Middle East & North Africa – Secularism.

Sep 14, 2012

Discussion by: skeptatheos
What more do you feel can be done to bring –  and encourage/defend – secularism, free-thinking, and rationalism to the Middle East & North Africa?

I would like to cast a light on Maryam Namazie, and her call for secularism in the Middle East & Northern Africa;

These are amongst the hardest suffering regions of the globe, damaged by ignorance that even some theists in the UK would find unacceptable.

If you’re aware of causes, or people out within these regions that are sticking their heads above the parapet that are trying to make this happen, I – and no doubt others – would be very interested to read about it, as so far if they exist; it seems thin on the ground, most likely due to the dangers involved.

I understand that for a such a cause to exist within these areas is incredibly dangerous, that is why I ask; What can be done?

Thank you for your time,

John Lock.

43 comments on “Middle East & North Africa – Secularism.

  • 1
    Enkidu90046 says:

    I am a bit pessimistic about what can be done from the outside.  The change, ultimately, has to come from within and cannot be imposed from without.  The one thing we cannot do is pussy-foot around and tip-toe around the delicate sensibilities of the Islamic world because of their threats of violence (and acts of violence) if they feel their religion is being criticized in the West.  One thing we cannot do is compromise our Western values to appease people who wish not only for themselves to live in a 7th century world, but that the rest of us should to.  We cannot allow a de facto self-imposed version of their blasphemy laws in our societies because they are so thin-skinned that they resort to violence if they feel insulted.  All such behavior does is to embolden such behavior and give further reasons to follow the path they have been sadly following for far too long.

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    The issue is not so much Islam as it is profound ignorance,
    poverty and societies with no history or structures that prepares them for a
    participatory system of government. Add to that a complete absence of
    enlightened leadership and mix it with cynical manipulation by the clerical
    class and there you have it.

    In many respects, the Arab world is worse off today than
    during the immediate collapse of the Ottoman Empire at which time numerous
    nationalist movements were started.  Many
    of these were secular in nature and had significant collaboration among Sunnis,
    Shiites as well as Christians.

     This went horribly
    off-track with the start of the Arab-Israeli conflicts as dictators replaced
    the nationalist movements in Egypt, Iraq and Syria and entrenched monarchies in
    Saudi Arabia, Iran and Jordan.

    Truth is, if you remove Islam from the equation, it would
    probably be replaced with something else.

    I do agree with Enkidu, they need to get their house in order and we need to help with a soft touch.

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  • I agree with everything that Enkidu90046 said above.  Also:

    1. Western Governments need to settle the Palestinian problem pronto.  This is the number one recruitment motivation of Islamists.

    2. Set up an international policy of Cold War style containment of the Islamic States.

    3.  Limit immigration from those states to Apostates who support secularism.

    4.  Bombard the Islamic States with media content that promotes Humanism and Secularism.

     5. Immigrants to the West who are already here should be held firmly accountable to the secular values of their host countries.  Government must communicate in no uncertain terms that immigrants must assimilate:

    a) No religious symbols in public – a la France. (for everyone)

    b) Tax Real Estate and profit from Religious organizations (for everyone)

    c) Strengthen the Wall of Separation between Religion and State – no more prayer days, etc.

    d) Remove all traces of Religion from the public school curriculum except for comparative religion classes and historically pertinent material. Any private school that supports indoctrination and fails to teach the federally approved curriculum will loose accreditation and be sidelined with no funding.

    I agree with the statement above that this is not a problem that can be solved from the outside.  In fact, the West needs to withdraw as soon as possible. As much as it pains me to say, the quality of life will become so intolerable that at some point that moderates will fight back and restore the religiosity of their regions to a tolerable level.

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  • Islam is a major cause of ignorance, lack of progress and ensuing poverty in many societies. Interesting to ponder what Saudi Arabia , birthplace of Islam, would be like without oil…

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  • Well stated. 
    Tell me, I can’t get my head around the ‘Palestinian Problem’ in that Palestine is a more recent invention than Israel. The tribes of Israel were in the region 2500 years before the Arab conquest around 630 CE and those Arabs did not identify themselves as ‘Palestinian’. Not that I have much sympathy for either side but history does seem to acknowledge Jewish right of residence over the Palestinians. 

