The Shawarma Republics are Burning
by DANIEL GREENFIELDJuly 23, 2013
Syria is burning, not because of the Arab Spring or Tyranny or Twitter, or any of the other popular explanations. The fire in Syria is the same firestorm burning in Iraq, in Turkey, in Lebanon and throughout much of the Muslim world. It has nothing to do with human rights or democracy. There is no revolution here. Only the eternal civil war.
Most people accept countries with ancient names like Egypt, Jordan and Syria as a given. If they think about it at all they assume that they were always around, or were restored after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. But actually the countries of the Middle East are mostly artificial creations borrowing a history that is not their own.
When Mohammed unleashed a fanatical round of conquests and crusades, he began by wrecking the cultures and religions of his native region. And his followers went on to do the same throughout the region and across the world.
Entire peoples lost their history, their past, their religion and their way of life. This cultural genocide was worst in Africa, Asia and parts of Europe. But the Middle Eastern peoples lost much of their heritage as well.
The Muslim conquerors made a special point of persecuting and exterminating the native beliefs and indigenous inhabitants they dominated. Israeli Jews, Assyrian Christians and Persian Zoroastrians faced special persecution.
Conquered peoples were expected to become Muslims. Those who resisted were repressed as Dhimmis. But those who submitted and became Muslims suffered a much worse fate, losing major portions of their traditions and history. They were expected to define themselves as Muslims first and look back to the great day when their conquerors subjugated them as the beginning of their history. Their pre-Islamic history faded into the mists of the ignorant past.
But Islam did not lead to a unified region, only to a prison of nations. The Caliphates, like the USSR, held sway over a divided empire through repression and force. Many of those peoples had lost a clear sense of themselves, but they still maintained differences that they expressed by modifying Islam to accommodate their existing beliefs and customs.
Islamic authorities viewed this as nothing short of heresy. It was against some such heresies that the Wahhabi movement was born. But these attempts to force the peoples of the region into one mold were doomed to fail.
Islam came about to stamp out all differences, to reduce all men to one, to blend state and mosque into one monstrous law for all. And it did succeed to some extent. Many cultures and beliefs were driven nearly to extinction. Jews, Christians and others struggled to survive in the walls of a hostile civilization. But Islam could not remain united and the divisions resurfaced in other ways.
Muslim armies did succeed in conquering much of the world in a frenzy of plunder and death. But they quickly turned on each other. Rather than conquering the world, they went on to fight over the plunder and the power. Nothing has really changed since then.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire brought in the Europeans to reconstruct the Middle East. The modern states are the work of their hands. A clumsy mismatch of borders and warring peoples. The USSR came after with its own line of coups and Arab Socialist dictatorships. Now the third wave of Islamist tyrannies is on the march. But none of them can solve the basic problems of the region.
Syria is burning not because of human rights, but because it's a collection of different peoples with different variants of Islam who don't get along. A handful are descended from the original natives. The rest are foreign Arab invaders, some more recent than others. The story repeats itself across the region. And across the world.
Iraq, Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon are just some examples of countries permanently divided by such a mismatch of peoples. Agreements and elections come to nothing because no group believes that they will be treated as equals if they aren't in power. And they're right. Equality doesn't just come from open elections, but from a cultural acceptance of differences. This simply does not exist in the Muslim world where gender differences mean you're a force of corruption or a slave, ethnic differences mean you are the son of a dog, and religious differences mean you're an enemy.
Had the forces of Islam not turned the Middle East upside down, the nation state might have evolved out of individual cultures, rather than as a strange hybrid of feudalism and Great Powers colonialism. For all their bluster and viciousness, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon are abandoned colonies. The Gulf states are even worse, backward clans of cutthroat merchants who are parasitically feeding off the West, even as they try to destroy it.
The rulers invariably marry Western women or women with a large dose of Western blood. Sadat married the daughter of an English woman. Mubarak married the daughter of a Welsh woman. For all that the Hashemites tout their descent from Mohammed, Queen Noor is more Anglo-Saxon than Arab. And the current Jordanian King's mother was originally known as Toni Gardner. Even when they do marry Arab women, they are usually Christian Arabs and British educated.
