Liberals, Look at the New Middle East

Liberals can no longer ignore the awful plague of Middle Eastern brutality and the fact that millions of Arabs live with no rights and no future.

Ari Shavit
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Smoke billows after a petrol depot was set ablaze during clashes between rival militias near the international airport in Tripoli, Libya, August 13, 2014. Credit: AFP
Ari Shavit

The new Middle East is a brutal one. Many Sunnis hate Shi’ites and many Shi’ites hate Sunnis. Many Sunnis and Shi’ites hate Christians, Jews, women and homosexuals. In numerous countries in the region, a considerable part of the majority hates the minorities – Kurds, Druze, Copts, Turkmen, Yazidis. Monarchs and secular people hate members of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the Muslim Brotherhood hate secular people and monarchs.

These hatreds turn into violence. The violence becomes ferocious. Too many demons awaken and begin devouring people. Heretics are murdered, sinners are stoned, women are sold to slavery. A new Middle East is exposing its face these days, and it’s a face of horror.

The Middle East was tainted with inter-religious fanaticism and inter-tribal hostility in the past as well, but the Ottoman Empire, the colonial powers and Arab nationalism forced members of other religions and tribes to live together and restrain the primeval hatreds. The collapse of modern nationalism in recent years led to the breakdown of the joint frameworks and to a horrific outbreak of hate crimes. This is why today we see hideous sights that seem to have been taken from the Middle Ages. That is why today we’re facing a Sambatyon river of barbarism. The chopped heads and limbs of innocent human beings are much more than a blood-curdling metaphor. In large parts of the new Middle East there’s no place for human rights, human dignity or freedom. In many regions in East Asia and North Africa there is no room for individuals, equality for minorities or compassion for the weak.

Violent fanaticism has spun out of control in Iraq and Syria, but is also raging in Libya and Lebanon and threatening Egypt and Jordan. Only Tunisia and Kurdistan still hold up the torches of progress. In all other states in the region, the choice is reactionary monarchy, military dictatorship, theocracy or murderous chaos.

It is difficult for the Western liberal to observe the new Middle East. His worldview is based on criticizing the West and granting sweeping amnesty to those who are seen as its victims. This liberal’s code of values forbids him to define Third World evil as such. So he demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, but kept silent in the face of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. He opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but kept silent in the face of the oppression in Iran.

This is why he hastens to denounce Israel, while displaying leniency toward Hamas’ fascism. The Western liberal knows how to rise up against Western exertion of force and likes doing so. But at the sight of Arabs slaughtering Arabs, he is lost. Whom will he rage against? Whom can he demonstrate against? At whom will he feel holy fury?

The American President Barack Obama did the right thing this week when he provided humanitarian and military assistance to the murdered people in northern Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry did right when he said uncompromising things about ISIS. Leading media in the United States and Europe have done and are doing holy work to expose the horror.

But all these are not enough. The new Middle East is now raising penetrating questions that must generate an upheaval in liberal thought. Liberals can no longer ignore the awful plague of Middle Eastern brutality and the fact that millions of Arabs live with no rights and no future.

While voicing justified criticism against Israel (for the occupation, settlements, racist fringes), they must lift their eyes and see the expanse in which Israel is located. An expanse in which Yazidis are massacred and Christians are persecuted and women are stoned. An expanse in which there is no democracy, or peace, or grace. This is a Middle East that liberals must see as it is – and deal with its diseases courageously.