    Was this the primary reason for the setting up of the Israeli/Jewish state there?

    An interesting sideline- there’s a faction ‘Jews against Zionism’ (or similar) which denies any claim to the state of Israel and maintains that the diaspora should remain just that. Bizarre?

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  • 7
    Darth Imperius says:

    What can be done is to continue strengthening secularism in Western countries and promoting our civilization’s power. We must become more assertive culturally, reject all fundamentalist immigration, have zero tolerance for radical fundamentalism anywhere, and promote a larger cosmic vision and an aggressive Nietzschean ideology which dwarfs anything on offer by religious societies.

    Human beings respond to power; show them power, walk on the moon and Mars, become masters of the universe, and they will follow us. Show weakness, equivocation and decline, and radical religious groups will continue to gain ground globally.

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  • A major source of the area continuing to wallow in Islamist extremism is oil money.  Even oil poor nations in the area have populations greatly influenced by foreign (Saudi or Iranian) oil-funded media outlets, schools, imams trained in oil-funded institutions, etc.  The oil regimes are usually more extremist than oil-poor nations, because they don’t have to rely on taxing commerce and thus encouraging an merchant class that will be pragmatic and demand moderation; instead they can just rely on state-owned oil sectors for revenue and buy off or crush dissent from their radical agenda. 

    It’s like the difference between Spain and England in the Age of Exploration; Spain found gold and silver in the New World and its representative instution (the Cortes) withered and it remained an intolerant autocracy with a moribund rigid culture.  England (to the distress of its monarchs) found no such riches, and thus had to turn to its merchant class for revenue, making liberal democracy and plurarism inevitable and social and economic progress rapid.

    So how to smash the oil money?  End oil’s monopoly status as the only way to move people and things.  Since our cars in particular are unable to move without oil, we are a helpless captive market of the oil cartel which can set prices sky high without fear of drivers turning to a competing energy source.  How to do that?

    In America that is the proposed Open Fuel Standard Act (H.R. 1687 and S. 1603).  The central idea is to require that new cars from now on be able to run on alternative fuel or motive power.  Gasoline (petrol) cars specifically are required to be fully flex fueled vehicles (FFV), also able to run on ethanol and methanol.  This would cost automakers only about $130 per new car at the factory at most, and as little as 41 cents per car.  But despite the low burden this regulation would have a high impact.

    Methanol with an M is cheaper than gasoline without subsidies and even when taking mileage into account.  Just a few years after the mandate passes, a critical mass of methanol compatible cars will be on the roads, and filling station owners will find themselves  forced by circumstance to race each other to switch a pump to methanol or add a methanol pump, to avoid being undercut by their neighboring competitors.

    Methanol is made from natural gas (methane), coal, or biomass (inedible crop residues, weeds, trash, even sewage).  With such a widely varied range of resources that can make it, it can’t have its price spiked by a cartel that corners the market on the resource needed to make it.  And its low price is sustainable amid rising demand.

    With a hard cap on the price of oil, the mischief budget of the fanatic regimes is drained away as they scramble to stay in power rather than export madness.

    In 2008 both Obama and McCain promised to take this step but it has been forgotten.  More pressure is needed on our leaders to make this happen.  See OpenFuelStandard dot org.  Europe and other powers can do this too.

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  • 9
    Enkidu90046 says:

     “Islam is a major cause of ignorance, lack of progress and ensuing
    poverty in many societies. Interesting to ponder what Saudi Arabia ,
    birthplace of Islam, would be like without oil…”

    I have often wondered the same thing.  In fact, while I think there are plenty of great reasons for our government seriously funding research into alternative energy sources, the fact that if and when we are able to get off of fossil fuels will take a great deal of financial power away from the various Islamic theocracies of the world is all the more reason to do it.  I have a feeling that if their power and economies were threatened with collapse due to oil revenues drying up, it might just be the spark that ignites the enlightenment in the Islamic world.  And if it doesn’t, then they will become completely irrelevant to the rest of us living in the 21st century.

