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Home The Permanent Muslim Civil War

The Permanent Muslim Civil War

What the misreading of the Arab Spring as a revolutionary wave of democracy, rather than an explosion of existing tensions and longstanding civil wars, points to most is how thoroughly the 21st century Middle East expert has unlearned everything that his 19th century predecessor knew about the Muslim world.

The 19th century expert understood the Muslim world as essentially unchanging, seething with revolts and dynastic struggles, but still shackled to the chains of its cultural and moral limitations. But the 21st century expert insists on a progressive version of history, in which humanity is always moving upward. Where each event, good or bad, is a phase in historical development.

A 150 years ago, a Western observer reporting on a Muslim ruler being driven out of power by an alliance of oligarchies and an angry mob would have said that it was the same sort of thing that had been going on in the region forever. His conclusion might have been cynical, even bigoted, but it would have also been realistic.

The 21st century expert is too busy looking to the future to notice the past. The only history in the Muslim world that he is concerned with is colonial history, the tale of wrongs inflicted by Europeans on the noble inhabitants, and of the tremendous culture and great achievements of the locals. This mishmash of history informs him that the advancement of the Muslim world was aborted by Western imperialism. And when Western imperialism is finally and utterly destroyed, then the Muslim world will resume its high standards of civic culture.

The Arab Spring, with its violent overthrow of Western backed rulers, seems promising to him. Finally progressive organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood will have their chance to restore an advanced civilizations to the noble principles of the Koran.

There is nothing wrong with this formulation that he can see. "Everyone" knows that Islam is better, kinder, nobler and more technically advanced than Christianity or Judaism. It may have its fundamentalists lurking in dark caves, but what of abortion clinic bombers and settlers. When the Islamists are in charge-- surely a new era of freedom and enlightenment will follow.

Even the secularists are no better. Democracy is their idol, and the ballot box their altar. But what does democracy mean to nations divided by ethnicity, tribe and religion. And how does one negotiate a consensus through such irresolvable identities?

Lebanon is a demonstration of what multiculturalism mixed with Islam looks like in even a modern area with heavy European influence. A permanent civil war that can never be peacefully resolved. The Muslim world is no more peaceful, only more pacified by tyrants and tanks. Take away the tyrant and his tanks, and the civil war resumes, until it is pacified by another tyrant. The cycle repeats itself endlessly.

The Soviet Union was once referred to as a "Prison of Nations". But then so are all empires. The Muslim world is a broken empire, a vast collection of scattered pieces, subjugated peoples, wrecked cultures, sullen tribes and rival families crowded together into one Muslim identity. With nothing in common but their hatred of the infidel.

The Muslim world can never be at peace, because Muslims are not at peace with themselves. And their governments are built on some form of negotiated alliance, just as can be seen in its crude form in Afghanistan where warlords pledge allegiance in exchange for bribes, between tribes, communities and powerful families. When the alliance shifts or a ruler shows weakness, the infrastructure of government comes tumbling down.

The Arab Spring is an unglamorous as all that. Not any different at its base than an Afghan warlord changing his loyalties. For all that it's dressed up in Twitter activism, posed photos and banners-- it's the same game with a better logo. Mobs didn't begin overthrowing Arab rulers when Twitter was invented. They won't stop when everyone has forgotten what Twitter was.

Without progress, the future can only be an imperfect continuation of the past. And progress comes from self-doubt leading to reform. Reform is not a matter of denouncing politicians, but of denouncing yourself. The Muslim world is full of denunciations, but they are strictly partisan and external. The family blames the tribe. The tribe blames the party. The party blames the government. The government blames the Turks, the English, the Zionists or the Americans. Thus the problem is exorcised and immortalized.

Blame is assigned to a foreign scapegoat. And the 21st century expert pursues the scapegoat whether it's American foreign policy or Israeli settlements or the price of wheat or the World Trade Organization. And this is what makes him, with his Kindle displaying the latest issue of The Economist, his watch set to three time zones, and his Flickr page full of photos of him posing with native boys, so much dimmer than his 19th century predecessor. It's not so much what he knows, as what he doesn't know, and has no idea that he doesn't know. And wouldn't listen to if he were told.

