Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Polonius speaks — about the Middle East

Polonius speaks — about the Middle East

Reading Robin Wright's, "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World" (2011).

Wright's a veteran, deeply informed author and correspondent about the Islamic world. The theme of her most recent book is that: "A decade after the 9/11 terrorism spectaculars, the Islamic world is now in the throes of a counter-jihad. The new struggle pits Muslims against their brethren. Its goal is to rout extremism in its many forms, from the deviant doctrine launched by Osama bin laden to the rigid rule of Iran's theocrats." 

The evidence she provides is cheering, her sources various and many. But the book was published in 2011 and I can't help but thinking her optimistic thesis has been transformed, and, if not utterly negated, than, at the least, drastically postponed by succeeding events.

"Rock the Casbah" was published before Egypt reverted to military rule as, so it seems, a general preference, by Egyptians, to Islamic rule — rule, that is, by Muslim Brotherhood.

"Rock the Casbah" was published before the civil war in Syria brought into the open and violently exacerbated a Sunni/Shiite split that now resonates throughout the region. (Syria, Assad etc. get scant mention in her book.)

I do not wish to scoff. But what room is there for the "counter-jihad" both Muslims and non Muslims may long for — maybe Muslims most of all, as Wright argues — when militant Muslims of various sectarian stripes are at each other's throats with atavistic fury?

As if it needs to be said, religious war is never only about the minutia of belief, practice, doctrine. It always expresses national cum tribal cum class conflict and resentment. It always involves issues of freedom and tyranny, revolution and reaction. It never fails to draw on legacies of well-enshrined ancestral hurt. (See, for example, Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" — the novel, not the excellent but more simplistic film — for relevant examples.)

But when these differences, resentments, hurts are summarized by or compressed into the absolutes of religious difference —  when they take the field under the banner of one version of God as opposed to another — anything like sane — as in counter-jihad — resolution gets more difficult to imagine.

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