Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: Somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
(William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”—1919)
- (Note to Internet vigilantes: This is one of the few poems I have bothered to commit to memory, so I don’t need to cite my source.)
What Yeats was telling us is “History doesn’t repeat itself—at best sometimes it rhymes,” and “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it” (Edmund Burke also said, “All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win is for enough good men to do nothing”).
The upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa is a case of rhyming history, and the historically ignorant West appears to be on a destined path to foolish repetition of its errors in both World War I and World War II. I’m not a historian or a politician or a statesman or diplomat or anything other than a student of history and a writer of historical fiction. But even I can see that what’s happening is not the triumph of democracy over tyranny.
What is happening is mainly a rebellion of a minority, radical Shia Muslims, against an often-oppressive Sunni Muslim majority. Young Sunnis are also rebelling against aged Sunni despots.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that young, pro-Western, pro-democracy Sunnis will prevail. As in most revolutions (historically) the most-radical, blood-thirsty minority will violently take charge of the regimes that follow the overthrow of the tyrants. (For information on the populations of Shia and Sunni Muslims, refer to the Pew Center: http://pewforum.org/Muslim/Mapping-the-Global-Muslim-Population%286%29.aspx .)
As evidence to support my claim that most revolutions end in violence and with a fanatical minority taking charge, I urge you to read up on the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution. It took half a century at least in each of these instances for moderates to regain power in these countries, and, in the process of moderation, the entire world was sucked into the conflicts, and millions of people died.
American broadcast journalists (for the most part) have not provided accurate information on the trouble that’s brewing beyond our borders. As always, Americans are myopic: just look at a national weather map; you’d think America is an island floating in a sea of darkness; maps don’t show Canada, Mexico, or even the weather over the oceans!
This morning I watched BBC World and learned that the EU is anticipating as many as 300,000 refugees from Libya alone. They called this “an exodus of Biblical proportions.” I hate to tell them, but the proper analogy is bigger and more recent than that, a migration of Medieval proportions. It happened before: In 711 A.D. an Arab and Berber army (Sunni Muslims) crossed from Tangier, Morocco, to Algeciras, Spain, and from there invaded the Iberian Peninsula and into France.
Americans not only don’t know anything about history, we don’t know anything about geography either. Here are a few facts that seem to elude American politicians and journalists these days:
- Morocco is closer to Spain than Cuba is to Florida: The distance between Ceuta, Morocco, and Algeciras, Spain, is 29 km; the distance between Cuba and the Florida Keys is 151 km; it takes only 35 minutes by ferry to reach Europe from North Africa.
- The Middle East and North Africa border the Mediterranean Sea, as does Southern Europe. The sea makes most of Europe easily accessible without passing through any customs.
- Islands in the Mediterranean have throughout history been periodically taken over by Muslim nations. The island of Cyrus is currently split between Turkish and Greek control.
- Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire from about 400 years before WW I. Albania was part of the Ottoman Empire.
The current exodus to which the BBC referred was an exodus of Sunni Muslims, hundreds of thousands of people who can read the handwriting on the wall. “The moving finger having writ,” these moderate Muslims (ones who do not wish to see theocratic rule in their homelands, ones who value the separation of church and state) understand that the revolution underway is not a pro-democracy movement as we in the West use the term. These would-be refugees know that the revolution is to institute mob rule in the place of despotism (one-man rule)—and the violent ones among the mob believe in Sharia law.
Poet William Butler Yeats understood that the aftermath of World War I would lead to chaos. He was proved right. Hitler and World War II were the “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem. Yeats chose Bethlehem as his metaphor for a reason:
- World War I dismantled the Ottoman Empire. Muslim leaders were outraged. Some of them founded the Muslim Brotherhood for the express purpose of restoring Islam to its greatness.
Both World Wars were seemingly precipitated by isolated events: the assassination of an apparently minor archduke; the German invasion of Poland with the Soviet Union’s tacit approval. Of course, in hindsight both these were simply excuses that more than one uninvolved party were waiting for, and the events weren’t unplanned.
Did Tunisia revolt on a whim? Was it a coincidence that the protests began on Christmas Eve? Here’s an interesting article from the LA Times: It looks as if yesterday 6,000 Tunisian refugees showed up on the Italian island, Lampedusa.