Having studied the Middle East professionally for 35 years, and with a doctorate in Middle East history, let me make it perfectly clear: Glenn Beck, who held several rallies in Israel this week, has a better grasp of Middle East politics than most Western experts, not to mention Western leaders.
Certainly, Beck makes silly mistakes on factual matters and details. What is important, however, is that he comprehends the big picture. I do not say this based on a superficial view or on his support for Israel. As part of the GLORIA Center’s project on understanding current American politics and debates, I have monitored virtually every television and radio show Beck has done over the last two years. Too many people who voice absurd and slanderous stereotypes about Beck have not actually listened to what he says.
There are five key reasons why Beck so far has gotten things right that so many others have missed or distorted: common sense; courage; knowing the difference between right and wrong; willingness to learn; and readiness to admit when one has been wrong. These are virtues often lacking among those with more elegant reputations and impressive diplomas.
What has Beck gotten right?
1. The main threat in the Middle East is revolutionary Islamism and the United States must combat it. Revolutionary Islamism includes on its side: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah (largely controlling Lebanon), Hamas (governing the Gaza Strip), and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Al Qaeda and, more subtly, the regime governing Turkey. It is an ideology innately hostile to the West, the United States, and Israel. It cannot be bought off or moderated. Revolutionary Islamists either will take over the Middle East or be defeated.
2. Islam as a religion is not the problem. It must not be confused with revolutionary Islamism, which is a political ideology that draws on normative Islam to produce its own plausible interpretation. Beck correctly draws the distinction; others do not. Those claiming Islam is “a religion of peace” miss the radicalism easily drawn from its texts, as well as the large and growing Islamist forces. Those claiming Islam is inherently extremist miss most of its actual history and the tremendous battle going on among Muslims.
3. The revolutionary Islamist side is winning. In the last year, revolutionary Islamism has advanced in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Turkey, and potentially Syria, Libya, and Tunisia.
4. The “Arab Spring” contains many dangers. The unqualified Western enthusiasm for the “Arab Spring” ignored the threat of growing Islamist power. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt proves this point. It is positioned to become Egypt’s strongest single party in parliament and to have a large say in the writing of the country’s new constitution. The regime that emerges in Egypt might not be Islamist, but it will be radical, anti-American, and dangerously hostile toward Israel.
5. Israel, says Beck, just happens to be largely right and deserves support. Eighteen years ago, Israel took a tremendous risk for peace by signing an agreement with the PLO, agreeing to establish an armed Palestinian Authority, and negotiating toward the creation of a Palestinian state. Later, it offered the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace, withdrawing from south Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and much of the west bank.
Yet the more concessions Israel made, the more it was slandered and accused of not wanting peace. Beck has cut through this nonsense to point out a simple fact: Israel wants a negotiated compromise and stable peace based on a two-state solution; the Palestinian Authority – not to mention Hamas – does not.
6. One man’s terrorist â€¦ is still a terrorist. Beck sees no romanticism in the deliberate murder of civilians, systematic incitement of hatred, and goal of establishing a totalitarian society. Bad ends hardly justify bad means.
7. The Obama administration has messed up the Middle East to a phenomenal extent. This is not something that can be summed up in a paragraph. For details, you can read what I have written about this since January 2009. Just go to my blog, http://rubinreports.blogspot.com.
8. One should be fearless in facing intimidation and politically motivated ridicule. We live at a time when governments and intellectuals surrender at the merest hint of being called names or faced with threats of violence. Beck stands firm regardless of the ridicule and demonization.
9. We must re-evaluate friends and enemies in this new era of revolutionary Islamism and post-Marxist leftism. In the past, Jews often saw conservatives and religious Christians as threats – and for good reasons. We are no longer in the 19th or even 20th centuries, however. Most Christians are not drooling to convert, kill, or use Jews to bring on the apocalypse. They see Jews as fellow believers rather than – as in past anti-Semitism – corrosive atheists and Jesus-killers. They see Israel as an embodiment of the nation-state and admire its ability to defend itself. They also believe that Israel is facing the same enemies as they are today.
10. Whatever mistakes the United States has made, it is a good country and is the hope of the world. Many countries and people everywhere yearn for America to revive itself, change the current administration’s policies, properly define friends and enemies, and take leadership internationally once again.
Any criticism one can make of Beck regarding Middle East issues pales in comparison to all of the above points. We Jews, and Israelis most of all, should know that to be falsely reviled is not proof of being wrong or evil.