The biggest issue Israel faces today is not the garden-variety Arab Spring. It also is not whether equality and democracy reign in Israel. It’s also surprisingly not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict many associate as the bone of contention of the region. The mother-of-all-issues, as I learned Monday from Dr. Andy David, Israel’s Consul General of the Pacific Northwest in an American Jewish Committee-sponsored room of pro-Israel folks from across the political aisle, is that the Arab world has shifted from a conversation of nationalism and secularism to one subjugated to Islam. In other words, welcome to the Islamic Winter.
After blogging in 2010 about how Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s noticeably distanced and in many ways lessened his relationships with Western democracies like Israel and the US to fully embrace radicalized, Islamic-leftist countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran, David’s words caught my attention.
When the region had once dealt with the Pan Arabism model and the rest of the world still looked at the Middle East with “Lawrence of Arabia” lenses, Islam was not present in the conversation. Yet an exposure event occurred and it can be easily identified by analyzing something as inconsequential though colorful as the duds of a former dictator. Really.
For example, Libya’s former President Muammar al-Gaddafi donned European suits until he tossed those for a clownish collection of multi-colored (sometimes even the infamous Barney-purple) African-inspired Islamic garb. Remember those gold should-be-pajamas he wore at the UN? No doubt Gaddafi was a chided character, among other things, but his often-garish attire still didn’t clue anyone outside of the region into its significance.
When you look at the region from a panoramic lens, you can see where the exposure event occurred. Even when you examine maps of the Middle East its clear which lines are natural borders (represented by jagged lines) and those that were drawn in straight lines representing artificial borders (represented via straight lines) made by individual regimes or the flavor-of-day regional actors. Notice, Israel’s lines are unusually straight as are Jordan’s--and even some of lines representing the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
So when Obama or his successor goes to bat for “1967 borders" we must discuss “natural borders” vs. “artificial borders” that the Arab region has chosen at random and sold to the world while refusing to aid those who identify (many times without merit) themselves as Palestinian. To date, no Arab nation has stepped forward with any viable plan to repatriate or aid those who consider themselves Palestinian in any real way. The incitement-filled UNWRA textbooks that America is bankrolling out the wazoo via US taxpayers (with Europe cutting the 2nd fat check) are not helping either.
So first, you’ve got to ask: why aren't the Arab nations helping their beloved pals? Then you need to follow up with, "What is the one thing that people think about when the subject turns to Israel? And why?
David offered sacrificial examples. Paris, France is known for romance while Las Vegas, Nevada is known as Sin City, AKA "what happens there, stays there." Israel on the hand is known for conflict instead of the amazing innovations that come out of Jewish nation-state daily whether it be agricultural, medical, technology or more specific milestones like leading in degrees per capita, patents per capita, Nobel prize winners per capita and so on. In essence, the world knows more misinformation about Israel than countries known for committing genocide. Yes, Syria is in that bunch.
Next, we need to look at the regional actors and their role in shaping the Middle East. The Saudis, for example, are best known as the region’s “fence-sitters.” The Gulf countries are weak. Jordan is not a big player. Syria has murdered some 32,000-plus people. Lebanon lost its focus via Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Egypt is struggling to maintain itself. Iran has not always been ruled by Islamic clerics and Iran and Turkey are not even traditionally Arab though they continue to push one thing: Islam. So today is good in Israel but Iran might change that and has a head-start with little deterrents (minus weak sanctions) in achieving its goal of gaining nukes.
So when David analyzed what the world had often raved about when highlighting the Great Arab world known for its astute philosophers, intellectuals, and innovators all he saw were dirty cities, underdeveloped towns, sewage left in the open, largely uneducated masses with no clear access to education or jobs. The hoopla didn't match the reality on the ground. Arab nations were not achieving the hype they had once been touted for by their global admirers. The cunning regional rulers had become expert at silencing their deprived masses until one dude lit himself on fire in Tunisia via his rooftop to rattle the cage, setting the Arab Spring-turned-Islamic winter into motion. Those same Arab “intellectuals” were not sharing their knowledge and certainly they were not job creators or even educating their youth or offering sustaining career paths. Something had changed. An exposure event had occurred and it had little to do with Israel.
We don’t have to be reminded of Bill Maher’s “Muslim Dior fashion show” to remember that women in head-to-toe black, stifling religious-inspired garb are likely unemployed and are unequal though the regional actors would rather deny this and instead point the middle finger at Israel.
On the flip side, most terrorists in the Middle East today are well-educated. They are doctors, lawyers, politicians who headed West for their education then returned to find their countries in disarray. The remaining population is poor, filled with incitement and clinging to the only thing remaining constant in their reach: Islam. This has provided new rulers with an opportunity to seize power.
Egypt was a largely secular country with a healthy Coptic Christian population until the hard-core, previously banned Muslim Brotherhood took over. Now Christians fear for their safety and longevity in Egypt. While Egypt's ruling party is not Hamas, they are still Islamists (and aligned with Hamas). Muhamed Morsi is Egypt’s 5th President, and his rise to power occurred faster than anyone could have ever imagined.
Obama, of course, had a hand in Morsi’s fast-track to power as our POTUS sold the Muslim Brotherhood to Western media as “moderates,” leaving Israel frantically gasping for its longstanding-oxygenated peace treaty with Egypt. Egypt’s Islamist move also threatens to undermine Israel’s longstanding peace treaty with Jordan.
Just take a hard look at Egypt today and you don’t need CNN’s Anderson Cooper to tell you tourism is virtually non-existent. If Egypt continues on its current path it will wind up just like Greece: bankrupt. Our stateside politicians will not be able to make headway in the Middle East unless they are transparent about the elephant in the room: Islamic extremism.
Today, millions Americans, and millions more around the globe are outraged by Pakistani teenage girl shot in the head by the Taliban for attending school, and standing up for her rights to an education. Malala Yousafzai's shooting serves as an unexpected springboard to the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Since Malala’s shooting, subsequent threats by the Taliban to put fatwas on her family and anyone else who stands against them resulted in the Taliban targeting yet another female activist, Hinna Khan, 17.
Most Americans, no matter which side of the political aisle they are aligned with, wouldn’t willingly turn back the clock on Israel or the remaining Middle East--so we must demand transparency from our nation’s leaders about what’s broken in the Middle East.
Hint, hint: It’s not the release of a Coptic Christian with a rap-sheet pretending to be an Israeli Jew--or his bum video on You Tube.
Jennifer Hanin is an Act For Israel founder, journalist, blogger and author of Becoming Jewish. Follow Jennifer via Twitter twitter.com/jennhanin