Eventually the scapegoat is corralled, kicked and beaten. A revolution ensues. The crowds cheer. Photos are taken of protesters heroically tossing Molotov cocktails through the air at the police. A decade later the protesters are wearing police uniforms and torturing protesters in hidden cellars. Whatever freedom there was under the previous regime has dissipated. Everyone lives in fear and blames the 21st century experts and their foreign policy for it.

This Groundhog Day is so difficult to dismiss because it is embedded in the very fractures that caused all this to come about. The Islamic conquests did not bring forth a golden age, but an age of slaves. Millions of peoples had their culture partly or wholly destroyed. Then after the caliphates fell, the Western democracies came in, colored in their borders and expected everything to go alright so long as there were regular elections.

The Muslim world only has Islam as its common consensus, and the only means of governance that it offers is rule by conquest, and authority through Quranic scripture. Neither of those represent any sort of enduring consensus. The kings who trace their lineage back to Mohammed and the Imams who shout for democracy, so long as it puts them in power, are the pathetic end of this fractured philosophy.

There are high minded ideals aplenty, but no way to implement them. Muslims soothe each other with stories of their own nobility and greatness, useless substitutes for the real thing. But a government that isn't composed of a handful of powerful families, an army colonel or an oligarchy of clerics is a rare thing. And none of these can last.

The Hashemites went from ruling three countries, to ruling a small kingdom under Israeli and American protection. The Saudis who replaced them may fall just as quickly when the wheel turns. Egypt may be headed toward clerical rule, just as Iran is headed away from it. And if not that, then military rule. One old mistake will do as well as another.

Tellingly what doesn't work is democracy. Democracy didn't keep the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq from killing each other. Or the Kurds from carving out their own separate state. And it didn't keep the Christians from being hounded out. These divisions are adequate testimony to the cultural inadequacy of trying to build a national consensus on so thin a soil.

The Muslim world prides itself on its wisdom, but its wisdom is futility. It can see conspiracies in a grain of sand, but not redeem its own flaws or treat its own wounds. Mohammed and his successors did not unite the peoples who fell under their rule, they retarded them. They made it impossible for them to develop and then wrapped that retardation in the banner of Islam. And out of that has come the permanent Muslim civil war.

What boils in the streets of great cities is the same pattern of violence and betrayal, aspiration and disintegration, that played out long ago on the hot desert sands. The conflicts of cultures unable to move past their own tribalism. Unwilling to leave behind the chains of their past and become true peoples and nations, rather than the slaves of Islam.


  1. The Arabic name Abdullah translates, I believe, into slave of allah.

    I'd ask how anything positive can come out of the ideology of Islam?

  2. The question I would have about your article is not the excellent analysis of the Muslim's world and it's eternal internal strife but why did Christianity, spread partially violently, over the tribes of Europe in about the same time of the Muslim conquest of the Middle East with much the same primitive background and a much later trade contact with foreign cultures develop so differently? Why did Christianity and largely also tribally ruled Europe manage to wrestle itself thru political and religious revolutions into the age of illumination and Islam stays stuck in the mud of dogmatic violence. Both cultures had knowledge of Greek philosophy and both harbored Jewish communities, despised as they may have been, but with whom some sort of interaction would have existed from which they should have learned that the word of G'd can be challenged, argued about and interpreted instead of being only blindly accepted.

  3. Anonymous14/7/11

    The analysis applies better to the Islam in the Arab countries. I am not sure that its influence is so devastating in Indonesia or India where you have some other culture [ not nomadic] in the background.

    This makes the present riots even more interesting because they do not have a model of their own to copy
    and are clearly not satisfied with what they have now.
    As I see it the religion in the Arab countries is the source of the problem. It states a clear hierarchy of domination from God down through authorities to the males and than to the females , slaves etc. There is no concept of sharing power , personal freedoms and so on. What you have today is only the mechanics of elections.

