That’s the headline on this Hisham Melhem piece on the comprehensive failure of the entire Arab world.
The jihadists of the Islamic State, in other words, did not emerge from nowhere. They climbed out of a rotting, empty hulk—what was left of a broken-down civilization. They are a gruesome manifestation of a deeper malady afflicting Arab political culture, which was stagnant, repressive and patriarchal after the decades of authoritarian rule that led to the disastrous defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. That defeat sounded the death knell of Arab nationalism and the resurgence of political Islam, which projected itself as the alternative to the more secular ideologies that had dominated the Arab republics since the Second World War. If Arab decline was the problem, then “Islam is the solution,” the Islamists said—and they believed it.
At their core, both political currents—Arab nationalism and Islamism—are driven by atavistic impulses and a regressive outlook on life that is grounded in a mostly mythologized past. Many Islamists, including Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (the wellspring of such groups)—whether they say it explicitly or hint at it—are still on a ceaseless quest to resurrect the old Ottoman Caliphate. Still more radical types—the Salafists—yearn for a return to the puritanical days of Prophet Muhammad and his companions. For most Islamists, democracy means only majoritarian rule, and the rule of sharia law, which codifies gender inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims.
And let’s face the grim truth: There is no evidence whatever that Islam in its various political forms is compatible with modern democracy.
A few pieces of Melhem’s piece are erroneous: “As terrorist organizations, al Qaeda and Islamic State are different from the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative movement that renounced violence years ago, although it did dabble with violence in the past.” That’s only because the Egypt’s military forced them to refrain from large-scale violence on pain of death. We saw how quickly this restraint was cast aside when Morsi assumed power. The only differences between al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are of degree, tactical choice, and certain Islamic Eschatological doctrinal differences as to exactly what sort of oppressive Islamic theocracy imposing Sharia law are the ideal end-state.
But those flaws aside, it’s still an admirably clear-eyed distillation of the horrific, bloody, dysfunctional nature of the Arab world. Read the whole thing.