No event has catalyzed this type of discrimination more than the Arab Spring. Far from the democratic revolution that many naive Westerners expected, the Arab Spring has enabled religious groups that hold power to settle old scores or curry favor with the average people by lashing out against unpopular religious minorities. In Syria, the Alawite minority ruling group is lashing out against largely Sunni protesters against the Assad regime, which has created discord in the Turkish-Syrian relationship and has created significant friction between Turkey (a Sunni nation) and Iran, Syria's benefactor. In Egypt, various groups seizing power, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, are attempting to fill the power vacuum and establish credibility by going after Coptic Christians and trying to establish Islamic credibility among the people. Yet, even countries that have not endured regime change from the Arab Spring practice systemic discrimination. Notorious cases of honor killings, lashing women who drive cars, destroying Christian and Jewish places of worship, killing people who convert from Islam and imposing second class citizenship on nonbelievers. Regardless of what underlying tenants of Islam say, most Islamic nations since the Umayyads have featured some or all of these features.
The Western reaction to this ongoing behavior has been underwhelming. Most recently evidenced by the West's relative non-reaction to the Arab attempt to slaughter the Black Africans of Sudan wholesale as part of official Sudanese government policy, Western societies have struggled to come to terms with the frequent discrimination in Islamic nations. The core problem arises from a conflict of two ideas at the core of Western liberalism: tolerance for other cultures and the goal of equality and political rights. While Western societies increasingly try to end discrimination based on sex, religion and race, Islamic nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are becoming increasingly regressive from a Western standpoint and entrenching views of religious and sex relations that are antiquated at best and oppressive at worst from a Western standpoint. However, Western societies' history of colonialism and the white guilt that still permeates the West prevents many people from condemning discrimination in Islamic societies the same way they could condemn Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. Those two examples feature white peoples oppressing other peoples and fit comfortably into the narrative of Western guilt for colonialism.
It's not that Westerners don't care about these issues. On the contrary, one need only look at the increased criticism that Christian Conservatives in the United States face for their stances on gay rights to see that the Western societies are demanding greater rights for a variety of minorities. Yet, it is interesting to see that despite the push for rights for women and homosexual persons in Western societies has been coupled with significant criticism of groups that are perceived to be opposed to such progress, the regressive aspects of Islamic societies has received comparatively little criticism. There are, of course, some blips on the radar, usually after a particularly heinous honor killing or when someone like Daniel Pearl is executed because he is Jewish. Yet, we see far more pervasive criticism of the Christian Right in American and Europe despite the fact that for the most part, Christian Conservatives take violent action to impose their beliefs on others far less frequently that do groups trying to reinstate a more traditional Islamic social order.
Moreover, while it is expected without exception that Europeans traveling to Islamic societies conform to their social mores and expectations, the ideals of multiculturalism and tolerance have allowed the worst excesses of Islamic societies such as honor killings, antisemitic attacks on synagogues and the opposition to any rights for homosexuals or women to be imported into America and Europe. Indeed, it is ironic that Western multiculturalism has allowed for an increase in the type of behavior that runs opposite to the goals of most Western societies to foster equality. The irony is especially palpable because other groups professing similar ideas to many Islamic governments are rebuked and pushed to the fringes of political discussion precisely because of their views. In the United States, "right wingers" who are perceived as anti-abortion, racist, intolerant and preachy receive far more criticism in our society than many other peoples who espouse similar views. The reasons are quite obvious when one starts to think about the Western mindset, which is based on the idea of rationalizing other people's behavior based on what Westerns did to them to cause their behavior. Our narrative has decidedly put the blame on us for other people's lashing out, and many other leaders take advantage of this idea when framing their own persona as an anti-Western crusader (notably Gamal Abdel Nasse, Ayatollah Khomenei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and increasingly, Tayyip Erdogan).
After the initial shock of 9/11, many people began to try to rationalize the event by asking "what did we do to cause this?" Answers range from focusing on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. support for Israel, European interventions in various nations in the Magreb, the British and French establishment of "puppet regimes" in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, the destruction of the Caliphate in World War I and the Crusades. What followed was the establishment of a framework for viewing Western-Islamic relations as a history of Western attacks on Islam, which brought about an expected military response. Indeed, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khomenei, Gamal Abdel Nassar and other prominent Islamic leaders have cultivated this Western attack imagery, referring back to the Crusades and the establishment of Israel as a successor to the failed Crusader Kingdoms. Of course, this narrative tells only half the story, especially when looking at more distant history. While the Crusades certainly were an attack on Islam by Christendom, it could be readily sandwiched between the Umayyad invasion of Europe in the 8th Century (stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732) and the Ottoman invasion of Central Europe in the 17th century, culminating in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. However, the last 100 years have essentially washed over further centuries of history that is far more complex and multidimensional than we can imagine. Indeed, the perceived "imperialism" of Israel has essentially whitewashed over everything that is going on in Gaza and the West Bank. Forget about Palestinian treatment of Israelis, and look instead at how the Palestinian governments treat Christians, women, Druze and Europeans. Look at how the Iranian government treats Baha'i and homosexuals (though their President claims that none exist in Iran, a claim similarly made by various Soviet premiers in the 1950s and 1960s), look at how Egypt treats its Copts and look at how every Arab nation evicted all of its Jews wholesale in 1948.
What does this mean for Israel? For all intents and purposes, Israel is a Western nation. It is inaccurately portrayed in the Western media as a nation full of white, Europeans transplanted into the "Arab" desert. We in the West can project our expectations, morals and demands on Israel because they look like us and sound like us. The fact that Jordan bans Jews from buying land or from being citizens (and that's Israel's closes Arab ally!) is far less significant than Israel's construction of a partial separation fence to keep out terrorists. Moreover, we project Western history onto Israel even when it makes no sense to do so. The characterization of Israel as anything resembling the old Crusader states is laughable except that it is an image that many feel is accurate. To think that 8 million Israelis pose an existential threat to the well being of the Arab, Iranian and Turkish Middle East is bizarre role reversal by which the Islamic world seeks to redeploy the narrative of colonialism against a political entity that had nothing to do with it. Even if people in Britain or France feel guilt over their ancestors' actions against Muslim peoples over the centuries, the stateless Jews had no hand in those actions. Yet, we now face a situation in which Israel is cast as the successor colonizer in the style of the British Empire, crushing the nationalist dreams of the hapless Palestinian peoples.
While this narrative is quite useful from the standpoint of garnering sympathy for the Palestinians, it of course ignores the fact that the Palestinian leadership is among the most regressive. Since receiving local control in Gaza and the West Bank Palestinians mobs killed Vittorio Arrigoni, a man who supported the Palestinian independence struggle, Gaza has grown to lead the world in honor killings, Christians have all but abandoned Gaza and political repression is extreme. Of course, all of this gets pushed aside any time a house is built in Jerusalem or if a teenager attacking Israeli soldiers is shot.
The Arab Spring has not changed the fundamental tenants of most Islamic societies, and while we may have been expecting change, the overthrow of military or minority dictatorships in places like Egypt, Syria and Tunisia are only more likely to bring to power Islamist leaders who can take populist positions by trying to break away from any corrupt "Western" influences and trying to return their societies to the more glorious times before the perceived rise and invasion of Western values and ideas. When we see that type of regression in such societies, our fear of seeming racist, intolerant or elitist has and will prevent us from speaking out in the necessary voice to stop another Darfur genocide, Armenian Genocide, or Syrian government crackdown.