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  • 10
    xxoosh7401443 says:

    you are right The change, ultimately, has to come from within and cannot be imposed from without. and have the right of all you said..I live there and have the feeling I’m living in the dark age of 7th century. thank the net finally come to me and I can read, and watch the world I longed to know long time ago., it’s like a dream come true to me.now I’m working my brain .you know? hope you anderstand waht I meant , cause even I can find some friend like me I mean secular not riligios , we don’t discuss any,we haven’t much studdy..for most of us making ends meet or daily needs that the prioroty of their living. only me, I’m the lucky of the middle class survival of society who have time to seek for knowladge.

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  • Islam is as much a cause of ignorance as is Catholicism, Judaism or any other religious “ism” for that matter. During it’s 1,400 hundred years history it has had several periods of extraordinary culture, wealth and tolerance and periods like now. Much like Judaism and Catholicism had periods of (relative) enlightenment and others of ignorance and darkness.

    As an Atheist, I don’t have any love for the roles any of these religions play  in today’s society but what I am saying is that the principal factor in the Arab world today is ignorance, poverty and morally bankrupt governments.  That is what needs to be changed. Change that,  and Islam will become less virulent than it is today. Turkey would be a case in point.

    Over time these religions will all go away. But the way to deal with them now is not to confront the ideology directly but to improve the conditions were basic education, welfare  can exist. Rationalism then will take hold.

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  • 12
    LaurieB says:

    Do you think that prior to 630 CE, in that dusty old strip of land there were only tribes of Israel that were all Jewish? And that in that year a hoard of Arabs swarmed into the place and tried to take it from them? No. That place has been home to various sorts of tribes and has always been a crossroads of invasion.  There is no such thing as Israelites were there first or Palestinians were there first.  The people who are the ancestors of all these tribes have every right to live there and this has nothing to do with what’s happening now in that place.  The “Palestinian Problem” that I’m talking about is a post WWII problem.  That is where you should start your reading if you would like to understand exactly what this situation is all about.

    I am well aware of Jews against Zionism.  What’s so bizarre about it?  They are Jews who believe that they should stay where they are and assimilate into their own societies and not go to a land that doesn’t belong to them personally, and take it for their own. They object to the inhumane treatment of the Palestinians and they don’t want their fellow Jews to be part of that.  They fear that their own Fundamentalist Jews are leading them down a dangerous and morally wrong path and that it will end very badly for all of them. I agree with them. I want our American Jews to embrace this home.  I want them to assimilate and be productive citizens here, in this place.  That’s what I want for our Muslim immigrants too and every other kind of immigrant we have here.  I have no doubt that Israel is an apartheid and the Jews against Zionism don’t want any part of that and I commend them for having the guts to say so.

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  • The Western powers agreed to the partition and establishment of the state of Israel in 1947 as the result of German atrocities during the second world war. It was also as a result of their guilt of having done nothing during that period and frankly 1,000 years of collective atrocities again European Jews by practically every major European country.

    While I am in favor of providing Jews with their own homeland as reparation for the atrocities of the past, why on earth do you take land away from Arabs to do so.   Historically Arabs have actually been reasonably tolerant towards Jews as compared to Europeans so why should they pay.

    Hell, I would have given them a chunk of Bavaria!

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  • 14
    Enkidu90046 says:

     “The people who are the ancestors of all these tribes have every right to
    live there and this has nothing to do with what’s happening now in that

    That may well be true, but the Palestinian people, revisionist history notwithstanding, are by-and-large not those people.  They, like the bulk of the European Jews who moved to the region from the late 1800s up through the recognition of Israel, were recent immigrants to the land as well.  One of the big myths about Israel was that the Jews with European aid, just swooped in and carved Israel out of Arab lands and stole it from their rightful owners.  That isn’t what happened any more than the Israeli version of “land with no people for a people without land.”  The real history is far more complex than much of the sloganeering would have you believe.

