For all intents and purposes, Ariel Sharon died on January 4, 2006. That was when he suffered a stroke and entered into a persistent vegetative state. However, his body was kept running by machines until just yesterday, so even though Sharon has been politically inactive since the mid-aughts, it is an appropriate time to discuss what legacy he left behind, with the benefit of most of a decade to see what followed. With the benefit of that perspective, Sharon represents a missed opportunity, a path not taken.
My point today is a very controversial one–increasingly, Americans are beginning to agree with Osama bin Laden. This is not to say that Americans are beginning to agree with terrorism or the use of indiscriminate violence–with the exception of a few mass shooters, we’re still generally quite opposed to all of that. No, we’re still very much opposed to terrorism; what we’re beginning to agree with are bin Laden’s ends, not his means. I suspect many readers are resistant to that conclusion, so I must elaborate and defend it.
Every once in a while, the hostility to intellectualism that is prevalent among certain sections of the wider public sneaks up behind you and smashes you over the head. As I watched FOX’s interview with Reza Aslan (no, not that Aslan), a scholar of religious sociology, I realized that not only was this one of those times, it was, perhaps, among the very worst of those times. In this instance, I was not merely being smashed over the head, I was being smashed over the head with something spiky.
Back in December, I said that Mohamed Morsi, the president of Egypt, was an inept bumbler. I seem to have been right about that, as Egypt has descended once more into instability and violence. There are widespread protests, the Muslim Brotherhood’s offices have been torched, and the military has given all parties a 48-hour deadline (there are about 24 hours left on that) before it intervenes in unspecified ways. The source of the anger against Morsi? His social conservatism and his efforts to put Islam at the center of Egyptian law. While it may be surprising just how fast the situation in Egypt has once again deteriorated, the deterioration was itself inevitable. Here’s why.
Recently there have been demonstrations against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The demonstrations began because the government was intending to demolish a park in Istanbul (not Constantinople) and replace it with a shopping mall. This relatively pedestrian protest escalated when the Turkish government removed the protesters in a violent police raid. The target of the protests has now expanded from the park to the policies of Erdogan more broadly, specifically the social conservatism of his government and its tendency to give preference to Islam in its legislation. A lot of people in the media in developed states have begun referring to this as a “Turkish Spring”, and the default reaction has been to support the protesters, assuming that they are under governments similar to those that prevailed in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and other such places. The instinct is to view Turkey as just another Middle Eastern country protesting a generically malevolent government. A poor job has been done of evaluating the Turkish situation specifically, of giving the Erdogan government a fair evaluation. Today, I’d like to contribute to rectifying that.