Arab nationalism's last gasp: Saddam Hussein’s execution likely means the end of the foolish secular Arab nationalism movement (Robert D. Kaplan, January 7, 2007, LA Times)
[J]ust as communism exit[ing] the European stage exposed for what it always truly was — fascism without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time — secular Arab nationalism will exit the stage revealed for what it always was: a despotic perversion of the western nation-state that lasted as long as it did mainly because of secret-police techniques imported from the former Soviet Union.
Arab nationalism’s roots go back to the revolt against European colonialism in the early decades of the 20th century. But as it developed, it faced a serious problem: Because it was organized around the artificial national borders that these same colonialists had drawn — which generally ignored ethnic and sectarian lines — the result, in too many cases, was multiethnic rivalry and the subjugation of one part of the population by another.
In Iraq, for instance, the national borders created a state in which the majority Shiites were subjugated by the minority Sunnis (as we all now know). In Syria, the majority Sunnis came to be subjugated by the minority Alawites, who constitute a branch of Shiism (and who had been favored in the armed forces by the French). In Lebanon, it was the Shiites who ended up subjugated by both Christians and Sunnis.
No sooner were these independent new states created than the ties of faith and tribe were undermining them. A fragile unity of sorts could only be achieved by recourse to secular nationalism, which, on paper at least, aimed to transcend those bitter rivalries.
Indeed, the more artificial the state, the more extreme the secular ideology had to be to hold it together. To secure unwieldy tribal assemblages, for instance, an austere state socialism was required in Algeria, and a form of “Dear Leader Absolutism” in Libya. Because Syria and Iraq were also artificial constructs, these two states resorted to Baathism — another bastardized form of state socialism.
Contrast all this with places such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, which were age-old civilization clusters whose identities, rather than artificial, harked back to antiquity. It should be no surprise that these places produced more benign forms of secular government.
The two extremes in the Arab world became Tunisia and Iraq. Tunisia, a small country of Sunni Arabs with no internal divisions, which traced its borders back to ancient Carthage, produced Habib Bourguiba, the Arab version of the enlightened Turkish modernizer Kemal Ataturk. Iraq, a Frankenstein monster of a country assembled from warring ethnic and sectarian groups by the British, produced Saddam Hussein, the Arab Stalin. […]
Those who proclaim today that the only real solution to the Arab dilemma is political freedom are correct. The problem is that they are describing a process that could encompass several bloody decades. After all, it took centuries for stable democracy as we know it to evolve in Europe. In this Darwinian shaking-out process, the new forms of political legitimacy may more closely resemble militarized social welfare organizations such as Hezbollah and the Al Mahdi army than the ramshackle contrivances of the European model that we saw in the post-colonial era.
…he even gets the Darwinism analogy right.