Defining the Middle East
“Revolution is coming to Middle Earth.” So wrote Dr. Walid Phares prophetically and appropriately on July 4, 2010, in the afterword of his book The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.
So it came to pass a few months later with the advent of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, the area of the world Phares also calls “Middle Earth.” Despite American involvement—willingly and otherwise—in the region for decades, the uprisings seemed to raise more questions rather than illuminate events. Phares’s prediction was on the money, but the value of this book is not in prognostication but in his diagnostics and definitions.
The Coming Revolution offers a simple argument: Islamists can be defeated if Western policymakers and media outlets are willing and able to define the threat, a definition that Phares says has not yet occurred. The threat, as Phares defines it, is a race between the forces of jihad that, in the wake of decolonization and the collapse of the Soviet Union and September 11, 2001, wish to reestablish a Caliphate against civil society and ordered liberty. Phares declares that the winner of this “race in Middle Earth” will win no less than the nature of the twenty-first century.
Phares, who regularly appears on television and as an advisor to the U.S. House Caucus on Counter Terrorism, offers a descriptive history of the Caliphate, one that somehow escapes the efforts of the peddlers of diversity and multiculturalism in schools and colleges. One of the most valuable aspects of the book is Phares’s care to explain what terms such as caliphate and caliph and, perhaps most significantly, religion and state and their intersection, mean in Islamic law. As authors such as Raymond Ibrahim (The Al Qaeda Reader) remind us, if we are indeed to understand the threat facing the West, it is vital that we consult the primary sources of Islamism and to understand the full meaning of the words and ideas of Islam. “Caliphate,” for example, means a regime whose function is to wage jihad, bring so-called infidels into submission to Islam, and enforce sharia law, as did the first caliphate that began in Arabia in 632. And there is no traditional separation of “church” and “state,” as the West has come to understand that relationship.
Phares writes convincingly and with extensive personal and cited anecdotes that the West, already disarmed by its ignorance of the intersection of religion and state that comprises the Caliphate, was on the receiving end of a “lobotomy” concerning the media coverage and academic presentation of the Middle East in the 1990s. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s recent Newsweek cover story also provides excellent and timely examples of why and how the mainstream Western media refuses to cover the Middle East other than in simplistic terms or outside of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Ideally, this signals a welcome change in how that media portray the violence of the Middle East. The track record and general laziness of the media does not bode well and, as Phares demonstrates, such attitudes come at the expense of general knowledge among Western citizens about the persecution and genocide of minorities. Such ignorance and indifference must make Western platitudes of the rights of minorities throughout the Islamic world seem awfully hollow to those on the receiving end of jihad.
Of particular interest to scholars and critics of contemporary higher education will be Phares’s sections concerning the infiltration of what he calls “petrodollars” into Western colleges and universities to present what he, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, describes as “a correct teaching of Middle East studies.” Such money is utilized to dictate the terms of how resistance movements in the Middle East are studied and discussed on college campuses, shaping the minds of future policymakers and voters. A hierarchy of legitimacy among resistance movements has been established, Phares argues, with the Palestine Liberation Organization considered the type of movement that is the most legitimate. Christians and other oppressed minorities under the sword need not apply.
Phares illustrates the prevailing attitude in the academy with a harrowing tale of his experience on a search committee of a Florida university to fill a faculty spot in Middle Eastern and Northern African history. One of the applicants was a black man from southern Sudan. One of the applicant’s references, an American-born Ivy League professor, told Phares in what might have passed for a decent impersonation of a modern-day Orval Faubus, “I wouldn’t suggest adding him to the faculty.” Why? “Because he is from southern Sudan,” said the Ivy Leaguer. “You know these guys are in rebellion against the Arab government in Khartoum. He is critical of Arabs!”
Equally as important as such outrages is the way in which Phares carefully and methodically describes the history and sociology of conflicts between Islamists and “infidels” across the Middle East. Phares makes several references to his childhood in Beirut; his scholarly background enhances his understanding and ability to portray the often difficult region. He analyzes the Taliban’s oppression of women, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Cedars Revolution in Lebanon, opposition to the Baath Party in Iraq and Syria, among other countries, and the Green Revolution in Iran. His portrayal of the genocide against Africans in the Sudan is horrifying and has the potential to breed righteous contempt for that Ivy League professor who thought it would be best to deny a faculty spot to a black Sudanese who dared question the Arabs.
Phares is under no utopian illusions. He realizes that sifting through genuinely democratic revolutions and trading one dictatorship for another is difficult, particularly given the media and academic aversion to the truth. Phares is even-handed when it comes to critiquing U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. He gives fair consideration to mistakes and disconnects by administrations of both parties, as well as those in the Middle East who successfully obstructed democratic diplomacy and information efforts by the U.S.
He admits that formulating strategies and tactics to free the Middle East is daunting. But he argues that Western democracies must assist truly democratic revolutions. The alternative is that the price exacted against free societies is incalculable, “and the most dangerous and barbaric forces in the history of the world will seize Middle Earth, bringing horror and destruction to the entire planet.”
While Phares’s scholarship is first-rate and thoroughly documented in a notes section, his prose is straightforward, opening an accessible portal to the challenging task of attempting to untangle the myriad of tribes, sects, influences, and dictatorial regimes that color the Middle East mosaic. Any serious individual who wishes to have an informed opinion on the region must read this book.
“If Middle Earth is freed,” Phares writes, “the planet would have a better chance to face the challenges of the future.” That the revolution and upheaval that Phares predicts in this book happened and is happening is self-evident. Yet his clairvoyance is not the author’s most attractive feature. The significance of The Coming Revolution is that Phares dissects the why and how of this phenomenon, and the presentation of his plea to the West to play a major role in ultimate victory. As is made clear in Phares’s book, definitions are of the utmost importance. And ultimate victory in this instance is simply nothing less than liberty over oppression.
Matthew May is a frequent contributor to the American Thinker website and the North Andover (MA) Eagle-Tribune. He is the author of Restoration: The God and Country Education Project.
Posted: March 18, 2012
An Anti-Utopian Life
Kevin J. McNamara
Volume 39, Number 3 (Fall 1999)