Do as I say, not as I do: Religion in the Middle Eastern Uprisings

A wave of revolutions have taken place across the Middle East, and in their wake, a lot of people are asking what sort of government do they want to see. Unfortunately, a lot of the people asking these questions are neither from nor based in the Middle East. Westerners feel the need to meddle with these newly emerging regimes and shape them according to their own personal bias.

Recently in Egypt the democratically elected Islamist president was ousted by the military and a new government is being formed. In Syria the process of overthrowing the old regime is still going on and the opposition groups are becoming increasingly fractious. They are divided along religious and ideological lines mainly in their views of what the new Syria should look like. Iraq and Libya are facing the same problems of spreading sectarian violence.

In the UK bloggers are pontificating over what people far removed from them should do. Mainly they talk about which factions the UK should support. Religion is frequently a factor in this as it is divisive across the Middle East. The growing conflict between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims for control of certain countries is well documented, however, other groups such as Alawite Muslims in Syria stand to gain to lose depending on what form of future government rules there. The Middle East is also home to a lot of Christians, especially in Egypt where Christians make up ten percent of the population and are worried about the implications of an Islamist government. Syria also has a sizeable Christian population (again around ten percent of the population) who have similar concerns as Sharia law spreads amongst the rebel groups.

Recently the Catholic Herald wrote an article in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and criticising the UK's support of the Syrian opposition. Conservative Christian bloggers were quick to point out that Christians were better protected under Assad's brutal Ba'athist dictatorship, which is secular, than they would be under an Islamist government. This was accompanied by a chorus of support for the Middle East's secular regimes. It seems that Conservative Christian bloggers support secularism in the Middle East but have a different attitude to the UK where they are deplore the “aggressive secularism” of the British government in its plans to legalised gay marriage. The hypocrisy of this is beyond belief. I do not see how you can justify supporting a dictator who uses chemical weapons against his own population whilst criticising a government's attempts to extend equal rights to all its citizens. I assume the fact that chemical weapons are not mentioned in the Bible as sinful makes the Syrian government more righteous than the British one. According to certain Conservative Christian bloggers, secularism in the Middle East is the best form of government - even if it comes couched in brutal military oppression - but in the UK secularism threatens to undermines the basic values of the family.

Another claim of Conservative Christian bloggers is that the UK is a Christian country and that government policies should encourage Christian values. In reality only 13% of people identified as being members of the Church of England in the last census. Congregation numbers are falling across the UK and many Churches are left without a folk. They can hardly be representative of a silent majority of British citizens who want the British government to enforce Christian values. Still, Conservative Christian bloggers assert that the UK is a Christian nation and the government should reflect this. In the Middle East, the majority of the population not only identify as Muslims but actively practise the religion, and want their governments to match the demographic make up of their nations. Especially in some countries where years of military rule has enforced secularism to prevent an Islamic uprising. Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected as an Islamist leader by the population of Egypt. The West preaches democracy and then complains about the outcome when the Middle East takes up the mantra. Conservative Christian bloggers would prefer secular regimes in the Middle East (secular Middle Eastern regimes only come in the aggressive kind) despite the wishes of the population for a government that reflects their values. Again this hypocrisy is staggering. The UK can barely be described as a Christian nation beyond that the fact that we have an established church that is heavily in decline due to overwhelming Christian apathy. However, according to Conservative Christian bloggers the UK government should adopt Christian values (despite widespread support for gay rights and a woman's right to choose) while the Middle East must have aggressive secular regimes despite what the people of these countries want.

Hypocrisy among Conservative Christians bloggers is nothing new, but this latest wave of hypocrisy is surprising and I advise Conservative Christian bloggers to look at the difference between what they desire in the Middle East and desire here at home. It's hard to claim to be the voice of morality when you clearly endorse whatever is best for your own group above the needs and wishes of the general population. If Conservative Christian bloggers do not like the aggressive secularism of the British government then I invite them to live under the Assad regime and see what really aggressive secularism is like before telling Middle East countries what they should do.

Culture of Resistance

There is a long-standing trend across society of people feeling alienated from the political establishment. This is not a movement with ideology or leaders behind it but more a broad feeling of disaffection felt by many. Individuals have sought to express this through music, film and political action drawing many who feel the same towards them but without forming a tangible movement. In recent months in the UK this has grown more apparent as opposition to the Tory government and their program of austerity has grown. I suggest the coining of a new phrase to describe this movement of the dissatisfied and how the feeling is expressed as the culture of resistance.

