The only thing more sickening than the United States cracking down on groups/human beings it does not like in the name of fighting terrorism is when Arab regimes do it. The same goes for Israel except that one should be increasingly prepared to expect literally anything, no matter how morally or politically reprehensible, from its governments. In any case, for those interested in the struggle for any number, or kind, of rights in the Arab world, that phony specter has come to reek of hypocrisy and imbecility. For at least three decades now, from Jordan to Egypt, and from Morocco to Bahrain, government crackdowns on dissent have run out of any semblance of excuse and are increasingly confined to the silly and invariably empty accusation of terrorism which enjoys salience in patron countries like the United States or Britain--and certainly Russia. That label/ticket is becoming increasingly absurd to observers while it is becoming a consistent last resort for unsavory motives—everywhere. Its excessive use speaks more of bankruptcy than leadership.
This fall (2010), three significant Parliamentary elections will have taken place in Bahrain, Jordan, and Egypt. In Bahrain, we have already witnessed the leveling of the accusation of terrorism against opposition members and groups, here, here, and here. At least 23 Shi`i opposition members were arrested and charged with employing terrorism to achieve their electoral objectives (no idea what this means). As the date approaches for Jordan and Egypt’s elections, similar accusations will become louder as happened previously—the accusations are usually proportional to the opposition’s ability to score electoral points. In 2007, the Jordanian King dissolved parliament and used the anti-terrorism bill of 2005 to curtail the opposition amidst heavy local and international criticism, and a new electoral law was promulgated accordingly. Similarly, this past May Egypt extended the more than 30-year old notorious emergency law under the umbrella of “fight terrorism,” but protesters recognize the aim as being one of “stifling dissent.” Shortly before that, various Muslim Brotherhood leaders were accused of terrorism and were arrested, following a string of arrests of hundreds of Brotherhood members since their strong 2005 parliamentary showing. In the coming weeks, we’ll observe the Jordanian and Egyptian parliamentary elections.
Since 2001, it has become the rationale of choice in the Arab world to use "terrorism" as justification for cracking down, pursuing, imprisoning, outlawing, and killing "enemies." That is not to say that the accused are never culprits of sorts, or even perpetrators of the always senseless killing of non-combatant civilians (e.g., the blowing up of hospitals in Iraq). Rather, the dangerous norm that has been sweeping the region for nearly a decade now has two principal ulterior motives: to subvert calls for democracy (or more rights) and to quell/crush/delegitimize various forms of resistance to a horrendous regional status quo.
When the two motives are combined the act/practice receives added international support from powerful states with a mutual interest in the status quo. For the most part, local authoritarian rulers and their direct or indirect patrons (primarily the United States) are not keen on change that would benefit the majority of local populations, presumably because local populations want neither these rulers or their patrons—and they also don’t want dictators who are NOT supported by the United States, imagine that. There was a brief moment when the United States under, of all human beings/presidents, George W Bush, spoke of the need and desirability of countries in the region to democratize in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. GWB went so far as to denounce the gamut of orientalist claims about the incompatibility of Arabs/Muslims/Islam and democracy in a 2004 speech, where he sounded like a pupil of Edward Said. I was in Philadelphia, driving, and listening to the speech. I had to do a double-take to make sure the radio station is legitimate. Free and fair elections—the magic chadless voting box with the slit right about the top-middle part was apparently the missing ingredient—would do the trick, notwithstanding a couple of hundred thousand foreign soldiers hanging around. It’s not as though the legacy of foreign intervention and support of dictatorship in Iraq, let alone unfulfilled promises of protection to the Shi`i and Kurdish uprising in 1991, were going to leave a bad taste in the mouth or cerebrum.
Iraq, according to the monumental idiocy/ignorance and/or hubris of the characters who clamored and manufactured evidence for that war, was supposed to be the model for the region’s democratic development. The talk of the compatibility between democracy and the culture(s) of the region during that very brief moment was in an odd way refreshingly annoying or annoyingly refreshing, depending on one’s perspective. Nonetheless, the cultural compatibility question is always as offensive as it is dimwitted--so much so that it even GWB was ahead of the pack for a minute.
