The Islamists who are protesting against the USA in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Yemen and so on might have understood the implications of the Arab Spring better than the West itself.
They view the USA as the cause of the change from a traditional, very religious, society (that was incidentally ruled by brutal dictators, but that’s a detail in the grand scheme of the history of Islam, and nothing new since the beginning when the dictator was the ferocious Mohammed, followed by no less ferocious warriors - see the history Islam). They see the USA as the cause for a change that started with the demise of Saddam Hussein and continued with the blessing of the USA. The net result of the Arab Spring will be to modernize the medieval societies of the Arab world.
The Islamists fully understand the consequences: it is not only a handful of brutal dictators who have been delivered to the dustbin but their entire societies. The societies that are emerging from the Arab Spring will be strongly influenced by Western ideals of scientific progress and of global business. The Islamists are absolutely correct in fearing that Islam will go the way of Christianity. They correctly perceived the USA as the cause of the change, as the inspiration for what will come next, and as the main threat to their religion.
It is telling that the worst act of violence after the Arab Spring took place in the one country (Libya) where the Islamic parties were badly defeated in the first democratic elections (just four months earlier). Islamists killed the ambassador of the USA not so much to vent their anger at the USA but to vent their anger at the change that those elections imply. Libya has become a model of how the Arab world could get rid of the religious obstacles to progress.
The president of the new democratic and secular government of Libya immediately apologised to the USA, the still extremely rare case of a politician who dares defy its fanatical religious mobs in an Islamic country, and then immediately launched an investigation on the incident and arrested suspects, correctly treating this episode as a criminal act regardless of how you feel about insulting the founder of Islam; but this is simply infuriating the Islamists, because what they fear is precisely this modern, secular attitude.
Over the course of history, it has rarely happened that a religion was annihilated by war (it only happened with small minorities of “heretics”). Religions have been annihilated mainly by changing times, as they become obsolete, anachronistic, senseless in a world that does not believe in their superstitions anymore. How many world-educated Muslims truly believe that a god named Allah picked a warrior in the middle of the Arabian desert and told him to kill lots of innocents to establish an empire on Earth? How many world-educated Muslims truly believe that old men should marry children? Obviously, if the Arab Spring leads to an age of scientific progress, the answer will be “very few”.
When George W Bush started the cascade of events that led to the political revolutions of the Arab Spring, he indirectly caused another more profound revolution that, for the first time since the Ottoman Empire, will completely change the societies of the Arab world.
The Islamists are under attack. They are indeed fighting for their survival. The USA is their enemy, and they don’t quite know how to fight it. Expelling them from the Arab lands is a beginning, and that is what they are trying first.
This is nothing new. The Catholic Church was even more brutal in its repression of modernizing ideas. Lacking the political, economic and military might of the Catholic Church, the Islamists use what methods they can to carry out the same kind of last-ditch war.
piero scaruffi is an author, cultural historian and blogger who has written extensively about a wealth of topics, ranging from cognitive science to music.