    By the way, I don’t believe that there is anything like “Arab land” any more than there is “Muslim land,” “Jewish land,” or “Christian land” — land is just land.  Demographics on a land can change for a variety of reasons.  And people have a right to self-determination, whether they be Jewish, Muslim, Arab, or European, regardless of how the land is characterized.

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  • 15
    Enkidu90046 says:

     One could make various arguments for and against whether Israel should have been formed where it is in the first place.  Frankly, I disagree with a good part of your version of the history of Israel, but it is moot.  The reality is that Israel exists now, and has for more than 60 years and it isn’t going anywhere, just like the Palestinian people exist now and aren’t going anywhere.  Debating the propriety of the original creation of Israel is a non-starter.  The question is where do we go from here to bring some semblance of peace to the region.

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  • Enkidu,

    I agree with you. In fact, you could probably argue that most nations today have been created on the back of some sort of dislocation and even atrocities committed against an indigenous people. Israel is no exemption and the fact is that today,it is a reality and a nation. Most if if not all nations are born with an original sin. It does not make them illegitimate but it should make them aware.

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  • 17
    LaurieB says:


    I wonder why you find it important to delegitimize the Palestinians. Like I said in my #1, Western Governments need to solve the whole screwed up situation there while we still can. There is a terrifying force that has the place in it’s sights and their momentum is increasing. While we nitpik over who got there from where in what century, young men of the Islamic states are pouring out into the streets screaming for Jihad. 

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  • 18
    Fouad Boussetta says:

    I really like your post, LaurieB, especially the last paragraph.
    You write: “In fact, the West needs to withdraw as soon as possible.”
    Indeed, what are the United States think they are  doing, giving one and a half billion dollars a year to EGYPT?!?

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  • 19
    LaurieB says:


    Nobody had a problem with that gift of money to Egypt as long as they kept their angry eyes averted from Israel.  How long that will last is anyone’s guess.  With the news of the past three days, we can actually feel the tension over this here in the States.  Should we take it away? Apparently, that cash gift is a colossal carrot  on a stick. What about the millions of our tax dollars that go to Israel as a gift?  If the actual figures were put in front of the public, how long would either of these last? People die here for lack of health insurance.  Education needs help. Dude. I want my money back.

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  • 20
    chris 116 says:

    For anyone interested in a potted history of Palestine/Israel, go to the New Yorker website and search “blood and sand”. It’s a book review of several pages. I’m no expert but the reviewer doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind.

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  • 21
    Enkidu90046 says:


    Where did I delegitimize the Palestinians?  Read my post in reply to you again, and then read the one that follows it in response to Vmar. I certainly think that battling over the supposed “original sin” of the creation of Israel is a non-starter, just as I think that assertions that the Palestinian people don’t really exist and that their identity is a recent political creation is a non-starter. People have a right to self-determination. Israel exists in the here and now, the Palestinians exist in the here and now, and neither are going anywhere, so we need to figure out what to do going forward. That will probably mean that both groups are going to have to give up past grievances, real or imagined and stop trying to re-fight the 1947-1949 war.

    However, given some statements made here, I felt the need to set the record straight about some of the incorrect factual assertions made about the creation of Israel. There has been a pretty strong (and fairly successful) attempt by many to create a revise the history of the conflict to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. My point is that it is just as much a false history to say that the land of Israel was empty before the Jews got there as it is to say that the European Jews carved Israel out of Arab lands and threw the rightful owners who had lived their for generations off of their land.  Both histories are self-serving nonsense.

    The land that is now Israel and the Palestinian territories was sparsely populated, but populated nonetheless by Jews and Muslim and Christian Arabs.  From the late 1800s through the middle of the 20th century, the region experienced a large influx of BOTH Jews and Arabs.  The Jews primarily emigrated from Europe, whereas the Arabs emigrated from various parts of the Arabia.

