Now that the Arab Spring has transitioned into a dull, wearying, fall, is anyone else asking the questions of the hour? We have half a year’s perspective on the Tunisian and Egyptian overthrows. How are they working out? In the last few days, I’ve found several interesting articles that should make moderate Muslims (as well as non-practicing Muslims) very wary.
Looking in on Tunisia, the Salafists have become a growing force. Recently (see it here), conservatives attacked a television station and cinema for showing movies they deemed as hostile to their beliefs. According to the article,
The assault is the latest in a rise in attacks against perceived symbols of secularism by hard-core Muslims in Tunisia ahead of this month’s election.
Once suppressed by the former regime, conservative Muslims are increasingly making themselves heard in the country’s politics.
As a side note, the film was an award-winning movie made from a cartoon about growing up during and after Iran’s Islamic revolution.
So, should those who don’t hold Salafist beliefs be worried? An interesting question. When do we become worried? Is it when someone tries to decide which movies we can watch? Does that cross our internal line? What about when we’re told what we have to wear? Is that still okay? How about when and where we can practice our beliefs (or mandating that we must practice beliefs we don’t hold)? Where does the line stand there? These are the troubling questions that each of us should be asking ourselves.
But Egypt, surely, remains a beacon of light, right? Well, according to this article, no, things are not looking so happy there either (read the article here). Apparently sectarian violence strikes again and leaves at least 24 dead. A group of Christians was holding a sit-in protest at the state television building when they were attacked by what seemed to be plain-clothes thugs. Police drove a vehicle into the crowd. Then,
Later in the evening, a crowd of Muslims turned up to challenge the Christian crowds, shouting, “Speak up! An Islamic state until death!”
The article speaks of the backdrop for this event, saying,
In the past weeks, riots have broken out at two churches in southern Egypt, prompted by Muslim crowds angry over church construction. One riot broke out near the city of Aswan, even after church officials agreed to a demand by ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis that a cross and bells be removed from the building.
None of this looks much like progress to me. A military ruling party that seeks to play one group off of another and heightens sectarian tension, an increasingly vocal and vitriolic extremist conservative Islamist group, and a large and visible minority seems to be a mix that may lead to a frosty winter indeed.
Bu, that’s somewhere else, right? Does anyone else remember the large group of Salafists who attacked police in April right here in Jordan (refresh your memory here)? I certainly do. But the good news is that we don’t have to worry about them, right? I suggest to you that everyone who doesn’t share their particular brand of conservatism should be very worried indeed.
Around the region, uprisings have turned bloody and those that ended well somehow aren’t staying calm. In Jordan, we enjoy a calm, peaceful, lackadaisical sense of normalcy. But, at some point we will also have to face this dilemma. At what point do I stop the trampling on the rights of my neighbors. If there’s no compulsion in Islam, what does that really mean? How do we live that? How do we ensure that each person remains free to believe (or not believe) and to express that belief in their own way? And how do we control those most radical elements who remain quietly in the background while strong rulers are in power but come clamoring out once the protesting ends and the leader falls? Because, truly, those who don’t share their beliefs are the most at-risk. While many people who would be most negatively impacted can simply leave for greener pastures, what of those who can’t? What of those who share a heritage of faith but no actual feelings or intentions? Will it be so easy for them? Today is our time to define how we protect our minorities. It is our chance to think through the “and then what…” scenario before setting in motion events that will lead to an end with which we can’t live…