More a stench than a fragrance 2

The popular rising in Tunisia – sweetly dubbed (by whom and why?) the “Jasmine Revolution” – is very unlikely to herald the democratization of Tunisia itself or a widespread democratizing movement in the wider Arab world as optimists in the West are quickly assuming it might do.

It is far more likely to bring Tunisia under a strict Islamic regime.

Robert Spencer is of this opinion. He writes at his website Jihad Watch:

The great unacknowledged truth about Tunisia and the rest of the Islamic world is that Islamic jihadists and pro-Sharia forces, far from being the “tiny minority of extremists” of media myth, actually enjoy broad popular support. Any genuine democratic uprising is likely to install them in power. That’s why jihadists are hailing events in Tunisia, and why all lovers of freedom should view those events with extreme reserve — for a Sharia government in Tunisia is unlikely to be any kind of friend to the United States, and if the “Jasmine Revolution” does indeed spread and other Arab and Muslim dictators are toppled, an already hostile anti-American environment could become much, much worse.

The news media in the United States are not concerning themselves much with the upheavals varying in intensity from angry demonstrations to revolution in Arab states. Young men immolating themselves in Tunisia, Egypt and Mauritania induce pensive theorizing in the West rather than close attention.

The US government doesn’t seem to believe that the turmoil has any importance for America. If so, it’s making a serious mistake. The jihad against the West will be intensified if religious parties come to power in North Africa.

Robert Spencer does not expect the administration to grasp the significance of what is happening or – therefore – to prepare for the probably grave consequences. He writes almost despairingly:

The events in Tunisia also show yet again the crying need for realistic analysis in Washington of the jihad threat, rather than the fantasy-based analysis that prevails there now. But that is even less likely than the flowering of a pluralistic, secular democracy in Tunisia.

It is not the scent of jasmine but of blood and burnt flesh that permeates the air over North Africa, more a stench than a fragrance.

  • Andrew M

    I was in Tunisia two years ago as of this month, so I’ll comment.

    Despite the proliferation of mosques which so characterize any majority-Muslim nation, I do believe the citizens there are relatively secular from what I’ve seen. Even in my fairly religious host family, both of my parents were teachers, and my host mother did not wear the head scarf (there were no other females in the family). Several of the kids my age did confess reveling in certain sins which I will not mention here for their sake, with one exception: an avowed atheist who had no shame for his position!

    Obviously my heart is with the revolutionists to make the best of this opportunity and assemble a fair democratic government, but my brain says it will become an Islamic regime before noon tomorrow, especially given the events of human history in that part of the world. What beleaguers these violent thirsts for freedom which periodically grumble in the Middle East is not a lack of Western support or even the internal disagreements of the people themselves (though that’s certainly a factor).

    It is that the very idea of “freedom” is a nebulous abstraction for the descendants of this frequently conquered patch of the earth. Does it mean having the ability to sell your fruits and vegetables regardless of whether passersby think they stink? Or establishing a halfway-decent standard of traffic laws to protect the lives of both drivers and pedestrians? Or just the ability to go about your life without being harangued by government firewalls just because it happens to involve looking at smut for fun?

    None of the above, not even the last one. Freedom far transcends the demands of greater society by being a wholly individual matter. Freedom is a collection of individuals who agree to resolve their differences by a permissive but strictly interpreted code of civility which includes calling upon those signatories to defend that code when outside forces threaten to dismantle it and the fruits of its success. And even half a century after the admirable reforms of Habib Bourguiba, it pains me to say I do not think the Tunisians will be capable of this.

    But I hope they prove me wrong.

    (NB: The comments section has lots of glitches when rendered by my Firefox. Instead of the main page showing the number of comments like it used to, instead it just says “View comments”. And the input box doesn’t have any scroll wheels. Any clue what the matter is? Thanks Jillian.)

    • Jillian Becker

      Thank you, Andrew M, for this very interesting and valuable comment. It’s particularly welcome since it endorses what I thought was the case. I have some experience of the Middle East though not of Tunisia, which I’ve only learnt a little about from reading. What you tell us rings true to me.

      Our webmaster, Matthew, will look into what you tell us about the input box. We too were surprised when “View comments” replaced the old form showing the number. I’ll ask Matthew to see what he can do about that too.