Sunday, May 22, 2005

Springtime in the Middle East?

Fouad Ajami has written an impressive travel memoir, based on his recent jaunt through the Middle East. He reports of Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon that "the people in the plazas of Beirut, and the Syrian intellectuals who have stepped forth to challenge the Baathist regime, have behind them the warrant, and the green light, of American power and protection."Ajami continues, "I met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future."

For years, the "Pax Americana" had supported authoritarian regimes, fearing the potentially disorderly results of not doing so. That bargain with authoritarianism did not work, and "begot us the terrors of 9/11," according to Ajami. Bush courageously broke with '"the soft bigotry of low expectations," remained unpersuaded by the argument for Arab and Muslim "exceptionalism" to the appeal of liberty, and has now found Muslims and Arabs eager to reform their world. Ajami remarks that the popular press now finally describes political reality in the Middle East, and newspapers openly concede that the world has bypassed the Arabs. Contributing to these changes along with the efforts in Iraq is Bush's willingness to tell the Palestinians that they can't have terror and statehood simultaneously and putting Arafat beyond the pale.

In Iraq itself, Ajami finds at the National Assembly "men and women doing democracy's work, women cloaked in Islamic attire right alongside more emancipated women, the technocrats and the tribal sheikhs, and the infectious awareness among these people of the precious tradition bequeathed them after a terrible history." One legislator remarked, concerning the relationship between politics and religion, that the model "would be closer to the American mix of religion and politics than to the uncompromising secularism of France." Nobody looks to neighboring lands for political inspiration (and apparently not to Europe either), and, regarding terror, Ajami remarks that most view it as a losing battle to turn back the clock. Most people see "a better political culture tantalizingly close."


Post a Comment

<< Home