Sadly the hopes of the Arab Spring which began in January 2011 are turning into the anger of Arab Fall. The riots of 9/11/12 have now spread to as many as 20 different Muslim countries as well as the West Bank and Gaza. It may well take a considerable amount of time before we can assess the consequences and implications of this week’s developments, but so far there are some rather ominous signs in both the short and the long run.
The irrational character of the protests and the extent to which fundamentalist Muslims are prepared to repudiate Western values makes the demonstrations so disconcerting. The West thought it was observing Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia gradually moving toward democracy. The attacks fomented now by the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, challenge this very premise. It is as if given an absurd pretext, radical Muslims grabbed the opportunity to obstruct—at a minimum–any possible movement toward liberal democracy.
These actions are a clear rejection of the West despite the very best efforts not only of Western Europe but also of the Obama Administration. Embassies being attacked and firebombed are unacceptable. Clearly, were the economies of the West not so inextricably linked to Middle Eastern oil, the pressure now to walk away from the region would be overwhelming.
There are also very serious implications for Iran and Syria. Ironically, the rioting in Cairo may well help resolve the U.S. and Israel’s assessment of the need to prevent Iran from going nuclear. If this type of behavior is so easy in Cairo and Benghazi, given the prominence of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran, there is no telling how far the mullahs there will let the nuclear program go. This ought to give the petulant children in charge in Jerusalem and Washington pause to start cooperating and to stop fighting over whose ball is being used in the game.
In Syria, the consequences ironically might help bring the Assad regime to believe that it can still salvage itself from its national tragedy. If force can push around democracy, albeit religious fundamentalist force, then Assad may well be able to scare his own people to calm down lest they too fall under the yoke of religious fanatics. If that scenario develops the Syrian rebellion and 20,000 lives lost may well have been for naught.
Finally, the rioting and protests on the West Bank and Gaza against Israel are truly absurd. Yes, Israel is associated with the United States and the West, but they had absolutely nothing to do with the entire film episode, despite efforts of some Coptic Christians to suggest it was a Jewish/Israeli/American project. Following the old anti-Semitic canard, however, the Muslims (on the West Bank and Gaza) do not need any excuse to follow the motto, “when in doubt blame the Jews.” On the other hand to date there have been no Muslim protests against the Vatican or any major Christian institution; despite the fact that it was Christians who actually produced the film.