Conrad Black: There’s hope amid the chaos in the Muslim world

Jan 21, 2012 – 7:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Jan 20, 2012 3:25 PM ET

Adrian Wyld/Reuters

Adrian Wyld/Reuters

Prime Minister Stephen Harper inspects troops in Morocco, a country Conrad Black cites as a Muslim-world success story.


Updating and extending my year-end tour of the international horizon — as Portugal tries to attract investment from its formerly impoverished and strife-torn colony Angola, the Philippines pays a lower interest on a bond issue than is available to Spain or Italy, and the president of France asks China to buy Eurobonds — it seems like only yesterday that Charles de Gaulle referred to the visiting Japanese foreign minister as a “transistor salesman.”

Some of these inversions of fortune are entirely positive. Under Ghana’s founding leader, Kwame Nkrumah, the Osagyefo (Fisherman), the country wrote the playbook for Third World corruption and incompetence. A subsequent president, Flight Lieutenant Rawlings, on seizing power in a coup, was informed by the IMF that his immediate 99.9% reduction in the value of Ghana’s currency was “insufficient.” Ghana is now posting GDP growth rates of 16%.

Other sub-Saharan countries are a mixed picture, but even that is an improvement. Rwanda is flourishing, and Senegal is having an interesting election, highlighted by the candidacy of popular mbalax vocalist Youssou N’Dour, who is trying to emulate the success of Haiti’s new leader, singer Sweet Mickey Martel. These may be among the very few instances where the celebrity of entertainers can be successfully transferred to politics.

The promise of long-tortured South Sudan is deferred by tribal clashes, which seem to be not much less destructive than the oppressions of the Arabs that led to the agitation for South Sudanese independence in the first place. The profound Muslim-Christian violence in Nigeria, fuelled by the now widespread Islamist view that they can persecute Christians to their hearts’ content, seems to be completely beyond the ability of the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to manage. His name, in these circumstances, is incongruous.

Much of the Muslim world is in a terrible state, even if some of the outliers are flourishing. Egypt is teetering on the brink of government by the Islamists who murdered Anwar Sadat and would force women to bedeck themselves when out of doors like ambulatory tents. The current prime minister, Kamal Ganzouri, recently held a press conference to assure the media that the military would “never attack protesters” at the very moment that they were, in fact, brutally assaulting and beating them in the cradle of the Cairo Spring, Tahrir Square. The army has squandered much of the respect it formerly enjoyed as it oscillates between clinging to the vestiges of its authority and appeasing the Islamists by shutting or sacking the offices of human rights organizations and abetting the murder of Coptic Christians. Chronic nostalgia for the piping days of Hosni Mubarak can only be months away.

Within 24 hours of the departure of the last American military units from Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki tried to arrest his coalition vice-president, Tariq Hasemi, who took refuge in the country’s Kurdish north. The writ of Baghdad does not seem to run throughout the country and the travails of Canadian Confederation over the years are pretty small beer in comparison. But it was always going to be up to the Iraqis, and not the Americans (or the Iranians), to make something out of the patchwork country left them when the British and French evicted the Ottoman Turks from Mesopotamia in 1919.

Turkey’s Islamist regime is faltering as a model of democratic sectarianism as it imprisons generals, suppresses a free press and nibbles feverishly and insidiously at the Kemalist secular tradition. Pakistan is in shambles as the supreme court orders the prime minister to prosecute the president for corruption, the army chief of staff warns the government against making disparaging remarks against the armed forces and suggests that they may stage a coup d’état (which, in fact, he implicitly threatens), the prime minister fires the defence minister (though it is not entirely clear whether his offence was insufficient respect or excessive deference to the armed forces, or perhaps both), and the ambassador to the United States was dismissed for seeking U.S. support against a possible military coup.

All this toing and froing begs the question of why the West has expended such time and resources in Afghanistan, where Pakistan is the chief backer of the main killer of NATO forces (the Haqqani faction), and the chief supplier of ammonium nitrate, the principal ingredient in anti-personnel bombs used against Western forces.

We all started into Afghanistan in 2001 in solidarity with the Americans after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The Americans largely decamped to Iraq after a year, became mired in the quicksand of nation-building, and then in the even deeper and more hopeless morass of trying to make something out of the gigantic, murderous cesspool of Pakistan. It is time this country recognized its debt to Jean Chrétien for taking a pass on the Iraq debacle — and I was one who disagreed with him at the time (though I then had no idea the U.S. would try to take over the governance of the country and try to turn it into Oklahoma).

It is terribly difficult to evaluate what is happening in Iran without real intelligence from that country, where the covert activities of Israel and the United States, including cyber-harassment, acts of sabotage and possibly the assassination of scientists, are imposed on spontaneous seething factionalism. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s official staff have been arrested, along with the daughter of a former president. Iran has long been like dogs fighting under a blanket; now it is more like leopards fighting underneath a thin layer of gossamer, but I am not qualified to predict an outcome.

The confusion in Iran is positive for the West, but even better is the agitation of French President Nicolas Sarkozy for a “humanitarian” intervention in Syria to protect Arab League monitors and distribute aid. This would ostensibly not be a military intervention, but that would be a distinction without a difference. We largely have the French to thank for the success in Libya, where Obama waffled until his hand was forced. The end of the Assad regime in Damascus would be a huge deliverance, no matter what replaced it, especially in regard to its impact on Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. Israeli defence minister Barak and army chief Gantz both now predict Assad’s downfall and the flight from Syria of a large number of Alawites.

Yet the fringes of the Muslim world — Indonesia, Malaysia and Morocco — are flourishing. Indonesia is emerging as stronger than any of the artificial “BRIC” construct. (Brazil and China are labouring, the Putin regime in Russia is under siege, and the anti-corruption drive in India has stalled.) Malaysia has miraculously acquitted the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, of a spurious sodomy charge, and may actually be becoming a serious, functioning democracy. And Morocco appears to have managed a capable reconciliation of a strong monarchy with democratic reforms while preserving religious tolerance, as the only Arab country with a significant, flourishing Jewish community.

Given how beleaguered the United States and most of Europe are, I offer a new wrinkle to my former suggestions for Canada’s international affiliations. While continuing to argue for free trade between Europe and North America, and working toward a committee of tighter cooperation between the more economically and politically successful Commonwealth countries, the reform of the UN, the broadening of NATO into a multi-continental alliance of democratic states, all of which I have advocated here before, I suggest we start with increased economic and political co-operation between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and, if it can be arranged with China, Hong Kong. Such an association would have as large a population and a larger GDP than Germany and would be much listened to in the world. The Harper government has generally done well in foreign affairs, but there is always room for more imaginative policy.

National Post

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2 thoughts on “CONRAD…

  1. I must agree. Islam destroys everything in it’s wake and every culture it invades. There is absolutely NO hope for islam, it fills over 80% of the criteria for a cult. When has any cult ever reformed?

    Anyone who believes there is hope for islam is completely deluded.

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