How the progressives in the Arab establishment want to be seen

Youssef Ibrahim’s remarkable piece in the NY Sun:

[T]here is a silent Arab majority that believes that seventh-century Islam is not fit for 21st-century challenges. That women do not have to look like walking black tents. That men do not have to wear beards and robes, act like lunatics, and run around blowing themselves up in order to enjoy 72 virgins in paradise. And that secular laws, not Islamic Shariah, should rule our day-to-day lives.

And yes, we, the silent Arab majority, do not believe that writers, secular or otherwise, should be killed or banned for expressing their views. Or that the rest of our creative elite – from moviemakers to playwrights, actors, painters, sculptors, and fashion models – should be vetted by Neanderthal Muslim imams who have never read a book in their dim, miserable lives.

Nor do we believe that little men with head wraps and disheveled beards can run amok in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq making decisions on our behalf, dragging us to war whenever they please, confiscating our rights to be adults, and flogging us for not praying five times a day or even for not believing in God. More important, we are not silent any longer.

Rarely have I seen such an uprising, indeed an intifada, against those little turbaned, bearded men across the Muslim landscape as the one that took place last week. The leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, received a resounding “no” to pulling 350 million Arabs into a war with Israel on his clerical coattails.

The collective “nyet” was spoken by presidents, emirs, and kings at the highest level of government in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, and at the Arab League’s meeting of 22 foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday. But it was even louder from pundits and ordinary people.

Perhaps the most remarkable and unexpected reaction came from Saudi Arabia, whose foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, said bluntly and publicly that Hezbollah’s decision to cross the Lebanese border, attack Israel, and kidnap its soldiers has left the Shiite group on its own to face Israel. The unspoken message here was, “We hope they blow you away.”

Mr. Ibrahim is an optimist. Last year he identified the Kifaya or “Enough” Movement, an Arab or Muslim spring from people who had had Enough of totalitarianism and corruption. Evidence for the Enough Movement was to be found in the Cedar Revolution and other outpourings of people power. So far the movement, to the extent it exists, has potentiated the rise to power of certain of the more thuggish political groups in the Islamic world.

Ibrahim has also been expressing the view for some time that the Arab elites are tired of the complaints of the Palestinians, and that this elite thinks they should stop their warmaking and get on with lifemaking. He famously said that last week, but has been making similar statements for at least the past couple of years. These sentiments too have yet to make their way into official Arab policy.

Mr. Ibrahim also does not explain how the Arab and Muslim world can take such a grandly secular view of issues like apostasy and other doctrinal matters, as evidenced in the bit of his piece we italicized above. He could find himself in deep trouble in many corners of the Islamic world for such sentiments.

Notwithstanding these problems, Mr. Ibrahim’s bold statements are as welcome as they are startling. He is certainly a member of the Arab intellectual and business elite, so it is perhaps meaningful that he voices such liberal sentiments. Frankly, it appears obvious to us that many in the rich and educated Arab elites who live in cosmopolitan places like Dubai and London would have somewhat secular views — it often goes with the territory. We wonder what it portends that these elites appear to now have a spokesman who opposes many of the official policies of their own countries. It seems like good news to us.

One Response to “How the progressives in the Arab establishment want to be seen”

  1. rainwolf Says:

    “We wonder what it portends that these elites appear to now have a spokesman who opposes many of the official policies of their own countries. It seems like good news to us.”

    At least until they kidnap him, and cut his head off.

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