TORONTO — The future of the Middle East looks grim to Barry Rubin.
“We face an increasingly radical Islamist region, and that means some very nasty things in the months and years to come. Make no mistakes about it,” Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and editor of the journal Middle East Review of International Affairs, said in a lecture at Beth Tikvah Synagogue last Thursday evening.
Although Rubin called his assessment of the recent Arab uprisings “optimistic,” he had many words of warning for the audience.
He said many of the revolutions are being portrayed by the newsmedia as being led by young, secular social media enthusiasts, but in reality, those people are often in the minority, and Islamist power is growing despite them.
“That’s what we were told… that this is the triumph of democracy, that young people using Facebook and Twitter had toppled these regimes, and that everyone was going to live happily ever after,” he said, adding that many western governments and people believe this story out of ignorance or wishful thinking.
Rubin pointed to Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Iran, among others, as examples of the spread of Islamism in the region. He explained that moderate groups in these countries tend to not be united or strong enough to lead. “If political Islam is ready to kill and intimidate people, and the moderates aren’t, it gives [moderates] a disadvantage,” he said.
Rubin told the audience that western policy has largely been supporting or ignoring Islamism, and that the U.S. government is concerned primarily with eradicating Al Qaeda, but not other Islamist threats. “This is an incredible defeat for western interests, and it’s a defeat that people don’t seem to notice,” he said of the upheaval of the Arab world and its trend toward political Islamism.
Rubin suggested that moderates and western governments should work together to prevent the takeover by Islamism, as it will likely lead to civil wars, further economic ruin in Arab countries and extreme repression of minorities and women in the places where it takes hold.
“You have to unite all the forces that do not want radical Islamist regimes running their countries and their lives and attacking them,” he said.
A small bright spot in Rubin’s analysis was his assessment of the effect the uprisings and regime changes are likely to have on Israel.
While Israel will have to strengthen security on its border with Egypt and be prepared for Iran’s possible attack in the future, he said, ultimately, the chaos in the region will probably not have a major negative impact on Israel.
“They will be very divided and not so able, or perhaps even interested, to attack Israel,” Rubin said of Islamist-led Arab countries, adding that he believes Israel is unified and prepared to defend itself in the event of a security threat.
Rubin ended his lecture with the optimistic assessment he promised when he started. “The advantage of threats, the advantage of bad things, is that they wake people up.”
His talk was sponsored by the Speakers Action Group and the Canadian Jewish Civil Rights Association, in partnership with the synagogue and several other sponsors, including a number from the Christian community.