As we watch the mounting chaos from Yemen to Tunis, remember this: a corrupt and unjust regime is invariably better than any violent wrath that replaces it.
From the overthrow of 17th century Catholicism in north Germany and Bohemia, to the French Revolution, to the horrors of the October Bolshevik coup, to China, Korea, Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba and Iran -- the lesson is the same. Violent revolutions always mean bloodshed, famine and chaos for at least a generation. The collapse of communism two decades ago was peaceful and consensual. But such peaceful transitions have seldom occurred in the Arab world.
The current hero of the Egyptian revolution, Mohamed ElBaradei, is a beneficiary of parallel historical streams. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, but not for the official explanation -- his work in preventing nuclear proliferation. The Nobel committee then gave the prize to President Obama, and again, not for the same, stated reason. Both awards were actually given because the two laureates had opposed George W Bush's invasion of Iraq.
Ah well. So poor ElBaradei probably believes he is a world-statesman who is now about to save his country. All he seeks is open accountable government -- as do all those lovely, unveiled and European-looking Egyptian women in the opposition headquarters in Cairo; as do their elegant sisters in Tunisia. Why, even Hillary Rodham Clinton agrees.
Check the YouTube news-footage of 1979, and the equally lovely and modern Iranian women and their brothers, eagerly plotting the downfall of the Shah. Alongside them are their cheery smiling comrades-in-arms from the Islamist opposition. Within a couple of years, the handsome secularist brothers of those Iranian women were all hanging from lamp-posts. Iran then briefly became the only country in world history to experience a women-only terrorist campaign, as the handful of surviving she-secularists tried to avenge their slain menfolk and their raped sisters. Until they too were captured, raped and murdered. Islamic countries generally don't do the Scandinavian model very well.
True, Iran is not Egypt. But then Iran is not Afghanistan, yet look at them both. So we may as well accept now that open accountable and secular democratic government is unlikely ever to become widespread within any part of the Afro-Eurasian Islamic world. And whatever "moderate Arab leaders" may say about Israel, the mob feels differently. Were such a miracle as an Egyptian democracy to emerge, the first ambition of the victorious party would probably be the destruction of the state of Israel. The sole guarantee for the continued safety of the one and only democracy in the region is the authoritarian nature of the regimes around it, and their financial dependency on the US. Arab democracy is a serious threat to Israel.
But actually, real democracy is unlikely to result from what we're seeing across the Arab world, from Aden to Casablanca. Failed states are the far more likely outcome. Such failure is likely when population growth exponentially exceeds resources, which is what is already happening in Egypt, with a million little Egyptians being born every nine months. One of the lazier terms being used by pessimists to describe the terrorist threat of the past decade is "Islamo-Nazis" (and one, I confess, I have used myself). The aspirations and role models of Islamists might indeed be Nazi: but remember the achievements of the Third Reich, including the blitzkrieg, the V2, the Me 262, the Tiger tank and VW, plus of course, Auschwitz and Zyklon B. No Islamic society is remotely capable either of such technological brilliance or such organised evil. Quite the opposite. The foremost exemplar of Islamic derangement today is perhaps Pakistan, which, though incapable of even manufacturing a commercial motor-bike, nonetheless has an arsenal of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles -- plus feudalism, honour-killings, universal baksheesh, and uniquely, suicide-bombing doctors: a sort of Haiti with attitude.
So, though Islamic Nazism is a contradiction in terms, genocide of the regional Jews -- politely masquerading behind the mask of "anti-Zionism" -- is nonetheless a widespread ambition in the Arab world. Iran is developing its own nuclear weapons, and Taliban and al-Qa'ida would love to get their hands on a few, as too would probably the avowed "pacifists" of the Muslim Brotherhood. For actual use on Jews, that is, not as a deterrent.
The threshold has been crossed. The era of corrupt, dollar-hungry and US-compliant Arab regimes is finally coming to an end. Something fierce is emerging in the sprawling cities beyond the fault-lines between Christianity and Islam, and not just the mobs of Cairo, Tunis and Amman, which are terrible enough. But probably some altogether more potent forces are about to be unleashed. Who knows what deranged individual -- an Arab Robespierre or an Islamic Lenin -- is now awaiting his opportunity? Perhaps something like the peaceful Velvet Revolution of Eastern Europe in 1989 will follow these tumultuous days in the Arab world, and I certainly hope so, but I doubt it. I fear the passionate hopes for freedom of those brave, decent and well-coiffed middle-class Muslim women in Cairo and Tunis will sooner or later perish, amid the laden lamp-posts of history.