Fair enough, but we’ll have better luck revoking oxygen than reforming the currency of hegemony’s greasy handshake. The venality of secular empire-building sits perhaps with singular awkwardness on Islam’s shoulders, as the latter is more poor man’s Rio Grande than usurious bastion of Ponzi-led prosperity. Nor is this a membership drive for Islam. Lefties and economic determinists are perhaps right to call it yet one more brand of opiate. What Islam furnishes though, at the present moment, are the particularities of a universal human aspiration for dignity and some semblance of self-determination. Entrenched power perennially demonizes today’s more vocal particularities in the hopes that the perennial, underlying and universal grievances which inform all temporal particularities are averted yet again. With all due respect to devout believers (and, again, with no comment to offer on Islam’s truth-content), political Islamism is, at the very least, a potent narrative vehicle for expressing the grievances of the region’s poor. What other vehicle do they have, Egypt’s ADHD version of democracy?
Near-universal aversion to political Islamism (best displayed in the utter silence to the brutal crackdown on Egypt’s MB) is a telling clue the broadest status quo perceives an elemental, clear-and-present danger in it. There isn’t one accretion of power (barring of course the hapless Erdogan) that holds nothing but contempt for the Muslim Brotherhood: The Egyptian Deep State, The Gulf Monarchies, Russia and China (each with its own domestic ‘Muslim problem’), more radical elements of Egyptian Islamism, more moderate elements of Egyptian Islamism, the Copts, the predominantly Shiite Persians, Syria’s Assad, The Palestinians (nursing a sense of betrayal over Morsi’s Israeli sympathies). An especially shameful calling-out goes to the so-called ‘liberal’ secularist groups in Egypt who discarded all that democracy rot to throw their support behind the coup. My God, is anybody left? Oh yes, we Americans, or at least that great American proxy-specter, the CIA. Of course American cynicism may be so fatuously self-assured at this point that we accept whoever ascends to the top of the heap, knowing any top dog must invariably do the IMF shuffle (a banking euphemism for ‘our bidding’). Certainly Morsi was up to that as will be, most likely, the Egyptian military (though Sisi is a fascinating wildcard for reasons to be discussed in subsequent outings)So in an odd sense, do we really count anymore in such quaint parochial matters as abetting the right thing? America’s profound dispiritedness and military-economy cooptation is truly a painful thing to behold.
So the MB, a disciplined movement with an eighty-year record of ‘socialized’ behavior, met with no one’s approval, except of course the People’s. Just wait until we get a gander at the nihilistic shadow-form soon to rise from its ashes. The message is patently clear: “democracy will not be making itself available to Islamism—and that’s final”. As Crooke points out in his recent essay disinviting Islamism from the democratic process only succeeds in inviting jihadist Salafism to discard democracy, hardly a tough pill for the harbingers of a global Caliphate to swallow, yet odd that the secular West should be the prescribing physician.
Thus it’s maps, and little else, that oblige a narrative narrated by states. Many bright seekers are to be forgiven for running afoul in Rand McNally-land. Viewed in the proper context (i.e. absent the cartographer’s ink-besotted hubris), the House of Saud is little more than a criminal family enterprise with a flag; oh yes, and some vague self-assigned mandate to act as the ‘guardian of Islam’ until of course the family business becomes threatened and huge swathes of Islam are deemed the enemy. I mean, you’re Jones, I’m Doe, they’re al Saud. Oh alright, that’s a little disingenuous. How much oil do you have in your basement?
Hegel teaches that internal contradictions, swelled to canyon-esque proportions, become impassable. The momentum of history is a wellspring that brooks no dam. Invariably some dialectic weighs in, often convulsively, to forge a third way. Take us to the bridge, by Georg! The House of Saud is despised by an overwhelming majority of its people. Its in-country ‘friends’ bestow the honor of thieves. Imagine if the Peak Oil folks are even halfway right and the Ghawar Field is at peak production. So, with the national treasure more under the bridge than in the ground, 25% of the Saudi population never managed to swim out of abject poverty?! Can anyone say ‘looming fierce populist backlash’?
Radical geopolitical relativism is one way to navigate wholly disrupted narratives. We deserve the veering plot we sow. The death of the author is post-modernism’s own version of nihilism. No action follows predictably from another. Planning horizons are kaput. The noosphere only accelerates the incoherence. Perhaps in such environments, the monomaniac is king. Frankly, what does it say of our own moral compass when we forge fair-weather friendships with unwavering nihilists? Or if you’re lost to moral compasses, what does it say of our intellectual compass when we’re seen darting distractedly over the maps of our own muddled making. Keystone Cops need little help trampling their own thin blue lines.
There is a litmus test for human decency which involves seeing only the pejorative in chaos. Indeed there may be no more consummate tyrant than the naiveté of decent men. This New Disorder may front a Weird New Order of the most perverse kind. Have we been reduced to military industrial complex cashiering, a CIA fiefdom here, a DOD fiefdom there, arm sales all round? Are bankable factions the real game i.e. any excuse to mobilize material and fund a revolving cast of Contras is gladly entertained? Create a pretense for moving shit around and boxes are bound to fall off the back of the truck. Chaos is money in the bank for someone and its own meretricious brand of power. If you really want to rob a bank, start a war that necessitates the shipment of billions of palleted dollars. Then, steal the palettes from a Baghdad warehouse. The fog of war meets the Great Train Robbery. How brilliant in the most psychopathic way. As my mother used to almost say, the tail that wags a mad dog is crazy like a fox in the henhouse. Eisenhower couldn’t have imagined the deformations the Complex would ultimately inflict upon the world.
