Sunday, January 30, 2011

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History's great opportunity in the Arab Middle East

Iraq, Afghanistan [work in progress], maybe Egypt and Tunisia ?

by Ferdinand III

This is indeed a decisive chance for moderation, modernity, and new beginnings within the Arab world at large. Unlike many, so-called 'conservatives' who believe that the Arab world is hopelessly mired in history, culture and rituals which are alien and incompatible with Western ideas of political-economic and social construction, there are many of us who do believe quite emphatically in fact, that given exogenous pressures and support, external change, and domestic willingness and desperation; the Arab world including its Muslim orientation, can be changed into a far more pluralist and inclusive set of societies. In other words we have faith in that Arabs, Arab culture and the modern elements within Islamic societies want to change and reorient their societies away from despotism, violence, supremacism, corruption and war, and towards trade, toleration, and some form of democratic accountability.

2011 Tunisia and Egypt might indeed be repeats of 1917 Russia, and 1979 Iran. But they need not be. There are salient differences between these 3 events. Indeed it is preferable to see the opportunity and optimism embedded in a general, and quite appropriate, uprising against despotic, soul-destorying autocracy across such a wide swathe of the Arab world. So much for the myth of Arab culture being that of a slave state. Perhaps the Arabs do covet freedom, personal responsibility and some form of pluralism. It remains to be seen if that is what a vociferous minority wants. Or if the ethos is deeper and wider.

In 1917 the Kerensky Liberal government was never broad based, supported by a large section of the population, nor given much in the way or moral and material supporty from Lloyd George or the winsome and quite illiterate Woodrow Wilson. 1917 was in the midst of the Great War, and little could be done to give succour to the nascent movements of Russian liberal democracy. Only Churchill perceived the wider, deeper and more barbaric threat of a Bolshevik take over.

1979 Iran is likewise different than today's Arab revolution. The Americans were governed by a precursor to Obama, one Jimmy Carter, one of the most ineffective leaders in history. Instead of supporting the Shah or a logical successor, the Carter administration let a minority radical, Fascist Muslimocracy, take control over a vital and geo-politically important state. It is no exagerration to state that the Iranian revolution which inaugurated the modern Jihad, is as seminal an event as 1789 or 1917.  Modern Muslim fascism can be directly traced to this epochal and quite barbaric achievement.

In North Africa the ghosts of Nasser and Sadat appear to be dead. The Arab-Hobbesian Leviathan is a relic of times past. No longer do Arab populations need to be under the jackboot of Pharaonic rule. And – this needs to be mentioned – there is little doubt that if the Americans were not in Iraq and Afghanistan the events in North Africa, Yemen and Jordan would not be happening. Cultural and social change in Greater Arabia, riven for centuries by autocracy, corruption and the trammeling of natural law rights, can and will only come about with exogenous support and aid. This means American support and aid. Europe, corrupt, weak, indifferent and diseased with socialism will do nothing – except to be rightly concerned about the 65% of oil imports which wend their way through the Suez Canal – itself a product of French and Western engineering genius [though the Persian Darius the Great of the 5th century BC can take credit for the first such canal and idea].

Many of us have been very hard on Arab culture for many obvious reasons. The outgrowth of intolerant Islam has direct antecedents in pre-Muslim Arabic history, culture and ritual. I am no fan of Islam. But I know many Muslims who live under Islamic law who desire a better life. It is these people, rising up in Egypt, Tunisia and beyond, who are venturing into uncharted territory. The states they oppose have the police and military on their side. Their comrades have historical development and natural law rights on their side.

We now have a chance to truly establish some form of 'moderate' Islam and Arabia in states which mimicking Iraq, can have mixed Constitutions comprising Islamic rituals, Western law and a division of powers. It is in the best interests of the West that such projects succeed. By creating a pluralist polity, we can sideline the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda. By allowing some form of lawful secularity, we can extract the best from the Arab populations and expand trade, tolerance and the protection of minorities.

Though in general I am no supporter of Bush, [tax cuts are mandatory and so was the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the rest of Bush's tenure looks a lot like the Obamed's however], we must grant him this. His vision of democracy, however utopian and divorced from cultural and historical reality, is undoubtedly the best way to bring the Arab world into the real world. Greater Arabia is poor, its trade outside of oil limited, over 40% of its women illiterate, its social-economic development, its chance for pluralist modernity constrained. It is high time to bring the huge swathe of Arab controlled territory into the political and economic patterns of the modern world system. By doing so, we will achieve many aims, some moral, others philanthropic, many geo-political. And there is nothing wrong with that.