In the days leading up to this week’s ghastly attacks in Paris – which are, justifiably but inevitably, inescapable in the media – there was an event that, in the great scheme of things, might have been more important.
But you’d never know from the American media.
We’ll get back to that.
Between Two Hungry Dobermen: It’s said that the most dangerous thing to be in the world is a moderate Arab. For the past eighty years, the first line of tactics among the extremes in Muslim thought – which are a minority among the Islamic community, but which surely do command a disproportionate share of Muslim and Occidental mindshare, pro and con – was to obliterate the “moderates”; those who sought accomodation with the West, those who spoke for reform among the dictatorships and oligarchs and petty monarchs and warlords that had divvied up most of the Muslim world, and especially those who sought to bury the hatchet with the Jews someplace other than in the Jews’ heads.
Going back to the thirties, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem – an ally of Hitler, and the first “Palestinian” extremist – didn’t much bother with attacking Jews; most of his energies went into purging Arabs who sought ethnic cleansing with insufficient ardor.
So successful has it been among Palestinians in particular that Al-Fatah, Yassir Arafat’s old group, a group tied to a river of Jewish blood in the seventies and eighties, is considered a “moderate” Palestinian group.
But it’s not just Palestinians. In 1981, after stepping far out of the ideological box to meet with Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin (himself, not to mince words, a former terrorist) and design a peace with Israel that still stands almost four decades later, Egyptian dictator Anwar El-Sadat was murdered by extreme Islamist elements in his own Army.
Speaking moderation in the Islamic world is extraordinary – and, outside a few enclaves, the US and to a lesser extent India and a diminishing extent Western Europe, extraordinarily dangerous.
Talk Like An Egyptian: And so Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi’s speech on New Years Day (which coincided with Mohammed’s birthday this year) is more than a little notable. Not “revolutionary” as some have suggested; he’s not a Muslim Calvin or Luther or Knox.
Still, in a community that is rightfully petrified by eighty years of brutal suppression of moderate opinion, it’s energizing to hear:
“I say and repeat, again, that we are in need of a religious revolution. You imams are responsible before Allah. The entire world is waiting on you. The entire world is waiting for your word … because the Islamic world is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost. And it is being lost by our own hands,” el-Sisi said.
“We need a revolution of the self, a revolution of consciousness and ethics to rebuild the Egyptian person — a person that our country will need in the near future,” the President said…“It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible that this thinking — and I am not saying the religion — I am saying this thinking,” el-Sisi said.
He continued: “This is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world! Does this mean that 1.6 billion people (Muslims) should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is 7 billion — so that they themselves may live? Impossible!”
As many in the West ask the hitherto-rhetorical question “when will a moderate Muslim speak out against the madness”, here’s a short answer.
Or it might be. Naturally, the extremists behind the carnage in Paris ignored Al-Sisi, although they were hardly the audience he was addressing.
Al-Sisi – a former general, at the head of a large, relatively sophisticated and reliable military (although so was Sadat), may be one of few Muslim leaders who could get away with such an affront. And Islam is hardly monolithic; the rift between Shia and Sunni is just one of many that ensure that there can be no one spokesperson for all, or even most, of Islam.
The speech was no “95 Theses” – but then, that event didn’t resolve its contemporaneous conflict, either – but it’s as close as we’ve seen from the Muslim world in a long, long time.