Spirituality deepens with deprivation. Separation of church and state always seemed better suited to milquetoast Episcopalians preoccupied with middle-class striving. A fact-finding Caliph would be right to ask, how does one banish a borderless soul to the perdition of boxed-in Sundays? Indeed in the 1951 book based on his American stay (“The America I Have Seen”), Muslim Brotherhood founder Sayyid Qutb marvels at America’s penchant for building churches even as he decries her people’s shocking remove from the ‘spirituality of religion’. One proselyte’s rather spurious opinion perhaps, and yet cynics without borders wish to pitch an observation: America’s ubiquitous places of worship are owed in no small part to godless fiscal policy and the Free Exercise Clause’d tax exemption boondoggle. Qutb also speaks of the profound nihilistic void he encounters in middle America—and this at a time and place the Tea Baggers, if not most of us, would regard as our golden age!
But, back to that expedience, al Qaeda, less than 300 men before their disaffections were ‘institutionalized’ (Crooke), proliferated and enshrined in a narrative whose authors sought a durable bogeyman and a killer payday. Back in the day, you could have probably bought those kids apartments in Boise and they would have become unflappable Episcopalians for life. But that’s why you and I never get anywhere. We don’t think big! Small potatoes, Idaho given especially what thoroughly useful engines they (and the thousands who bought their poster) have become. They were made to be the cornerstone of a highly elastic terror industry instead; simultaneously on ‘our side’ in Syria and ‘the other side’ in Egypt after doing a stint on ‘the other side’ in Afghanistan before joining ‘our side’ in Libya. So is the U.S. narrative naively contradicted or is it madness by design or simply madness? (As the Arab Spring is one more chapter in a winter of eternal discontent. I call upon all remaining responsible journalists to retire that frostbitten descriptor. There’s little point adding to the narrative miscues.)
Back when NATO’s future zone of responsibility still favored loin clothes (and importantly, well before the Abrahamic faiths, certainly Islam) there were Egyptian, Babylonian, Syrian and Persian civilizations. Even by the tenth century, as Benson Bobrick reports in his book, “The Caliph’s Splendor”, London was a veritable “shabby town” while the Andalusian city of Córdoba, under the rule of Caliph Al Hakam II, boasted 200,000 homes, 300 mosques, 50 hospitals and 70 libraries. Thus the very notion of a modern Saudi state (essentially a European colonial invention, though vestiges of prior Saudi quasi-states date back to the 18th century) prosecuting war against these ancient empires is truly laughable. The Saudi monarchy would be hard-pressed to defend its princesses against midnight burqa-raids from bloated princelings. As for bona-fide civil unrest, who would put it down, impoverished Pakistani and Indonesian mercenaries, the militia arm of the Filipina maid brigade? The Sunni Rapid Response Force that Prince Bandar-Bush brags of assembling (Saudi Arabia’s answer to a French Foreign Legion) is a potentate’s pipedream, veritable killer maids astride Maginot Lines. You cannot subcontract yourself out of profound illegitimacy forever, not when human spirit has been so consummately enflamed. What was fanned in Damascus and Cairo by Riyadh will find its way to Riyadh. Absolute corruption is the weakest of all power formulations; Bandar’s mission to Russia, the eastbound forging of links with China, Indonesia, and Pakistan, the brazen support of a military junta in Egypt against a popularly-elected Islamist government—(before the frantic machinations of manufactured consent, a July 10 Egyptian Centre for Media Studies poll showed 26% support among Egyptians for the coup with 74% opposed or of no opinion)—all point to a family keenly aware of its own untenable position and, if denial would only allow it, its imminent demise.
Power holds on beyond the bitter end. I’m reminded of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s final speech December 21, 1989 before Bucharesters out for blood. Believing his socialist bromides will, as always, elate the shipped-in crowd, he thanks ‘the organizers of the event.’ The grainy video (available of course on YouTube) plays like Triumph of the Will, Interrupted. His self-belief complete and eerily hermetic, Ceauşescu repeatedly demands calm before a restless, inattentive square. But it’s useless. You can feel his power dissipating like a perforated canister of inert gas. Four days later he’d be dead. Even crazy old Ceauşescu had to be seen courting the petticoats of legitimacy. Sham elections are a ritual few dictators will part with. Their own sense of legitimacy craves the rote ballot box and damn it, they want a landslide! Not so the House of Saud, a stupendous vacuum among nations presiding atop a cartographer’s sleight-of-hand. In a sense, all the Saudis really have are borders—with oil wells inside; a House built on sand leached with oil. Thus, there’ll be no speeches, nor late-game gestures to curry legitimacy, assert sovereignty and the like. Legitimacy has never been a vexing point of debate. Make no mistake though. The Kingdom will bring down hell on earth before washing out like a bad dream into the Arabian, nay Persian, Gulf.