    The vast majority of BOTH present-day Israel and present day Palestine are made up of relatively recent immigrants and their descendants.  It isn’t like the formation of Israel occurred in the way even the United States was formed by driving the indigenous Native Americans off of their land.  The history of the region, even the relatively recent history (i.e., going back to the mid-1800s), is far more complex than that.  The demographics of the region changed markedly due to the influx of immigrants.  This was further complicated by the administration of the region by the Ottoman Turks, up through 1917, and thereafter by the British.

    Cultural and religious clashes between Jews and Arabs occurred before the influx of European Jewry, but definitely escalated in nature as more Jews and Arabs moved to the region.  Things got particularly bad when Haj Amin Al-Husseini was named the “Grand Mufti of Jerusalem” by the British.  For those of you who don’t know about Al-Husseini (I believe he was Arafat’s uncle), I suggest you brush up a bit on the man and what a despicable human being he was:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H

    I don’t mean to derail the thread with the history of the ME conflict, but there have been a few serious misstatements regarding the history of the conflict that I felt needed to be corrected.

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  • 22
    OHooligan says:

    This is what you’re up against:

    Wissam Buhmeid, the commander of the Tripoli government-sanctioned
    Libya’s Shield Brigade, effectively a police force for Benghazi,
    maintained …. “There were definitely people from the
    security forces who let the attack happen because they were themselves
    offended by the film; they would absolutely put their loyalty to the
    Prophet over the consulate. The deaths are all nothing compared to
    insulting the Prophet.”  – from independent.co.uk

    “The deaths are all nothing compared to
    insulting the Prophet”

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  • 23
    OHooligan says:

     A Reasonable Proposal towards a solution, thanks Carney3.   Yes, cutting off the funding is the only long term way to sideline these extremists, and finding an alternative to fossil fuel oil is the only way to do that.

    Well, maybe not the only way.  Seizing the oil resources by force might also work.  Oh, no, wait, didn’t somebody try that already?

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  • 24
    LaurieB says:

    Your “corrections” concerning the Palestinian demographics are seriously suspect. Where the hell are you getting this stuff?  I quickly scanned through several google sources and the ones supporting your view are such obvious Israeli Zionist propaganda. Here is the Wiki page on Palestinian demographics:


    There isn’t a single reference on it that supports your claim. 

    You said:
    “The vast majority of BOTH present-day Israel and present day Palestine are made up of relatively recent immigrants and their descendants.”

    Plenty of references included in the Wiki article support your claim that present day Israelis are recent immigrants but absolutely not true for the Palestinians.

    When Zionists revise history to say that the land of Palestine was empty or not well utilized or that the Palestinian people are new immigrants composed of a motley band of bedouins from here and there, this is exactly what I mean by delegitimization of Palestinians.

    Data from the British Mandate census is the kiss of death for your assertion.  From now on, if you want to press your case on this I will ask you to post specific references.  I think we should drop it, to tell you the truth. As  you said, we’re moving too far off the original question posted above.

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  • 25
    Carney3 says:

    Stupid cheap shot. We didn’t try to seize Iraq’s oil resources. We handed them over to the Iraqis immediately upon handover of sovereignty way back in June 2004, and Iraqi oil revenue has gone exclusively to the Iraqi government ever since. As had always been the intention.

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  • 26
    Enkidu90046 says:

    The data from the British Mandate census defined “Palestine” to include not only all of present day Israel but also all of present day Palestine. I am not 100% certain, but I believe it also included at least some part of what is present day Jordan. Regardless, Israel was not recognized on all of what was then known as Palestine, only a a portion of it. Of particular importance is also how the Jews became a majority in those areas of Palestine that later became Israel.  By and large, it wasn’t by forcibly driving Palestinians off of their land (although I am not saying this never happened).  It was through both legal and illegal immigration and by purchasing land from the landowners (the aforementioned Al-Husseini was a major land-owner who would sell land to the Jews secretly, while imposing death sentences against other Arabs who did, then encouraging his fellow Arabs to rise up and drive the Jews off of the land that he had just sold them).

