The uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East add further colour to conversations already tinged with Islam. Listening to such talk tells one as much if not more about the speakers as it does about the rebellions.
A politically correct generalisation has taken hold of contemporary observers who see a political unrest here, a natural disaster there, and are quite content to remain with their restricted perception of the events themselves. Yet there is more.
As we have seen, and many of us have experienced first-hand, the fury of nature means one thing in a place like Haiti but quite another in, say, Queensland. In one case we have despondency, riots even, in the other a resolute approach that already bears fruit as the emergency unfolds.
The same goes for politics. We may commiserate with the oppressed under a dictator, but in the end it takes two to establish any governance. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and so on, show us how high emotions, a tribal culture and an uncompromising frame of mind create difficulties for everyone. In Libya we witness it on a grand scale.
And the West - the West looks at the rebels and sees a struggle for freedom, not the fight for domination. It has mobilised its military arsenal to fight a dictator and his power base (built with our money through willing trade using the same blinkers by the way) and now faces the inevitable conundrum of how to conclude that strange exercise.
Suppose the rebels ‘win’, helped by the Allies of course. Will the US, Britain, France, and all the rest be happy with their ongoing support for a mishmash of people who nobody had bothered to evaluate as to their composition, their political, social and religious motives? Who can guarantee their version of a new state won’t feature the same ingredients of domineering, tribalism and religious fervour than their predecessors? And what happens should Gaddafi somehow remain in his seat? Then the situation would be even more bizarre.
Some circumspection was shown through co-opting the Arab League. How precarious that move is would be evident to anyone who has ever conducted business in those demographics, where the deals and expectations resemble the shifting sands making up their landscape. Agreements reached yesterday are broken today, points of view worked out today may mean nothing tomorrow. Add the spiritual demarcation of Islam and the scene is set for endlessly moving boundaries, re-interpreted alliances and plain old obfuscation.
Western politicians in the main still have not understood Islam as a culture, nor are they able to apply a discriminating view towards blocks of people. Just as the gullible Westerner is cheated in the souk, so are Western nations led down the garden path by Arab leaders and even by gesticulating and ululating locals.
The Arab League acts under its own priorities, in its own haggling and fluid way. The more formal and rigid framework of the Allies can’t follow those twists and turns.
When he encounters a swamp the wise traveller knows the best way is to stay clear, not to stalk around among its sludge hoping to find firm ground somewhere. We need more wise travellers to replace the current crop of homebodies who are so clueless about the big wide world out there.
This article was submitted to AIM by the author on 25-03-2011