There's something pathetic about the sight of the post-colonial Arab leadership trying to gain some psychological legitimacy by intermarrying with their former rulers. As if pumping enough English blood into the veins of their offspring will somehow make them as capable as the Empire that ruled them and then left to attend to its own affairs.
But not nearly as pathetic as half of them claiming descent from Mohammed. Both reveal the underlying historical instability of their rule. These aren't nation states, they're hopelessly dysfunctional geographical divisions bristling with Western weapons and money, with interpretations of the Koran and texts on Arab Socialism, where everyone is a philosopher and a scholar-- but no government lasts longer than it takes to overthrow it.
Every colonel and general dreams of empire, and every cleric in his flea ridden robes theorizes on the Islamic state, but none of them can do anything but act out the same murderous dramas. Building their house of cards and then watching it tumble down.
Had Western shenanigans not raised the price of bread, while providing support to local leftists from wealthy families, the Arab Spring would not exist. Now that it has, it's only another excuse for locals to fight their civil wars and then erect another ramshackle regime on the ruins of the old.
This isn't 1848 as some have theorized. It's 848, over and over again. Worse still, it's 748.
When you don't have a nation, but you do have an army, then what you have is not a state, but a Shawarma Republic. To keep the army from overthrowing the leader, he must find internal or external enemies. When a downturn occurs, and the mobs gather, either the army massacres the mob or overthrows the ruler. Or the rebels cut a deal with some internal elements and wipe out the loyalists.
This is an old regional narrative that has nothing to do with democracy, human rights, Twitter or any of the other nonsense flowing through New York Times columns faster than the sewers of Cairo.
The modern Shawarma Republic has some royal or military ruler at the top who receives money from the West or from its enemies to hold up his end of the bargain. Which to him means stowing the money into foreign bank accounts, sending his trophy wife on shopping trips to Paris and striking a fine balancing between wiping out his enemies and buying them off.
Naturally he carries on the ritualistic chant of "Death to Israel", and if Israel ever looks weak enough, or his new Chinese or Iranian allies kick in the money for a full fledged invasion, he may even take a whack at it. But mostly the chants of "Death to Israel" are a convenient way of executing his enemies for collaborating with Israel.
In Syria, Assad's Shawarma Republic (officially the Syrian Arab Republic, formerly the United Arab Republic, after a bunch of coups and one kingdom, the privately owned fiefdom of the dumbest scion of the clan) is on fire. Because the enemies of the regime, and some of its former allies, got around to exploiting Bashar Assad's weakness.
For now Assad's armies backed by his Iranian allies are in control of the Shawarma Republic of Syria but that might change. Especially now that Turkey and much of the Arab world have stepped into the anti-Assad camp. And when the fireworks die down, and the corpses are cleaned up off the streets, there will be another Shawarma Republic. This one may not be run by the Alawites. But it will be run by someone, and it won't be the people.
The irony is that after turning Lebanon into its puppet, Syria got the same treatment from Iran. And if a revolt succeeds, then it might get the same treatment from Turkey. The big dog bites the little dog, and the bigger dog bites it.
The process can't be stopped, because the Islamic conquests that wrecked the region, the Caliphates that tried to make it static, and the colonial mapmakers who turned it into a ridiculous puzzle of fake countries filled with people who hate each other-- make it impossible.
There was a brief window after the war when the exit of empires and the presence of a large Western educated class seemed as if they might lead to working societies. Instead they led to the pathetic imitations of the worst of the West, dress up generals and scholars cranking out monographs explaining how everything could be made right with their theory. Now it's leading back to Islamism and the bloody clashes in the desert that originated this permanent state of dysfunction.
The Islamic Caliphate as a panacea for the problems caused by Islamic caliphates is about as good an idea as pouring gasoline on a fire. Which is exactly what the Islamists financed by Gulf royals, who can't help cutting throats even when it's their own, are doing.
You can't build a country out of armies and billions of dollars. The reason that Israel works and the Arab world doesn't is very simple. The Jews retained their identity. The perpetrators and victims of Islam who surround them have no roots. Only the sword in their hand and the shifting sands under their feet.