Why Westerners Fail to Understand the Crisis of the Middle East

March 18 2015

Asher Susser argues that Western observers, including presumed experts, have routinely underestimated the importance of religion in the Arab and Muslim world. This explains why they were surprised by such events as the Arab Spring, the rise of Islamic State, and the collapse of Syria, Libya, and Iraq. Moreover, writes Susser, religious cluelessness goes hand in hand with a failure to understand much else about the Middle East:

Western societies see themselves as societies of individuals. The rights of the individual are at the core of political debate, guaranteed by the state. People organize politically as individuals. . . .

[In the Middle East, you] belong to a group—that is, your family, your extended family, your tribe, and perhaps above all else, your religious denomination. So, you are first and foremost a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Christian—and some kind of Christian at that, either Maronite, or Greek Orthodox, or Greek Catholic; and these differences matter. . . .

Why do we keep getting this wrong? Well, in the West, one unfortunate by-product of Edward Said’s influence is the unwillingness to recognize the otherness of the “Other.” . . . [W]hen [someone] from the U.S. and other Western states looks at the Middle East, he or she explains Middle Easterners not as Other, but as [just like] us! That’s why we got this whole story about Facebook and Twitter during the Arab Spring. It was a way of saying, “They’re just like we are!”

Westerners saw Facebook and Twitter, but didn’t see the Muslim Brotherhood. . . . And then the commentators were shocked when the Muslim Brotherhood walked all over everybody. But they were obviously going to walk all over everybody! The only people who are going to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from walking all over everybody is the military—not the secular liberals. The secular liberals, to kick the Muslim Brotherhood out of power in Egypt, had to use the military—nobody else could do it.

Read more at Fathom

More about: Arab Spring, Edward Said, Middle East, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics & Current Affairs, Religion

To Defeat the Legacy of Islamic State, Start Rebuilding the Communities It Destroyed

Now that the borders of Islamic State (IS) are slowly contracting, argues Alberto Fernandez, there is a moral and strategic imperative to reconstruct some of the non-Muslim communities that it has destroyed—and the U.S. should encourage local government to help:

Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate is crumbling, if all too slowly. Sadly, though, its ultimate collapse will not be the end of the story. It will leave behind a still-lethal insurgency that will almost certainly attempt to stage terrorist attacks around the world as well as a wide swath of physical destruction and devastated lives stretching from Aleppo to Ramadi.

And yet, even while the Islamic State is “losing,” there is no denying that it has also “won” some things. It has created grim facts on the ground. It has wiped out communities that will never rise again. Many Yazidi villages and towns within its orbit are destined to remain permanently empty because of slaughter and the flight of despairing survivors. IS jihadists also succeeded in destroying the ancient Christian community of Mosul, whose surviving members were robbed of everything they had when they were expelled from the city in July 2014. Many of the survivors of these same minority groups remain scattered around the region, and some still haven’t decided whether they should stay, with all the risks that it would entail, or leave forever. Islamic State has torn a hole in the fabric of the region’s millennia-old diversity that can never be fully repaired. . . .

But we should consider fresh ways for Muslim leaders to show concrete support for restoring what IS sought to exterminate. Even the resurrection of a single community would be a powerful message of solidarity and diversity in a Middle East that is becoming increasingly monochrome. . . .

In . . . Israel, one kibbutz incorporated and commemorated survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and other Jewish partisans. Imagine the resurrection of a non-Muslim community that the Islamic State sought to exterminate. What a powerful message that would send. And the message would resonate even more strongly if the work were to be done with the support of Muslim states.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: ISIS, Middle East Christianity, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Yazidis