  4. mindrider, for one thing they inherited the greeks and romans more directly, giving them a head start.

    But the evolution of the modern state took a long time, helped along by complexities absent in the Middle East. Chief among them a complexity of ideas and a growing belief in the right of the individual to shape his own destiny and national identity.

    These things are lacking badly in the Muslim world, where national identities are constructs that few take too seriously and the individual imperative is considered base not moral.

  5. It's hopeless trying to make peace with such people and nations. Just an after thought ot but I read a book by a former FBI profiler. He wrote that the're are two types of serial killers--organized and disorganized.

    In the world of Isalm organized and disorganized seem to exist together. What a contradictory culture and religion.


    mindRider--I'm no expert in history but it could be that Christianity, at least during the Crusades were primarily Britians who wanted to conquest land--perhaps more than Muslims.

    The British monarchy gradually lost all of its colonies, so despite being a church/state that could possibly explain why the violence stopped.

    Although now...it seems Britian is leaning towards supporting the very same Arabs they wanted to convert so badly in previous centuries.

    Just some thought on the issue.

    Why Muslims haven't become more enlightened and less violent? I think they are a violent invading culture.

  6. What the naive anti-colonialists miss is that Muslim countries are themselves colonized countries. That's how they became Muslim. It would be interesting to observe the numbers in history discribing how many peoples and nations volunteered to become Muslim in the history of Islam.

    The problem is not that democracy is weak, it's that democracy is based on representation and representation does not stop at the individual, but must also represent communities, tribes in this case, who themselves can create representation democratically. And of course, without the belief in democracy as a principle rather than a means to undemocratic ends, there is no hope for representation.


    The difference between Islam in the Middle East and Christianity in Europe is that Christianity spread in Europe as an engine of perpetuating Roman authority. Violence applied to suppress Eruopean native peoples had already been successfully applied in establishing the occupation of the Roman Empire. Christianity represented the final pacification and internalization of Roman authority among the European peoples.

  7. nhoop14/7/11

    Daniel's analysis of Islam is clearly valid. I cannot understand why Western "leaders" cannot understand it, and persist on trying to make friends with those who loath us.

    Sharia law is gaining here and nothing good can be said about it.

    Will the pols wake up in time to save us?

  8. Mindreader -- Perhaps climate and topography have something to do with it? The scorching heat and sands of Arabia and North Africa do not make for agricultural bounty. They give rise, instead, to a harsh way of life, and thence a harsh culture wherein the capacity for cruelty and ruthlessness is a significant cultural/economic benefit. In the desert, the only things that are inherently valuable are water, camels and women...

    whereas lands of agricultural bounty are likely to give rise to cooperative endeavor because women working together can grow more food than people working alone. And since European climate can be cold (north of Italy, Spain, Greece, etc.) , the climate would have given rise also to more solid construction for shelter, and eventually, therefore, to technology, which in the end is basically how to make better and more useful fires (Prometheus be praised!!).

    In ancient Europe, where water is pretty much ubiquitous and whose presence can be taken for granted, constructed homes (and thence villages, and the towns, etc.) and land are valuable. This all gives rise to land ownership, and then all the progress that such connection generates, where this landowner marries off his daughter to the owner of the adjacent piece of land, and eventually -- after several thousand years -- you have a people and a country by virtue of blood relationship and common customs.

  9. Arlian14/7/11

    Just found this site, saved it to favourites and will visit regularly. I was reading your article, munching brekkie and nodding agreement with each sentence. A very well written article and, after reading the comments submitted by your readers, I can see that your articles attract knowledgeable and intelligent readers. I thought the replies were articulate and intelligent.Now I have the interesting task of thoroughly exploring your site :)

  10. Everyone has rights! No, no one has any rights at all ever. "Rights" are an epiphenomenon on the reverse side of the coin. Rights come about when some people restrict themselves, giving room to others to exist. No one would have any rights were it not for the laws that restrict the behaviors of those most forceful in a society. When the law is on your side, its two-against-one. If the law is stymied or emasculated or ignored, then we return to the situation in which right is determined by might. That is the circumstance that pre-determines Islam's failure to make progress. There are only limited mechanisms within Islam for curtailing the prerogatives of the powerful. And the powerful will not do it to themselves out of fear of being annihilated by the next in line in the pecking order.

