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Point de Vue de l'Historien Bernard Lewis sur la Révolte
contre l'Injustice des Sociétés Arabes
Interview par David Horowitz
25/2/11- Jerusalem Post
Traduction en résumé et principales conclusions par www.nuitdorient.com
Voir aussi les 50 derniers articles & ce qui concerne les pays arabes
- Les sociétés arabes ne sont pas prêtes pour une démocratie à l'occidentale, notamment des élections libres et transparentes. A l'opposé, elles ont une institution incontournable, "majlis al shoura" l'assemblée consultative, celle que le roi ou le sultan consulte, encore faut-il qu'il y ait un roi ou un sultan.
- B Lewis raconte une anecdote de la Turquie à une époque où après que des élections libres et transparentes aient eu lieu en 1950, laissant la place à l'opposition dirigée par Adnan Menderes, un homme sans scrupules, une ère de corruption commença. Lors d'une réunion à l'université d'Ankara, un homme dit "le père de la démocratie c'est Adnan Menderes". Devant l'étonnement de l'assistance, il ajouta: "Il viola la mère de la démocratie"
- En Egypte, en dehors du parti d'Etat, les partis religieux ont un double avantage sur les autres. Ils ont d'abord un réseau naturel de communication et de relations publiques, les mosquées, les écoles religieuses, les centres de soins… Puis ils ont un langage familier et compréhensible.
- Il ne faut surtout pas se tromper sur le visage complaisant offert aujourd'hui par les partis religieux, notamment les Frères musulmans. Ils sont extrêmement dangereux et ils mèneront les pays vers un sordide Moyen Age et puis le pétrole n'est pas éternel…
- Les médias modernes permettent de faire des comparaisons immédiates et à grande échelle. Etre très pauvre est très abject en soi, mais ceci devient intolérable, si vous vous apercevez qu'il y a des pauvres moins pauvres que vous.
- L'abstinence forcée sexuelle des jeunes adultes en milieu musulman a 2 solutions: si vous avez les moyens, c'est le bordel, sinon ce sont les 72 vierges qui vous attendent au paradis…
- En Iran, il y a 2 oppositions, l'une est au sein du régime, l'autre est contre le régime. L'Occident doit de préférence aidé cette dernière, car elle est plus populaire.
- A Amman, un Irakien ayant fui le régime de Saddam Hussein voit à la télévision israélienne un gamin palestinien montrant son bras bandé, suite à une altercation avec un policier. Il s'exclame: "Je serais heureux d'avoir les 2 bras cassés et pouvoir m'exprimer ainsi devant la télévision irakienne!"
- Un officier britannique décrivant la modernité islamique: "Avant les nobles vivaient dans leurs domaines, maintenant l'état est le domaine des nouveaux nobles"
- Que recherchent les révoltés arabes. On ne le sait pas encore. On sait par contre qu'ils rejettent les tyrans oppresseurs et corrompus qui les déshonorent. La question qui se pose n'est pas la liberté contre la servitude, mais la justice contre l'oppression et l'injustice.
- Il faut compter sur le groupe des femmes pour accélérer le processus de modernisation, citant un écrivain turc de 1880, Namik Kemal: "Nous sommes tombés derrière l'Occident à cause du traitement que nous infligeons à nos femmes. Nous nous privons des talents et services de la moitié de la population. Et nous laissons l'éducation de l'autre moitié à des femmes ignorantes, opprimées et attardées"
- Un Palestinien a dit "aujourd'hui, le meilleur espoir d'un arabe est de vivre en citoyen de seconde zone dans un état juif".
- Un espoir immédiat de rapprochement entre Israël et les Arabes: un danger et un ennemi commun, l'Iran. Un espoir un peu plus lointain, l'image d'Israël comme société libre où la femme a tous les droits.
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A mass expression of outrage against injustice
By DAVID HOROVITZ
Historian Bernard Lewis diagnoses the fundamental cause of the region-wide explosion of protest, and dismisses Western notions of a quick fix.
the renowned Islamic scholar, believes that at the root of the protests
sweeping across our region is the Arab peoples’ widespread sense of injustice.
“The sort of authoritarian, even dictatorial regimes, that rule most of the
countries in the modern Islamic Middle East, are a modern creation,” he notes.
“The pre-modern regimes were much more open, much more tolerant.”
