come.

  • alexkatt

    They may not be “crushed”, but they will definitely be oppressed – which is why their numbers have dwindled so much in the Middle East. and of course as for Pakistan ….. they have the death penalty for people convicted of “blaspheming” …need anything more be said ?

  • FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER

    Response to “jatihoon1″.

    You write “Most of people living in these countries are … Hindus who believe in in-violence”. Would you care to give figures and facts and justify the known cases of violence, such as regularly occue not just In Kashmir, but also in Chattisgarh and the tribal regions of India, such as Manipur and others? You who are such an ardent supporter of THE PEN will no doubt respond, with clear, authoritative figures and facts. Thanks.

  • FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER

    Thanks, riskpref. And may The Almighty bless the likes of Gideon Levy, Uri Avneri and others.

  • Reisrrk

    This is a really stupid article; the groups which are over-throwing autocratic regimes in the Near and Middle East are not democratic – they are simply rival gangsters, most of whom hate the United States for the simple reason that our country is relatively free, prosperous, and largely Christian. There are no extreme Muslims: they are all extreme in that the believe in using force to achieve a universal caliphate and the rule of sharia over everyone in the world. It is far past time for American to wake up to this simple fact. At best Muslims want to rule you and the other end of the scale they want to murder you and your wive and your children.

    Reis Kash
    Springfield, Oregon

  • alexkatt

    that posters statement was “most of these people are practicing Buddhist or Hindus”

    ” You write “Most of people living in these countries are … Hindus who believe in in-violence”.
    You left out the Buddhists and focused only on the Hindus for some reason.

    You should be more accurate and less fuzzy if you seek the truth.

  • FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER

    Response to Alexkatt

    Fuzzy logic is many-valued logic. I won’t go into the technicalities of that. I omitted Buddhists in my citation of jatihoon1’s quote for several reaons : (1) it would complicate my line of reasoning to cite Hindu atrocities, along with Buddhist atrocities (in Sri Lanka, in Combodia/Vietnam/Laos – the followers of Pol Pot were Buddhists, although they had espoused Communism) andmixing up, becoming not fuzzy but confused.; (2) jatihoon1 refers to “the Wahhabai money”, a smear that Buddhist are not known for blaming for their ills , as Hindus are; and, yes, (3) I would have had to own up that the proportion of Asia’s population that is non-Muslim is higher – slightly higher, not “mostly” as jatihoon1 claims -– than Asia’s (East Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia, Central Asia, Western Asia, and North Asia/Caucasus) population.

  • chrisle1

    In the last 10 years how many Americans in America have been killed by Muslims and how many have been killed by Americans? I guess you would argue that one of our relative freedoms is the freedom to kill each other!

  • chrisle1

    I guess men legislating to determine whether or not women can determine whether or not to have an abortion is not oppressive. I guess it is also all right to make up religious arguments if they think it strengthens their case!

  • sudmuf

    They aren’t “democratic movements” across the middle east Keith. They are theocratic movements which will be just as ruthless and evil as the regimes they are replacing. How can they be anything else since they belong to the cult of islam? Islam’s founder Mohammed, may his immortal soul rot in hell for all eternity, was a mass murdering pedophile. Why would his followers be any different?

  • ad4hk2004

    When these “leaders’ enter the public stage waving a Qur’an and a copy of Sharia law, we KNOW how they will govern…
    We know that women will be considered property no different than their cattle…
    We know that female children will be sold to the highest bidder…
    We know that the head of state will send out the death squads for those who attend the wrong mosque (meaning not his)…
    We know that the education of male children will consist of 15 years of brain damage hammered into their skulls by a bunch of nasty old men with 17 wives…
    We know that those brain damaged young men will strap on bomb vests and blow themselves up in the name of Allah…
    And we know that nasty old man will now have an 18th nubile young wife who should have been the wife of the young man in the bomb vest…

    Of course we will judge them on their religion…

    dr. o

  • FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER

    Response to Garak,

    You probably have been living on another planet for not having noticed the headlines about Catholic Priests abusing children who have been left in their care. Similarly, news of molestation of children (and even their murder) have been relatively frequent in mainly Hindu India recently. Google the appropriate phrases and you will be able to independently verify my statements. .

  • FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER

    Response to Garak,

    As always, you exaggerate the wrongs of Hindusim and of Islam and of Christianity. I am noy saying that religious practice is not sometimes abused by cynical power-hungry “thugs’, as you put it. But Religion , in a generic sense, has been immensely beneficial to humanity. I wish I could give you the reference to an article that Carl Sagan had written for the hundredth anniversary issue of the International Herald Tribune. But, you can always read the collection of papers by him on “Science and Religion: Reinventing the Sacred” — or some title approximating that. You can also read Jurgen Habermas’ excellent study ” A Sense of What Is Missing — A Post-secular Spirituality”.