Big things begin with an idea. The idea of human rights has not always existed. We live in a parallel world where dictators & kings & princes who rule think they do so by divine right & where human rights, democratic rights, separation of powers, independant judiciary, freedom of speech & of the press, freedom of religion even are not considered or at least if they are only paid lip service to.
In dictatorships etc, the rulers on the whole, believe that any dissent is treason. They (the rulers) are the state. Any act of dissent has to be punished often by death.
The recent upsurge of rebellions is, on the surface, a cry from the heart from the people of North Africa & the Middle East states to be like everybody else.
But from the point of view of everybody else, how do we know? New rulers could prove to be no different from the ones before them. In Iraq, Western democracy hasn’t been particularly successful. In Libya, the rebels, first of all didn’t want outside help, they said they could it themselves, Then when they started losing they decided they did need help. But if non-Libyans started sending in outside help, Libya could become like Afghanistan. Gaddafi is one of the bad guys. Hardly anyone disputes this. But he is not the worst dictator in the World. He has done some truly dreadful things to his enemies, locking them up for decades with their families not knowing where there are or even if they are alive. Random executions of political prisoners. Absconding with the state’s money & putting it into his own account. We are talking currency billions here, really gross nepotism. But if arms are sent in to help the rebels, presumably they will be around indefinitely. Presumably they will not only be used to usurp the present leader but also to arm private militias. And the West will be blamed. Gaddafi is one of the bad guys but he is not the worst in the region. President Assad of Syria rules with even more of an iron hand & he inherited the title of President from his father just like any old style monarch; one with autocratic power. What the West is really concerned about with Libya & Gaddafi is to some extent oil but mainly how to deal with him after the rebellion is over, if the rebellion does end in defeat, having rubbished & ridiculed him over the past few weeks. Gaddafi is said to be unpredictable but so are the governments of the West. Italy for example has recently signed a treaty of friendship with Gaddafi but now backs his violent overthrow. It is the same man we are dealing with. If he is unpredictable, mad, autocratic, a tyrant, well then he was a month ago & the 42 years before that.
The West is at least to some extent responsible for this state of affairs, the position of tolerating dictatorships, because the old cliché, the old belief, that somehow, muslims are different as human beings is at least implicitly believed. That they, the people in muslim states are happy being ruled by one man. That democracy & Islam are irreconcilable. They are not. At least I don’t think so. Certainly most of the people taking part in the uprisings in the region appear not to think so. They seem to want Western style democracy. Many of them have lived in Europe, have experienced democracy & presumably like it. The rest of them are just fed up with autocratic rule & look at Europe & prefer what they see, I suppose.
Like us, muslims originated from a single cell, the same cell. The recent demonstrations & signs of unrest in countries such as Syria & Iran where repression is especially efficient shows that human beings are fundamentally the same. It also shows that rulers who purport to speak on behalf of their “subjects” do not do so, any more than they did in the Soviet Union, the great Soviet people etc, the masses etc. But people are individuals. At the siege of Leningrad, the Soviet people in the city were immortalised & lauded as standing together. Shostakovitch wrote the Leningrad symphony & it was performed. The mythology has it that the Soviet people stood together at this time as one. But we now know that the starving people of the city cared not a jot for the event or the music. The Soviet people were not different. The Arabs are not different. The main aspirations of human beings whether they be Europeans or anybody else, are to have enough to eat, a place to sleep & to be allowed to think & say what they like without having to idolise this leader or that.
Up to very recently most European countries were in fact dictatorships, that is Central & East Europe & before that Iberia. The way many people look at it is that looking at the history of the human race over millions of years, the gap between European culture & Islamic culture is not that much. Maybe in fact only 200 years. Islamic culture & society has a bit to catch up on but not that much. After all it is not that long ago that the Catholic church was burning people alive. It is hard to believe that in 100 years Islamic law will still prevail & that stoning to death, for example, will still be carried out.
The West is not entirely at fault. Militant Islam has certainly given the impression of being different. Suicide bombers are, at the moment, the preserve of the Islamic World (in World War II, Japanese kamikaze pilots were the equivalent.) The subjugation of women, Sharia law etc. Most people in Europe these days are not religious. But this doesn’t seem to apply to the Islamic World. Many muslims seem to believe in what to the rest of us are the most strange & bizarre things. A loving God wanting muslims to kill infidels for example or a woman being subservient to her husband. Take the case of Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was one of the most evil men who ever walked the earth. But he was a hero to many non-Iraqi muslims. They were upset that he was overthrown, especially because it was the Americans who did the job for them. He represented anti colonialism but his supporters conveniently overlooked the fact that he had killed millions of his own countrymen during his 24 year reign.
Civilisation might be at a turning point. It might not be. The next few weeks & months might see interesting & wonderful changes. It might not. New rulers who are no better or even in fact worse might emerge or there might be a new dawn of freedom & all that implies. Freedom of Speech, separation of powers including independence of the judiciary, freedom of association, freedom of religion etc.
But whatever occurs soon, there is one thing about which there can be no doubt. Muslims are the same flesh & blood as everybody else & have the same aspirations.