But Lewis regards a dash toward Western-style elections, far from representing a solution to the region’s difficulties, as constituting “a dangerous aggravation” of the problem, and fears that radical Islamic movements would be best placed to exploit so misguided a move. A much better course, he says, would be to encourage the gradual development of local, self-governing institutions, in accordance with the Islamic tradition of “consultation.”
believes that it was no coincidence that the current unrest erupted first in
Once described as the most influential post-war historian of Islam and the Middle East, Lewis, 94, set out his thinking on the current Middle East ferment in a conversation with me before an invited audience at the home of the
Does the current wave of protest in the region indicate that, in fact, the Arab masses do want democracy? And is that what we’re going to see unfolding now?
The Arab masses certainly want change. And they want improvement. But when you say do they want democracy, that’s a more difficult question to answer. What does “democracy” mean? It’s a word that’s used with very different meanings, even in different parts of the Western world. And it’s a political concept that has no history, no record whatever in the Arab, Islamic world.
In the West, we tend to get excessively concerned with elections, regarding the holding of elections as the purest expression of democracy, as the climax of the process of democratization. Well, the second may be true – the climax of the process. But the process can be a long and difficult one. Consider, for example, that democracy was fairly new in
We, in the Western world particularly, tend to think of democracy in our own terms – that’s natural and normal – to mean periodic elections in our style. But I think it’s a great mistake to try and think of the
One of the most moving experiences of my life was in the year 1950, most of which I spent in
What followed I can only describe as catastrophic. Adnan Menderes, the leader of the party which won the election, which came to power by their success in the election, soon made it perfectly clear that he had no intention whatever of leaving by the same route by which he had come, that he regarded this as a change of regime, and that he had no respect at all for the electoral process.
And people in
The others looked around in bewilderment. They said, “Adnan Menderes, the father of Turkish democracy? What do you mean?” Well, said this professor, “he raped the mother of democracy.” It sounds much better in Turkish...
This happened again and again and again. You win an election because an election is forced on the country. But it is seen as a one-way street. Most of the countries in the region are not yet ready for elections.
I would view that with mistrust and apprehension. If there’s a genuinely free election – assuming that such a thing could happen – the religious parties have an immediate advantage. First, they have a network of communication through the preacher and the mosque which no other political tendency can hope to equal. Second, they use familiar language. The language of Western democracy is for the most part newly translated and not intelligible to the great masses.
In genuinely fair and free elections, [the Muslim parties] are very likely to win and I think that would be a disaster. A much better course would be a gradual development of democracy, not through general elections, but rather through local self-governing institutions. For that, there is a real tradition in the region.
If you look at the history of the
The French ambassador was instructed by his government to press the Turkish government in certain negotiations and was making very slow progress.
The ambassador replied that “you must understand that here things are not as they are in
This is absolutely true. It’s an extraordinarily revealing and informative passage and the point comes up again and again through the 19th and 20th centuries.
You have this traditional system of consultation with groups which are not democratic as we use that word in the Western world, but which have a source of authority other than the state – authority which derives from within the group, whether it be the landed gentry or the civil service, or the scribes or whatever. That’s very important. And that form of consultation could be a much better basis for the development of free and civilized government.
And therefore, for an anxious West which is trying to work out what signals it should be sending and what processes it should be encouraging, what opportunity does America and the free world have to influence this process?
I’d rather take it from the other side and say what signals you should not be sending. And that is not pressing for elections. This idea that a general election, Western-style, is a solution to all these problems, seems to me a dangerous fallacy which can only lead to disaster. I think we should let them do it their way by consultative groups. There are various kinds. There are all sorts of possibilities.
It’s happening now in
Yet the sense one gets is that the people in the streets, in
They’re all agreed that they want to get rid of the present leadership, but I don’t think they’re agreed on what they want in its place. For example, we get very, very different figures as to the probable support for the Muslim Brothers.
Yes, we’ve seen 20, 30, 40 percent and we’ve seen attitudes from that Pew Poll, from a couple of months ago, that were very extreme.
This is my point. And it’s very difficult to rely on these things. People don’t tell the truth when they’re being asked questions.
Broadly speaking, the notion of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is much disputed – from being perceived as essentially benign, unthreatening, even secular, according to one remark (later corrected, by US National Intelligence Director James Clapper), to being perceived as a radical and terrible threat. How would you judge it?
To say that they’re secular would show an astonishing ignorance of the English lexicon. I don’t think [the Muslim Brotherhood in
I’m an historian. My business is the past, not the future. But I can imagine a situation in which the Muslim Brotherhood and other organizations of the same kind obtain control of much of the Arab world. It’s not impossible. I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but it’s not unlikely.
And if that happens, they would gradually sink back into medieval squalor.
Remember that according to their own statistics, the total exports of the entire Arab world other than fossil fuels amount to less than those of
As we look at this region in ferment, how would you characterize what is unfolding now? Can we generalize about the uprisings that are erupting in the various countries? Is there a common theme?