    Demographics change. The fact that what later became Israel didn’t always have a Jewish majority doesn’t lead to the conclusion that the reason it later did have one was because Arabs were driven off of the land or otherwise displaced by Zionist settlers through nefarious illegal means or ethnic cleansing.

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  • 27
    LaurieB says:

    “Demographics change”  It seems so benign when it’s phrased like that.  Like, oh well, you know how us H.  sapiens just tend to drift around on this earth, here and there and whatever.  But seriously, Enkidu, you don’t really believe it to be like that, do you?  (rhetorical question)

    Land grabs have been and are presently, a nasty violent business. There are aggressors and there are victims who lose their land, lives, honor and everything that their ancestors worked for. This is a given. If you want some examples it would be a two page long comment, or on second thought, It’s a very long book. 

    All I’m asking for here is that you acknowledge the truth of the situation.  Isn’t that what we do here?  The historical facts of this situation point solidly to the Palestinians as being on the losing side of this aggressive land grab. Let’s stop all this historical whitewashing and political mamby-pambying around and get some solid solutions on the table before it’s too late.  (could be that we’re already in the “too late” category.)  But can you at least acknowledge that the non-zionist jews could be on to something here when they claim that the actions of Israel are not doing the Jews any favors in general, and that the sooner the two state solution is firmly implemented and reparations made, the better for everyone? I can’t understand how anyone at this point could be so myopic as to keep supporting Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and every other human rights violation there, in the face of the larger political situation!

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  • I met the man who re-wrote the story of Passover for the Kibbutz HaShomer Hatzir movement.  This organisation is a profoundly atheist movement that took its political ideology from the far left.  He told me that he removed every reference to god within the story but his version was rejected because it was too religious !

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  • 29
    jimmmmmy says:

    That would have been the best solution , but the Swiss objected. They would have been immediately held accountable for all the loot the Germans had put into their hands.

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  • 30
    jimmmmmy says:

    European Jews who arrived after 1946 are the root of the problem . As well as the 750000 Russian Jews who fled or were sent to Irael after 1989, who greatly exacerbated the problem. Historically Palestine was was a peaceful mixed society until 1946 and the tensions were beginning to subside until 1989. If the European Jewish problem had been properly addressed and Jewish property returned to the survivors , there would be no Palestinian problem. But you are right,the point is moot, and love them or hate them Israel is the US`s baby.

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  • 31
    jimmmmmy says:

    That is a flat out lie. Dick Cheney and friends effectively own most of Iraqs oil paying so called royalties to the ruling Junta, is much closer to the truth.

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  • 32
    OHooligan says:

    Stupid cheap shot appears to have hit something.  Stupid to step out in front of it.

    So Touchy!!!!   I never said Iraq, I never said ‘US’, which I assume from context is “we” in your post.
    There’s a long history of attempting to acquire resources by invasion.  I don’t think USA invented the concept.  I was just pointing out that it’s not a good alternative to doing what you suggest.

    Since you claim to know the intentions of the  US,  I wish you
    success in promoting the path to energy independence which was the
    subject of the comment I replied to. 

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  • 34
    Carney3 says:

    I disagree about the poverty.  Before around 1970, when OPEC took control of the world oil market and geostrategically siginficant wealth began flowing to the Mideast, the most important and influential nation there was Egypt, run by a secular regime, and its ideology of secular nationalism was broadly supported in the Arab world.  Today the most important nations there are the oil-wealthy powers, and they spread Islamism. 

    Turkey’s relative tolerance and secularism stems from its lack of oil.  Forced to rely on commerce, it has a middle class that has to focus on the realities of this world rather than focusing on oil-funded dreams of martyrdom and paradise.

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  • 35
    Carney3 says:

    So what exactly did you mean by “oh no wait, didn’t somebody try that already?” if that was not a shot at the US-led campaign in Iraq?

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  •  “Turkey’s relative tolerance and secularism stems from its lack of oil”


    Turkey’s secularism has absolutely nothing to do with oil (or the lack thereof).  Turkey’s secularism stems from a combination of a unique historical position and the appearance of an equally unique figure at the right time and in the right place.

