Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald explains why corruption in states like Egypt is unlikely to result in larger-scale reform, and why Muslims who may oppose attacks on tourists and pre-Islamic monuments seem powerless to stop them:
Islam simplifies the Universe for the Believers: it reduces the world to Islam and nothing but Islam. The ongoing attacks on tourists in Egypt are not merely attacks on Infidels, and Infidel ways. They are also attacks on the Infidel state.
Why is the state “Infidel”? Because Mubarak and his Friends-and-Family plan are corrupt. And for Muslims, everything must be reduced to Islamic terms. In India, a corrupt state governor might simply be called “corrupt”‘ and not “un-Hindu.” A corrupt big-city machine in the United States might be called “corrupt” but there would be no need to identify the corrupt politician as “un-Christian.” But in the world of Islam, everything must be reduced in the end to Islamic terms: Islamic and non-Islamic, Believer and Infidel. It is what neatly and simply divides the universe. That is why all rage at government corruption will, in Muslim states and for Muslim minds, unfortunately end up connected to the answer: the answer is even more Islam.
And since that Answer of More Islam has terrible consequences for non-Muslims both within the country in question and without, the effort of Infidels must not be to encourage those who, whatever else they promise, also promise more Islam. And as the Islamic Republic of Iran demonstrates, the clerics can be just as corrupt as the Al-Saud princelings and princelettes, or as the chocolate soldiers of Mubarak’s army. Instead, efforts should be made to create conditions in which an enlightened despot (Ataturk or Bourguiba or the late Shah of Iran) can find enough support to either ignore or systematically limit the power of political Islam. Ataturk did this, but the beneficiaries (secular Turks) were outmaneuvered, and in some cases simply did not realize what kind of constant vigilance was necessary to foil the permanent threat of a renewal of Islam — just look at Turkey now).
Bourguiba’s Destour Party ruled in Tunisia, where Ben Ali now rules the same kind of quasi-enlightened police-state — a police-state that is nonetheless freer in many ways than other Muslim Arab states, save possibly for Oman, like Tunisia a place where an enlightened ruler (Sultan Qaboos) is able to keep things reasonably decent.
In Egypt, the sporadic, recurring attacks on tourists and tourist sites manifest several core assumptions:
1) Infidel lives are of no value.
2) Infidels bring corruption.
3) Those involved in serving the needs of Infidel tourists are themselves corrupt and offend against Islam.
4) The corrupt government derives benefits from the tourist trade, so that trade must be diminished.
5) Tourism keeps the minds of Egyptians on the monuments of the pre-Islamic period, monuments which have no value whatsoever — save that of bringing in mere money. The pyramids, the Sphinx, all those mummies and mastabas, are of no interest.
Were the Bamiyan Buddhas worth preserving after 1,500 years? The Taliban did not think so. The Saudi and Pakistani advisers they called in to help deploy the 100,000 pounds of explosives didn’t think so. The Muslims who destroyed everything they could of the Greco-Bactrian civilization of Afghanistan over many centuries did not think any of those artifacts, temples, manuscripts, stupas, monuments, were worth preserving. Why should they? The Muslims in India who built their first known mosque right over a Jain temple they destroyed, and then went on to destroy tens of thousands of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain sites, did not think that non-Muslim sites were worth preserving. If the odd site has escaped such destruction, that testifies only to local syncretistic conditions or specific circumstances (as in Indonesia, where the predominately Hindu peoples and their civilization were conquered not outright by an invading army but through slow penetration, by military colonies established in the wake of trading outposts, and the conversion of important local rulers — and hence of those they ruled).
Of course the indifference or hostility to pre-Islamic civilizations in Egypt is modified by the desire for the money that those monuments and artifacts bring in. But Muslims never displayed an interest in those artifacts for other reasons. It was Western students of Egypt’s past who created Egyptology — from the Rosetta Stone to the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen, from Champollion through Lepsius to Howard Carter. It was Austen Henry Layard and other Westerners, right up to Henry Woolley at Ur, who discovered and recovered and collected and catalogued and studied the artifacts from the pre-Islamic past of Mesopotamia. The museums of Cairo and Baghdad were founded by Westerners — the Cairo Museum was founded by a Frenchman, and the museum of Baghdad developed out of Gertrude Bell’s Department of Antiquities. What museological coherence they now possess (as museums, rather than as mere warehouses) is due to Westerners. Those who have taken up the study of pre-Islamic artifacts (in Egypt, in Jordan, in Iraq) would likely have to be largely indifferent to the teachings and attitudes of Islam toward all non-Islamic things. But even these self-described “secular” or “cultural” Muslims may harbor a loyalty to Islam, either filiopietistic (memories of a pious grandmother or Iftar dinners), or one based on ethnic pride and identification (for the idea of an “Arab” is inextricably linked with the idea of Islam — something that Arab islamochristians have been made to feel deeply). Will they be able to stand up to the destruction of the monuments, or will their Islamic loyalties dictate their acquiescence?
The answer to that question determines the fate of all Islamic reformers and attempts to clean up “corruption” in Islamic lands.