There’s a common theme of anger and resentment. And the anger and resentment are universal and well-grounded. They come from a number of things. First of all, there’s the obvious one – the greater awareness that they have, thanks to modern media and modern communications, of the difference between their situation and the situation in other parts of the world. I mean, being abjectly poor is bad enough. But when everybody else around you is pretty far from abjectly poor, then it becomes pretty intolerable.
Another thing is the sexual aspect of it. One has to remember that in the Muslim world, casual sex, Western-style, doesn’t exist. If a young man wants sex, there are only two possibilities – marriage and the brothel. You have these vast numbers of young men growing up without the money, either for the brothel or the brideprice, with raging sexual desire. On the one hand, it can lead to the suicide bomber, who is attracted by the virgins of paradise – the only ones available to him. On the other hand, sheer frustration.
So you have this explosion, which different regimes are handling in very different ways. Were you surprised with the ease with which, in
I was expecting a wave of such movements. I didn’t think it would be as quick and easy as it was in
As far as one can judge, these movements of opposition are very strong, even in
A little help from outside? It’s a subtle process. If the help is overt, it can be used by the regime in
One method is by political warfare, by having some sort of propaganda campaign against the regime. This would not be difficult. There’s a vast Iranian population now in the Western world, particularly in the
Tell us more about the nature of the Arab masses, their sense of their own religion, their sense of the agenda that Islam sets out for them.
Well, you see, two things have happened. One is that their position on the whole has been getting worse. The second, which is much more important, is that their awareness of that is getting much greater. As I said before, thanks to modern communications, they can now compare their own position with that in other countries. And they don’t have to look very far to do that. I have sat with friends in Arab countries, watching Israeli television, and their responses to that are mindboggling.
What is so striking to them?
One particular instance that I remember: There was a little Arab boy whose arm was broken by an Israeli policeman during a demonstration and he appeared the next day on Israeli television with a bandage on his arm, denouncing Israeli brutality. I was in
Take us a little deeper into the mindset. Help us reconcile the discord in Egypt, for example, between hundreds and thousands of people coming out onto the streets and demanding to be rid of a dictatorial leadership, which most people in the West have interpreted as a push for freedoms and Westernstyle democracy, at the same time as we read opinion surveys which show overwhelming proportions of Egyptians taking very bleak views on some aspects of human rights, supporting terrible punishments for adultery, benighted attitudes to homosexuality and so on.
It’s not easy to define what they are for. It’s much easier to define what they are against. They are against the present tyrannies, which as they see it, not only oppress them, but dishonor their name, their religion, their nationality. They want to see something better in its place. Now what that something better would be is differently defined. They are not usually talking in terms of parliamentary democracy and free elections and so on. That’s not part of the common discourse. For different groups it means different things. But usually, it’s religiously defined. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Muslim Brothers’ type of religion. There is also an Islamic tradition which is not like that – as I referred to earlier, the tradition of consultation. It is a form of government.
If we have different potential Islamic paths that these peoples could now go down, how strong is a more moderate Muslim tradition? How likely is it that that would prevail? I ask you that because of your bleak characterization of the Muslim Brotherhood which, again, some experts claim is relatively benign.
I don’t know how one could get the impression that the Muslim Brotherhood is relatively benign unless you mean relatively as compared with the Nazi party.
There are other trends within the Islamic world which look back to their own glorious paths and think in other terms. There is a great deal of talk nowadays about consultation. That is very much part of the tradition.
The sort of authoritarian, even dictatorial regimes, that rule most of the countries in the modern Islamic Middle East, are a modern creation. They are a result of modernization. The pre-modern regimes were much more open, much more tolerant. You can see this from a number of contemporary descriptions. And the memory of that is still living.
It was a British naval officer called Slade who put it very well. He was comparing the old order with the new order, created by modernization. He said that “in the old order, the nobility lived on their estates. In the new order, the state is the estate of the new nobility.” I think that puts it admirably.
Are you leading toward the possibility that the unraveling of these modern, non-consultative regimes could return us to a genuine, potential, wider peopleto- people partnership between the Muslim world and the West? And if so, how do we go about achieving that?
The only time when they began to look favorably on outside alliances is when they see themselves as confronting a still greater danger. Sadat didn’t make peace because he was suddenly convinced of the merits of the Zionist case. Sadat made peace because
One sees similar calculations later than that. Consider for example, the battle between the Israeli forces and Hezbollah in 2006. It was quite clear that the Arab governments were quietly cheering the Israelis and hoping that they would finish the job and were very disappointed when they failed to finish the job. The best way of attaining friendship is by confronting a yet more dangerous enemy. There have been several such [enemies] in the
People talk about American imperialism as a danger. That is absolute nonsense.