    At the end of WWI, the Turkish nation was created form the core remnants of the Ottoman Empire. An Islamic empire that had lasted over 600 years and, at times, had been the most powerful in the Western World. Unlike many of the newly created Arab nations during the 1920’s, Turkey benefited from a strong and highly discipline Army, an experienced civil service and a highly educated core. Istanbul was a world class city with strong influences from Western Europe, particularly France.

    During the 20’s and 30’s under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), Turkey went though a profound revolution aggressively eradicating fundamentalist Islam, implementing educational reform, women’s suffrage and creating a new ruling class (a secular military) as well as a Turkish identity. It is this revolution which is responsible for the secularism of modern Turkey. In fact, Turkey was significantly more secular during the period 1940 to 1990 than it is today under Erdogan.

    While Egypt was no Turkey, it too had a significant;y more advanced government than many of the other Arab government and while Nasser was no Ataturk, he also managed to instil a some degree of secularism in Egypt which exists to this day.

    Oil is not the answer; leadership, education, wealth distribution and a secular government are. Needless to say, a backward country with no leadership but lots of money (Saudi Arabia) can certainly make things worse, but it is not the cause of the Arab dilemma today.

    Lastly, I am not saying that Ataturk was a saint, ask any Armenian, simply that strong secular leadership was an important reason why Turkey is different.

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  • 37
    Carney3 says:

    You have some legitimate points. But I’m well aware of Turkish history. The fact remains that even in the pre-Ataturk era, Islam in Turkey was of a different character than in Saudi Arabia or Iran. Wahhabism, the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia, was a marginal, backwater sect in the Ottoman era, regarded as a heresy because it re-classified monotheists such as Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians as “polytheists” worthy only of death. Orthodox or classical Islam regards non-Muslim monotheists as having certain rights in a Muslim polity, including the right to live, as long as they obey the law, pay tax, etc. This disagreement culminated in the caliph of Islam in Constantinople ordering the chief Wahhabi cleric and the head of the Saud family to be executed as heretics, and their remains left out to be eaten by dogs, then thrown into the sea rather than given proper Muslim burial. Prayers of thanksgiving were ordered to be said throughout the Ottoman Empire over the deaths of those “enemies of Islam”.

    There would have been no possibility of the *relatively* tolerant Islam of the Ottomans being relaced by out-and-out secularism had Turkey been hit with what is now called the “resource curse”.

    And today, it is Wahhabism, or at least Wahhabi-influenced Islam, that totally dominates the Sunni world, and Khomeini infulenced Islam that domniates the Shia world, and the cause of that is oil money. Saudi money, and money from the “mini Saudis” in the Gulf, pours into institutions around the world, either radicalizing once moderate ones, or founding new radical ones.

    As Robert Zubrin, author of “Energy Victory”, says, it’s as if the Vatican suddenly had its wealth and influence replaced by that of Christian Identity.

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  •  “There would have been no possibility of the *relatively* tolerant Islam
    of the Ottomans being replaced by out-and-out secularism had Turkey been
    hit with what is now called the “resource curse”.”

    We may be splitting hairs here but I do disagree with this statement. The Ottoman empire could have been bathing in oil and it would not have made a difference. Let’s face it, after 600 years, it was a declining system (being picked apart my the emerging powers) who made the mistake of aligning themselves with the wrong side in WWI.

    Ottoman Islam was more “enlightened” than the Wahhabi strain simply because it was a more advanced society (as you point out). Heck, the Abbasid Islamic empire of the 8th century was probably more enlightened than modern Wahhabi today.

    Yes oil has had an adverse impact on these areas as it has empowered the more backward elements of those cultures to take root. But they took root because there was a vacuum. Pan Arab nationalism was beginning to take root in the middle east as early as the 1900’s and through the 1950’s. It was only mildly Islamic in nature and in fact many of the leading intellectuals at the time were Christians.

    While I admittedly over-simplify it, the collapse of Pan-Arab nationalism is what resulted in what we have today. It collapse because;

    1) These societies simply did not have the education nor civic culture to nurture it

    2) There was a total lack of effective and enlightened leadership. Instead, they got Assad, Saddam, Gaddafi and others, some perverting the origins of the Baathist Party for their own gain.

