There is no doubt that there are many reasons, which allowed the Wahhabi brand of fundamentalism coming from Saudi Arabia to strengthen its grip and widen its influence on the deepest fabrics of Arab societies still suffering from poverty, high rates of unemployment, corrupt governments and the widespread persecution and then brainwashing and marginalization of individuals.
Not only have these fundamentalist movements benefitted from such stifling conditions endured by their target social structures, more importantly, they have found themselves in an expansive ‘cultural vacuum’. Since Arab regimes have ruthlessly pursued a systematic policy of prosecution towards the intellectuals and activists in their respective societies, they unwittingly dug a gaping void between the public and intellectuals who imprisoned themselves within the gates of an elite ghetto, reinforcing through that retreat their total disconnection from the public.
It is worth noting that one of the outcomes of this ghettoization of intellectuals materialized in a condition of linguistic or discursive difficulty and the common use of arcane concepts, which in turn constitutes an additional reason that may account for the above-mentioned rupture. This linguistic elitism lacks mental images that are accessible to the minds of common people. Studies in psychology have shed some light on this phenomenon, which came to be known as the ‘independence complex’. It grows out of the development of ideas into independent complexes so that at a later stage individuals can take them in. From a neuropsychological perspective, ideas can exert their influence on individuals only through the medium of affects. Abstract ideas, are then transformed into sensory images and then out of those images a psychological experience takes shape and can have a far reaching effect on the individual’s mind.
Taking as an example the Tunisian revolutionary experience which was driven by the spontaneous uprising of young men and women, we need to go back to few years ago and see how this uprising did not come out of nothing, and neither was it the direct outcome of the self-immolation of ‘Bou Azizi’. It rather took place in a context of extreme tension to which the act of Bou Azizi added fuel to fire.
We know that this uprising could not have persevered if it were not supported by other additional favorable factors along the way. No one can deny the crucial role of the new media. One of the leading groups on social networks known as ‘Takriz’ have enjoyed a wide following for many years and grounded their posts and blogs in the practical reality of Tunisian youth.
This movement was founded since 1988 on the Internet by a group of Tunisian youth under various nicknames. The movement started with two founding members and then their members increased gradually to become a powerful influence in the practical lives of many young people in Tunisia. We need to note that one of the main supportive factor, which contributed to the growth of the means of communication between the youth movement Takriz and generations of young people was its use of slang language with popular resonances inspired by the Tunisian street. Their expression was without decorum or affectation. At times some of the expressions used were slightly rude perhaps intentionally so, in order to achieve a wider following and a better connection with Tunisian youth. The aim of their movement was to topple down the oppressive Tunisian regime and the admin of the group were true to their objectives and avoided public accolades. They played a crucial role in fomenting and connecting with the January uprising.
This should take us back to our initial point on the crisis of rupture between Arab intellectuals and the general public in their respective societies. This rupture, of course paved the way before Islamist movements to develop and grow and to address the susceptible minds of deprived youth. Even more than that, these movements increased the sense of isolation of this generation of young men and women and made them feel like an abandoned child.
In similar circumstances, it would have been easier for Islamists to strengthen their connection with all social groups, mainly because they had a social program and enjoyed financial support. They are also very good with language and well versed in terminologies which enflame the emotions of their audiences. This is the language of affects, and indiscriminate, undiscerning thinking. By contrast, the majority of our intellectuals had nothing but a rough and complicated language with affected expressions, and hey had no qualms in excluding all ideas that they did not approve of or agree with.
Besides other reasons, which paved the way before the widespread of fundamental Islamism, the most prominent one was informed by a deeply rooted skepticism towards the project of Arab nationalism. Only the Islamists succeeded to a great extent in capitalizing on the feeling of defeat among Arab nations, as well as their desire to embrace an identity, which transcends national belonging. This lack of trust is also partly caused by the containment of the Arab movements of liberation by opening up other warfronts abroad and of course this was followed by the implementation of a perpetual state of emergency which imposed a general climate of fear and sealed off the ultimate act of surrender of the people to their leaders.
For all these reasons, it was easy for Islamists to tickle the psychological need of nations yearning for a historical victory and eager to trade off their Arab identity with a more comprehensive one in the guise of their religious affiliation.
It is high time for these nations to confront reality, and to abandon any collective identity, and to strive towards the recognition of the primacy of individuals so that they can enjoy a wider space of freedom. Progress will then be achieved in a wider social context via the emancipation of individuals. No one can provide others with what he or she lacks. Individual happiness and self-sufficiency are essential factors to secure this purpose.
Let us move on to another factor, which helped the growth of Islamists. The adoption of a double-speech and double standards is best reflected in the position taken by many Western countries. On the one hand they boast about their democratic values and their unconditional support of human rights, while on the other hand they support oppressive regimes, which share their ideologies and interests. For example, despite the fact that the west and especially the United States speak against abuses of human rights, little or nothing is said about crimes committed by their allies among the Saudi royal family, which is ruling the country with an iron fist.
Saudi Arabia is not the only country in the world that does not respect human rights. I singled this country out because it is the hub of Islamists and the major financial supporter of these movements seeking to Islamize all Arab and other societies alike.
As far as I am concerned, I would say that it would be impossible to curb the threat of fundamental Islamism without a firm stand from Western countries to put an end to the oppressive power and rule of its allies. These regimes must be isolated and all diplomatic connections with them, Saudi Arabia at their helm, must be unequivocally severed.
It is now the right time for the West and us to trust in these young generations yearning for change. They are the artisans of destinies. The young men and women of Tunisia and Egypt are testimonies to the viability of this trust when they overcame the hurdle of their dictator, as well as that of their intellectuals and theoreticians. They are the ones who have become intellectual leaders of the Arab world and teachers of those who are perched on the thrones of rhetoric and anachronistic expressions and ideas so far removed from the daily reality on the ground. These young men and women have also managed to take the politicians of the West by surprise and challenge their arrogance and long-held delusion that they are in control of peoples’ destinies.
*The article is a summary of a symposium (9 February 2011) in which I took part along side a number of speakers and held at the society of French Press. In my talk I discussed the close connection between oppressive regimes and the spread of Islamist movements across the Arab world. I have also explained how these same regimes have managed to prevail by misleading Western governments into thinking that the stability of Arab governments would be a viable guarantee against any further advance or spread of Islamism.