From Ataturk to al Qaeda to the Arab‘ Spring’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Osama bin Laden jus­ti­fied 9/11’s great evil on the ba­sis of fix­ing blame for the Is­lamic world’s cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal de­cline. He was an­gry with the last seven cen­turies of his­tory, his­tory gone wrong for Arab Mus­lims in par­tic­u­lar.

Moder­nity was at fault, so he de­spised it. Moder­nity is a fuzzy no­tion, but it is def­i­nitely an earthly con­di­tion that re­wards cre­ativ­ity unchecked by cler­ics and ay­a­tol­lahs. Amer­ica is this un­bri­dled moder­nity’s bold­est ex­per­i­ment, this moder­nity al-Qaeda ap­proved Is­lam does not dom­i­nate. So in the name of blame he mur­dered 3,000 peo­ple in New York and Washington.

In the decade since 9/11, alQaida has lost hundreds of bat­tles (largely at the hands of the U.S. mil­i­tary), but if Arab Spring 2011 is any in­di­ca­tion, it is also los­ing The Bat­tle of Blame. This bodes well for the rest of the 21st cen­tury.

Al-Qaida is first and fore­most an in­for­ma­tion power whose dark po­lit­i­cal ge­nius con­nected the Mus­lim world’s an­gry, hu­mil­i­ated and iso­lated young men with a utopian fan­tasy preach­ing the virtue of vi­o­lence.

Al-Qaeda pro­pa­gan­dists ex­plained the cen­turies of Mus­lim de­cline to its high testos­terone au­di­ence in two ways. To­day’s Mus­lims lacked suf­fi­cient faith. They had been cor­rupted by ma­te­ri­al­ism and the devil ap­peal of moder­nity. More­over, the pro­pa­gan­dists as­serted that the God-di­rected, uni­fied po­lit­i­cal-spir­i­tual struc­ture that ex­isted in the era of the Prophet Muham­mad and the in­spired caliphs who ruled in im­me­di­ate wake of his death no longer ex­isted. To rec­tify his­tory, to recre­ate moder­nity on God’s terms, the caliphate had to be re­stored.

Bin Laden made this clear in a video­taped tirade de­liv­ered af­ter 9/11, in which he fiercely com­plained of “80 years” of Mus­lim hu­mil­i­a­tion and dis­grace. He was in­dict­ing World War I’s Western Euro­pean vic­tors, who di­vided the Ot­toman (Turk­ish) Em­pire’s Arab Mus­lim vil­layets into eco­nomic satrapies and dared to call it peace. But his out­rage also tar­geted a fel­low Mus­lim, a man who was also ar­guably the 20th cen­tury’s great­est rev­o­lu­tion­ary: Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

In 1924 (eight decades be­fore 9/11), Ataturk elim­i­nated the Is­lamic caliphate and be­gan sys­tem­at­i­cally sep­a­rat­ing mosque from state.

Ataturk and his fel­low na­tion­al­ists were prag­ma­tists who be­lieved the caliphate was one of sev­eral fos­silized Ot­toman in­sti­tu­tions that sti­fled cre­ativ­ity and thus con­demned Turks to eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal back­ward­ness.

Rail­roads had made phys­i­cal iso­la­tion in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult, the tele­graph had made ide­o­log­i­cal iso­la­tion im­pos­si­ble. Re­main­ing modern re­quires creatively adapt­ing to new cir­cum­stances. Ataturk be­lieved no na­tion can adapt ef­fec­tively if it po­lit­i­cal mech­a­nisms are ob­structed by cler­ics claim­ing the terms of po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and spir­i­tual per­fec­tion were un­equiv­o­cally set­tled cen­turies ago.

The Turk­ish na­tion­al­ists con­cede the spir­i­tual realm to the cler­ics. How­ever, the prag­matic and em­pir­i­cal mod­ern­iz­ers would take re­spon­si­bil­ity for man­ag­ing the ef­fects of the rail­road and tele­graph, then the air­plane and tele­phone, and now, ubiq­ui­tous dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity meant ex­pand­ing ed­u­ca­tion to de­feat the devil of il­lit­er­acy and ex­pand­ing the econ­omy to bat­tle the dis­mal evil of poverty.

Al-Qaeda’s pre­scrip­tion for cor­rect­ing his­tory clashed head-on with Ataturk’s creative moder­nity and his sep­a­ra­tion of mosque and state. Lit­tle won­der he re­mains al-Qaida’s most hated man.

The bat­tle­field de­feats alQaeda suf­fered be­tween fall 2001 and fall 2007 (Iraq surge) un­der­cut the ter­ror gang’s claim to pos­sess God’s sanc­tion. The mass mur­der of Iraqi Mus­lims ut­terly tar­nished its rep­u­ta­tion. Now, Arab Spring’s prag- matic de­mands for jobs, ed­u­ca­tion and in­di­vid­ual rights, de­mands for the fruits of the moder­nity bin Laden de­spised, chal­lenge al-Qaeda’s vi­o­lent and ut­terly un­pro­duc­tive utopi­anism. Al-Qaeda has so lit­tle to say about ex­pand­ing and sus­tain­ing an econ­omy in a world where ev­ery teenager wants a cell­phone.

Where the Arab Spring rev­o­lu­tions will lead no one knows, and vi­o­lent Is­lamist utopi­ans def­i­nitely in­tend to un­der­mine them. But we are wit­ness­ing more than a dras­tic change in rhetoric. In­stead of play­ing the blame-some­one-else game, Tu­nisians, Egyp­tians, Libyans and Syr­i­ans are tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for chang­ing their po­lit­i­cal and so­cial con­di­tions.

This marks the emer­gence of a gritty re­al­ism based on self­cri­tique and cor­rec­tion, and a will­ing­ness to pro­duc­tively en­gage the modern world in­stead of de­stroy it. What a de­feat for al-Qaeda.

Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.