The culture of resistance is a general anti-establishment view point. Best described by a friend of mine as the 'fuck the police' mentality. It incorporates those against the established ideology of neoliberal free market capitalism but, in its actuality, is a broader dissatisfaction with the status quo and the dominant political philosophy. It covers a spectrum of people from those who wear Che Guevara hoodies to squat dwelling anarchists. It can be manifested in those who subscribe to specific anti-establishment ideologies such as socialism and those who take direct action against the establishment in the form of protests. However, it can also be seen in those who feel alienated from the main political discourse and social norms. The culture of resistance is not specifically opposed to or against anything that can be easily defined. That is a characteristic of a more defined movement with influential figures and a more defined ideology. The culture of resistance is more of general expression of dissatisfaction felt by many who do not fit within the establishment and are disenfranchised by this.

In one aspect it can be summed up in the general anti-establishment vibes given off by bands like Kasabian but it encompasses such diverse songs as the anger of Anti-Flag’s Die For the Government to Tracy Chapman’s more subtle Talking About a Revolution. It encompasses a range of films, from James Dean's non-specific rebellion in Rebel Without A Cause to the anti-big business rhetoric of Michael Moore’s documentaries. From the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to Iain Bank’s Complicity. It covers those who feel disenfranchised from the political and social establishment by their gender, sexuality, race, poverty or sub-culture.

For those of us on the left to be a more effective political force we need find a commonality in these disaffected individuals covered by the broad term of the culture of resistance. We need to seek out the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection and mobilise people against their oppressors. I am fully aware of many on the left who feel alienated and disaffected by lack of a strong left-wing voice in mainstream politics calling for progressive change. Many also feel dissatisfied that Labour frequently fails to be this progressive voice. Individuals form isolated causes or individuals take direct action as they feel disconnected from a larger political movement. This in essence is the culture of resistance.

It is job of those on the left to form alliances between dispirited groups and people who fall under the culture of resistance. Many of the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection are conflicting problems. Power structures within the culture of resistance make this difficult, as is forming connections within such a diverse group of people. However, forming alliances between dispirited groups has always been one of the great strengths of the right. Consider the many differences between neoliberal, free-market corporate conservatives and the faith, family and flag social conservatives who sit together (not always happily) on the benches of Republican Party. In the British Tory party we see a similar uneasy alliance between the anti-immigration lobby and supporters of the interests of large companies who exploit the cheap labour migration brings. The right counts forming political alliances as one of its strength and so too should we on the left.

There are recent examples of direct action taken by large groups of members of the culture of resistance against their political oppressors. The main instance of this is students demonstrating against tuition fee rises. A diverse group students of different ideologies and different social backgrounds united by their opposition to a single issue and their general disenfranchisement with the political establishment.

The student tuition fees protests are a clear example of the increasing degree to which young people are disillusioned with political establishment. The protests of thousands of young members of the culture of resistance in the lead up to the Iraqi war were largely ignored by mainstream politicians and thus alienation of those outside the main political discourse is continued. In recent student protests the culture of resistance were driven to property damage and occupation in response to the feeling that the voices had been ignored or silenced before. Through the media branding them as violent trouble makers, the alienation and disaffection of the culture of resistance is perpetuated.

In the Arab world we have seen a string of uprising by the political oppressed. Again a broad cross section of society has been united in a common movement of the politically alienated and the socially disaffected against their oppressors. In Egypt, a country fraught with religion divisions, Christians and Muslims were brought together against the dictatorial establishment. This should be an example to those who wish to effect social change that through a common culture of resistance very divergent groups can be brought together and ultimately topple their common oppressors.

Very recently in Tottenham, north east London the poor and disaffected lashed out at an establishment which they felt was repressing the community. This is an example of an entire community and culture falling under the label of the culture of resistance due to the disenfranchisement of poverty, the alienation of the lack of having adequate political influence to effect necessary local development and perceived over policing. The culture of resistance does not only cover isolated individuals but can incorporate entire social groups or movements.

The culture of resistance has only grown larger and more pronounced as time has gone by and more people felt alienated from mainstream politics by the dominant ideology. We have seen that there is a great power in this disenfranchisement once mobilised. Those of us on the left need to work on building bridges that unite the disaffected in a common movement if we are to effect serious and lasting social change.