Occam’s Reza: A Fisking We Will Go

Earlier this month, I heard the following Reza Aslan commentary on NPR’s Marketplace as I drove home from work. As he spoke, I found myself fisking his soliloquy out loud in real-time, and while that made for scintillating entertainment for the drivers around me, I thought I’d recreate my experience here.

Reza Aslan: 2011 served as a reminder to us all that no regime can stand up to the will of a people united in the cause of freedom and democracy. In the span of a year, dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya fell, and significant political reform was forced upon the governments of Morocco, Jordan, and Oman. Now, as the Arab Spring enters a new year — with revolutions still smoldering in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and beyond — there’s one question we should ask: Can religiously inspired parties that have come to political prominence in the aftermath of these popular uprisings transform themselves into responsible members of democratic governments?

Great question, actually. Of course, it’s the answer I’m concerned about. Let’s see where he goes with this.

Pundits and politicians are already ringing the alarm bells. The common refrain you hear in the US: The Middle East is being overrun with religious radicals bent on oppressing women and destroying Israel.

Pundits, politicians, and sharks. Don’t forget sharks. And that does seem to be where we’re headed, not only in Egypt, but also in relatively liberal Tunisia, where Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was greeted with chants of “Kill The Jews!”.

And yet, despite this, there is no shortage of pundits and politicians who worship at the politically-correct altar of wishful thinking, to the zero-sum detriment of critical analysis.

That is nonsense, of course.

Whoa there, professor. Nonsense? There is enough evidence to show that it is anything but nonsensical to be concerned about Islamist-led governments taking over control of country after country in this most volatile of regions.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that political Islam will be a force in the new, democratic Middle East. And that is a good thing.

Wait, what?

A) Political Islam, in the guise of democratization, is in the process of becoming THE force in the new Middle East, and the only thing democratic about it is that’s the way it will take power.

B) If you care at all about freedom, liberty, peace and all of those wonderful things everyone was predicting during the heady days of Tahrir Square (when the mobs weren’t busy brutally raping female reporters, that is*), here’s the problem with thinking that this is a good thing:

As I wrote in the interview I did with Egypt Today magazine:

“As we saw with the 2006 election of Hamas in Gaza, and their subsequent violent seizure of complete power from Fatah the following year, a single election does not a democracy make (just as having a democracy also doesn’t automatically equal western values). To be “ready” for democracy, you need democratic institutions, tolerance for not just your own voice to be heard, but also those you don’t agree with, acceptance of minorities (for example attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt increased after the revolution) freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, etc. These institutions don’t get built, and these values don’t get instilled overnight. As understandably impatient as Egyptians are to be free, if this process isn’t handled correctly, the upcoming vote could be the last one they have for a very long time (one man…one vote…one time).”

And isn’t it interesting that after hearing sober-minded analysts proclaim that the young, situationally-liberal groups would be the ones swept into power on a euphoric wave of freedom, sunshine, and puppy kisses, the party line is now, “Well…yes… it seems it is happening as the doom and gloom crowd predicted after all, but it’s all good, so we’re still right and you’re still wrong.”

It is time for these religious parties to stop hiding in the mosque and instead be forced to compete openly in the marketplace of ideas for the votes of a free electorate. After all, what could be more important to a burgeoning democracy than an open debate about the role of religion in society? A few months ago, such talk would have landed you in prison. Today, it is part of the vibrant political debate that is taking place all over the Middle East.

It remains to be seen whether the newly elected Islamist parties in Egypt and Tunisia will moderate their ideologies and focus on the immediate demands of the people who voted them into office. But this much is certain: If they do not — if they spend their time railing about the West instead of creating jobs for the people — they’ll be booted out of office just as quickly as they were voted in.

Wow. This is truly astounding in either its naivete or dishonesty. The Islamists competed in the marketplace of ideas, won the competition (due in part to being the most organized, recognized and well-funded coming into it), and will soon be closing said marketplace to further competition.

This much is certain: By the time you decide that you’re not quite as thrilled with Islamist governance as you thought you might be, you will have handed over the right to boot anyone out of anywhere.

That’s how democracies work. And whether we like it or not, for the first time in decades, neither the aging autocrats in the region nor their American backers have anything to say about it.

This IS how democracies work. Too bad after a single election, Egyptians et al. won’t be living under one.

I don’t think any of what I’m writing is revolutionary or surprising. So much so that even an amateur analyst like myself (as opposed to a professional like Barry Rubin) can see it. It’s the simplest explanation – the Occam’s Razor of Arab Spring analyses.

It should be patently obvious to all, that after waiting decades for their chance at the governmental brass ring, Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, who together just won 71% of the final vote in Egypt, are not looking to hand it over any time soon (especially because the ideology of democracy is diametrically opposed to the ideology of Islamism). And the only ones who can’t see it are the ones who are willfully blinding themselves (or others) in the face of the gathering storm.

* UPDATE: Deja vu all over again: Foreign Woman Attacked in Egypt’s Tahrir Square


Zionist Shark

Zionist Shark (not his real name) is just your average evil Zionist Shark, exposing the moral imbecility of the anti-Israel feeding frenzy. He also shares his short-form Zionist rantings on Twitter - @ZionistShark