  11. #But Pygmies. Of course co-operative work breeds co-operation always visible in agricultural and fishermen societies. But so should survival in the dessert have given rise to inter-clan co-operation, yet it did not. Here I like jlevyellow's idea of the failure of Sharia law to be applied to the powerful being a source of Muslim instability. In this respect we (Jews) did a much better job and for one reason or other our clans where forged together in an already more egalitarian manner during(I always wonder why in G'ds name we ever wanted kings) the 40 years of wandering although I would not know if, had the individual tribes still existed, we would not fight violently amongst ourselves. left & right, religious versus non religious present day attitude does not make me overconfident we would behave much better than Arab/Islam.

  12. Just to clear the name of Britain!!! There were no British in the Crusades, only English (Act of Union 1707); the majority of the crusaders were of French/Norman decent. The Crusades were on the whole a belated reaction to centuries of muslim attacks on European lands and the final indignity of the restriction of access to the Holy Land for Christians. They mutated into loot grabbing later; the loot mainly coming from extortion and conquest of the Eastern Roman Empire (again not the English). The British empire came to be centuries after the crusades.
    Finally, the British today, as with most of the west, seem to ooze self loathing and accommodate the superstitious and barbaric practices of islam as means of placating past colonial deeds. We have nothing to apologise for, our world is infinitely better than theirs! This article points out the endless islamic cycle very well..Even if the day came that there was a world wide caliphate, they would still fight because some group would not be islamic enough!! Monty Python's Life of Brian is satire on the time of Christ, it is unfortunately not satire in the muslim world it is reality....Kill the blasphemer....What answer is there to that? P*ss someone off, and thats the way they get you!!

  13. Raymond in DC15/7/11

    but pygmies writes, "Perhaps climate and topography have something to do with it? The scorching heat and sands of Arabia and North Africa do not make for agricultural bounty."

    Wafa Sultan, writing in "A God Who Hates", indeed traces the tribalism and violence to desert life where Arabian tribes stole from each other to survive. Of course, the Jews of that time built successful farming and trading communities in those same lands until Mohammed took it all - life and property - from them.

    Daniel writes, "Without progress, the future can only be an imperfect continuation of the past. And progress comes from self-doubt leading to reform."

    Ibn Warraq in "Defending the West" identifies self-criticism as but one attribute found in Western but lacking in Islamic civilization. (The other two being rationalism and universalism.) If one can't self-criticize, then blame for failure can only be directed outward. It can be attributed to the "will of Allah" thus leading to fatalistic acceptance, or to the "unbelievers" - to the colonialists, the "Crusaders", the "Zionists", or even to heretic Muslims.

    And how curious of some to focus on the 100-200 years of Western colonialism and yet ignore the 1,200 years of *Islamic* imperialism.

  14. Anonymous19/7/11

    @ mindrider
    "(I always wonder why in G'ds name we ever wanted kings)"

    Actually, it was not in G'ds name that we wanted a king. Here's from Samuel A Chapter 10-12:

    17 And Samuel called the people together unto the LORD to Mizpah. 18 And he said unto the children of Israel: {P}

    'Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel: I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all the kingdoms that oppressed you. 19 But ye have this day rejected your God, who Himself saveth you out of all your calamities and your distresses; and ye have said unto Him: Nay, but set a king over us.

    1 And Samuel said unto all Israel: 'Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you. ....
    12 And when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me: Nay, but a king shall reign over us; when the LORD your God was your king. 13 Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have asked for; and, behold, the LORD hath set a king over you. 14 If ye will fear the LORD, and serve Him, and hearken unto His voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and both ye and also the king that reigneth over you be followers of the LORD your God--; 15 but if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then shall the hand of the LORD be against you, and against your fathers.


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