Indeed, the moment was brief. Iraq went (and was midwifed) to hell and back shortly afterwards, the "wrong" parties won or did well in elections (e.g., Hamas-2006, Muslim Brotherhood-2005 respectively), and the brilliant designation of the “war on terrorism” was for some odd reason not reducing terrorism or violence. Decision-makers in America went back to the drawing board and restored their foreign-policy-sanity jacket, retaining thereby the age-old logic that was never a puzzle to begin with: i.e., the United States’ objective in the region is not to promote democratic regimes, but compliant ones—If compliant regimes also happen to be democratic it will wet the decision-makers’ pants, but that’s too much to ask. Business as usual resumed in terms of democracy promotion as window-dressing, while persecuting opposition groups/members often in the name of terrorism soared locally. In the case of Hamas` electoral victory, fighting the democratically-elected incumbents in the name of fighting terrorism--while supporting or turning a blind eye to the atrocities, oppression, sexism, intolerance and/or, indeed, patented terrorism of incumbent dictators and occupiers elsewhere in the region--was a first. Thus, naked political interest is at work, not principle or a desire really to fight "terrorism." It would be staggeringly naive to assume that this is a shocking discovery if it were not for the bullshit (pardon moi) rhetoric that a large portion (perhaps the plurality) of the American electorate believed when it came out of the decision-makers’ mouths or ابواق (e.g., regarding the argument to go to war in Iraq).
Perhaps more important is the use of the accusation of terrorism to stifle any notion of resistance to a regional status-quo that is becoming increasingly shaky, thanks to, among other things, Turkey’s apparent but not yet irreversible “turn” away from the US/Conservative Arab States/Israel camp. Those who are concerned with stifling resistance to the regional status quo are divided into at least two groups (combining local and global actors): those who support the status quo based on their interests or, simply, convictions, much more so than on real politic (this group includes folks who are concerned about “Jihadists”—what the hell is that? That term is all we needed in Mideast speak. JFC); and, secondly, those who fear a worse alternative to the status-quo (e.g., one dominated by Islamists—this sentiment is popular among many anti-American foreign policy Arabs who are also opposed to the notion of “resistance” as futile or misguided). In any event, both groups do not support a blanket change in the political or social order in the region, assuming that change will necessarily be worse than whatever “evil” may exist. It is the former group that is likely to use and abuse the rotting terrorism card
Islamism (in its broad varieties) is not the only boogeyman, considering today is Halloween and all. Another boogeyman (boogeyperson? ew) is, well, the masses. Thus there is a combination of Islamophobia and classism, and, as it turns out, anti-majority/democracy that contributes to this sentiment of stifling resistance. Many learned pro-status-quo pundits, experts (اسمالله), professors in the United States know what democracy will bring in the short term, and they do not like it or think it is a good thing “for the region.” They have plenty of counterparts in the region, usually associated with existing regimes and other status quo stakeholders, including those who can be considered the social/economic elite—an increasingly small portion to be sure. Most of the remaining socialist/secularist/leftist camp in the region ceased to be allergic to popular Islamism just around the time when the US and its international and local allies were playing fast and loose with all kinds of principles in the name of preserving brute power and “free [mon derrière] markets,” locally or globally. Many figure that a bit of Islamism may not be so bad after all, judging by their conditional but strong support to certain, and by all means not all, Islamist groups (I don’t have time right now to discuss the word “conditional,” but I might in due time. Hell, we put together a whole transatlantic workshop to discuss this, so maybe I should). So, fighting one`s enemies in the name of fighting enemies strangely becomes fighting the majority of people in the region who are clearly ordinary folk.
Look, let’s keep on struggling, persuading, and even fighting each other, but for the love of whatever you’re into, stop abusing “terrorism” as a rationale by shoving it everywhere, if only to respect some of the synapses that might not fire in one’s brain as a result—but لا حياة لمن تنادي