The recent violence in the Middle East is a bit hard for many of us in America to understand. Murder, violence, and destruction because of one terribly made and terribly misguided Internet video? It doesn’t make sense.
It would be easy to be dismissive of the Arab and Muslim worlds, but that would not be helpful. They are people created in the image of God but marred by sin, just as we are in the West and in our Christian churches. Our sins may at times be different, but we do share a common need for the grace and guidance of God.
It is good in such circumstances of cultural difference to listen to others as much as possible.
Marwan Muasher spoke on the topic, “A View from the Arab World,” on Sept. 12, the day after the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya. Muasher is a vice president with the Carnegie Endowment and previously served as foreign minister (2002–2004) and deputy prime minister (2004–2005) of Jordan.
He had much to say in his address to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, but one part stood out to me. It had to do with the series of revolutions that rocked the Arab world last year and continue even today. Muasher:
“As soon as the Arab uprisings started, immediately they were called ‘the Arab Spring.’ It’s a totally Western construct. No one in the region called it an Arab Spring, except here, because somehow people romantically wanted the demise of dictatorships to immediately transform into functioning democracies overnight. That of course is just wishful thinking. It ignores all transformational processes, particularly in a region that has not witnessed a culture of civil society, of pluralism, of political parties, et cetera.”
We, in the West, called it Spring. It looked like the arrival of a new season of life and beauty. Now, of course, we see things more clearly.
“The romantic period I guess is over now and people now realize that this is not the case. That is not, though, a defense of the status quo—far from it—because I think the status quo in the Arab world, as I said, was simply not sustainable. But it may be an injection of reality into making the point that transformational processes need time, and that if one is to judge what is going on in the Middle East through the prism of two years, then all of us will get heartaches with the developments that are taking place, including the tragic developments yesterday.
“But if one is to take a longer-term view and understand, as I believe, that this is a battle in the Arab world that should have been waged decades ago but has not been waged and is being waged today, then one has to accept that battles are going to result in ups and downs, in challenges that will not move the democratization process along a linear line all the time. This is what we are seeing today.
“The Arab world, while it succeeded to get rid of colonial rule less than 100 years ago, did not succeed at developing pluralistic societies, and the Arab world was left after independence with only two forces, which to this day still exist: either Arab governments that have ruled without any system of checks and balances and have come up with all kind of excuses for not developing such a system; or an Islamic opposition that has used the mosque for political purposes, that has promised the moon to people without having to prove their promises because they were artificially kept out by Arab governments of the system.
“These were the only two alternatives that were available to people: either an unaccountable ruling elite or an ideological opposition that could threaten political, cultural, and religious diversity. This is the situation that the Arab world finds itself in today.”
These words are helpful, I think. They can help us understand that the Arab world is struggling through a very difficult time as they seek to find their way forward. We Christians should pray for these brothers and sisters. We all fall within Christ’s love.