People who talk about American imperialism in the Middle East either know nothing about
When you look around the region, which are the potential enemies which may be regarded as the greater threat?
At the moment, principally the Iranian revolution. On the one hand they’re afraid of what you might call Iranian imperialism, and on the other hand of the Iranian Shi’ite revolution.
The Sunni-Shi’ite question is obviously different according to which country you’re in. In a country like
There’s one other group of people that I think one should bear in mind when considering the future of the
He said, “The answer is very clear. We fell behind the West because of the way we treat our women. By the way we treat our women we deprive ourselves of the talents and services of half the population. And we submit the early education of the other half to ignorant and downtrodden mothers.”
It goes further than that. A child who grows up in a traditional Muslim household is accustomed to authoritarian, autocratic rule from the start. I think the position of women is of crucial importance.
That is why I am looking with great interest at
Elsewhere, the question of women and the role of the women is of crucial importance for the future of the Muslim world in general.
A key country which has not been enveloped in these uprisings yet is
There’s not much prospect of its changing for the time being. But sooner or later oil will be either exhausted or superseded, and then of course the change will be dramatic.
And what of our other immediate neighbors in
With good reason... Until recently I would have said that the Hashemite kingdom is fairly safe. I used to go to
The king would appear to be above the fray...
And by changing his government, has defused at least some of the protest?
It’s too early to say.
And on the Palestinian front, what you said before about the overstated assumption that elections are the panacea, that seems to be what unfolded with the Palestinians. There was a dash for elections, when the only choices were between Fatah and Hamas. I don’t see people-protests [against the regime] in
I don’t see elections, Western-style, as the answer to the problem. I see it rather as a dangerous aggravation of a problem. The Western-style election is part of a very distinctively Western political system, which has no relevance at all to the situation in most Middle Eastern countries. It can only lead to one direction, as it did in
Two weeks ago, I interviewed Natan Sharansky. He gave an enthusiastic endorsement of the push for freedom. But a caveat was: Don’t have this sense that elections equals democracy. Therefore, his recipe was: Go slower. But he still seemed to be pushing in the Western, democratic direction. He was saying, you need to take time; you need to create a climate in which opposition parties can organize, other parties can organize, so you don’t only have the Muslim Brotherhood; you need to have a media environment in which their message can be fairly reported; and then people have to be confident that they can make their choices without fear of persecution. That sounds very smart to me, but it also sounds very Western. Are you suggesting that might be a path or that it fails to understand the differences between the West and the Muslim world?
One has to understand not so much the differences between the two as the differences in the political discourse. In the Western world, we talk all the time about freedom. In the Islamic world, freedom is not a political term. It’s a legal term: Freedom as opposed to slavery. This was a society in which slavery was an accepted institution existing all over the Muslim world. You were free if you were not a slave. It was entirely a legal and social term, with no political connotation whatsoever. You can see in the ongoing debate in Arabic and other languages the puzzlement with which the use of the term freedom was first perceived.
They just didn’t understand it. I mean, what does this have to do with politics or government? Eventually, they got the message. But it’s still alien to them. In Muslim terms, the aim of good government is justice.
The major contrast is not between freedom and tyranny, between freedom and servitude, but between justice and oppression. Or if you like, between justice and injustice. If one follows that particular discourse in the Arab and more generally the Muslim world, it would be more illuminating.
So while we look at these protests as a demand for a greater stake in self-government and a push for what we consider to be freedoms, what you’re diagnosing here is outrage against injustice?
And how is that demand met?
Corruption and oppression are corruption and oppression by whichever system you define them. There’s not much difference between their definition of corruption and our definition of corruption.
So, if the leaderships in these countries were not corrupt and were just, they would not have been confronted? It’s that they’ve not governed fairly?
That resonates with what happened in
The people felt they were being cheated.
It’s the sense of injustice at the core?
Yes. I think one should look at it in terms of justice and injustice, rather than freedom and oppression. I think that would make it much easier to understand the mental and therefore the political processes in the Islamic world.
And so to the
Watch carefully, keep silent, make the necessary preparations.
And reach out. Reach out. This is a real possibility nowadays. There are increasing numbers of people in the Arab world who look with, I would even say, with wonderment at what they see in
There are two things which I think are helpful towards a better understanding between the Arabs and
The other one, which is less easy to define but in the long run is probably more important, is [regarding
In both of these respects I think that there are some hopeful signs for the future.