    3) Continuing intervention by the European powers who intentionally attempted to undermine these nationalist movements. (Well, they got worse now). This created the antagonism that exist today.

    4) The creation of the state of Israel and the ongoing Palestinian problem creating further alienation.

    Oil was not the problem, it just makes it worse

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  • 39
    Emdee Aalms says:

    Hmm, secularism in the middle East an North Africa !!!
      It costs nothing to dream, but this is such a big dream.
       Secularism (not considering god and all the immaterial stuffs) is too much for this bloodthirsty, capable of anything in the name of Allah. It’s more than a quantum leap.

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  • 40
    Infodrunk says:

    The region will work itself out eventually due to social networking. People can now send to each other video of everything from nude pictures to violent crackdowns in the streets. With democracy sweeping the region even if some vote in Islamic fundamentalist parties, most won’t last. Just look at Iran and hell how the Taliban was viewed (only reason they even came to power was due to outside assistance and support) and remains viable today mainly because there isn’t an effective Pashtun nationalist party to compete with them. 

    That is the other short term solution, ultranationalism. Turkey’s leader Ataturk used it to wean the newly realized Turkish people away from Islamic and even local tradition towards modernist thought and ‘European’ behavior. Secularism there resembles some European countries that regulate religion as that is what Turkey does by stamping its approval of mosques and religious figures that show moderation. Then we have former Soviet republics, Albania, Bosnia and so on which have not quite caught on to fundamentalism either due to years of exposure to atheism. The forced part of it a negative, but really in terms of how things are today much more open than things would be with religious societies. Some of these conflicts in the region have much to do with nationalism as well. This is the case with the Palestinians in particular where Christians and Muslims are united in their opposition to the occupation for example. The abuses can be horrific, especially towards women of course. ‘Culture’ is no excuse obviously, but there is little recourse at this time other than letting things run their course. Interference unites all elements and emboldens the fundamentalists ultimately. 

    Like most of the world, this can also be viewed as religion trying to fight back against progress. Here in the US we’re still contending with religious extremism despite being highly developed and educated for example. The tide is slowly turning as more people are exposed to critical thinking, science and different cultures and countries as they are not and not as they portrayed in mass media outlets. This can only be positive in the long term so an optimistic view isn’t really out of order here. 

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  • 41
    xxoosh7401443 says:

    You know I read about all religion except Islam , I read them like a kind of meditation ..try to solve the unsolvable question about the Lord Creator God Allah Buddha .. till get tired and fall asleep. but we can’t keep our eyes closed about what’s going  because of religion, their must be a Law.there are alto of obvious about Islam they not allow to argue about especially in Muslim world they consider a( red light  ) means it’s danger to talk about.. as my fate to live with them so I’d rather keep my mouth shut..when I live In a world where law can protect me , then it’s different..so when law protect freedom of speech then those who react dangerously the law could stop them, till that day I’ll keep meditation

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  • 42
    GaiusIuliusTaberna says:

    Its not much but there are a few facebook groups that fit the description of atheist and middle eastern, the one I most frequently comment on and share is the Iranian atheist/agnostic movement, the moderator is pretty nice and she seems to appreciate my comments there. Practically everyone I know from the middle east are either secular or are sufficiently liberal that their conception of Islam is more tolerable than most of my liberal christian friends.

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  • In reply to #41 by Emdee Aalms:

    Hmm, secularism in the middle East an North Africa !!!  It costs nothing to dream, but this is such a big dream.  

    I have 2 questions :
    1- Why don’t we dream bigger than this, why don’t we bring a universal secularism for all the world and religious would be the minority.. don’t you think most of the problems in the world would be solved including Middle east conflict
    2- Why it should be only a dream… it kills me when I don’t see godless people fighting for their cause.
    why there is no big picture of what we want to be reached

    as middle eastern I’m in need to find solution for now not for the far future at least for my children future

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