Posted byat 2nd February, 2011
Originally posted to Barbaravictor.com on February 1st.
The Middle East is exploding. People want freedom. The young and old are tired of despotic rulers depriving them of human rights. They are fed up with corrupt institutions and stagnant political order.
The core problem within these countries in North Africa, the Gulf, and throughout the rest of the Arab world is the growing population of young men and women who are educated and ambitious, while unemployed, frustrated, resentful, and muzzled. The other problem, even more dire, is a misconception of freedom when the alternative to autocratic and repressive leaders are regimes controlled by extreme Islamic fundamentalists.
One of the earliest examples of this failed political transition was in Iran during the revolution in 1979. Who doesn’t remember the Iranian protestors against the Shah who lined Fifth Avenue with placards, petitions, and mock-ups of torture machines? After a year of living in exile in Neauphle-le-Chateau in France, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran, took power, and set up a government ruled by dictatorial Mullahs. The result of freedom from the Shah became a country led by the Ayatollah where squads of young thugs roamed the streets, arresting people who listened to music, held hands with the opposite sex, or stoned women who were not covered from head to toe in black burkas. Pretty soon, Iranian protestors could be seen once again on Fifth Avenue with placards, petitions, and those same mock-up torture machines, only this time they were protesting the brutal regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Freedom was a distant dream. Never mind Jimmy Carter and his doomed do-gooder foreign policy back then to rid the world of the Shah instead of putting pressure on the Persian ruler to create more equality. Carter believed the alternative would be democracy. Instead, Iran became what it is today in a mere three decades—a country led by an ignorant lunatic who spews anti-Semitism and is several years away from the ability to deliver a nuclear bomb.
In Algeria, in 1992 when there was an attempt at elections, the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front almost won a majority in the Parliament. In response, the government canceled elections. The Algerian dictator was brutal but he and his cohorts clearly understood that the alternative to his brand of brutality would be a religious dictatorship. Not that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika cares about human rights. He cared about saving his wealth and power. The result in Algeria was that human rights remained elusive.
Again, even more recently in Tunisia in January 2011, the country’s president, Zine al Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee the country after twenty-three years of a ruthless grip on his people. A state of emergency was declared and the ineffectual prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, appeared on television to announce that he was running what he described as a “temporary government.” There is no doubt that it is only a question of time—months at the most—before the all-powerful Islamic party will promise the people equality and a better life, take over the army, and impose religious rule.
The irony is that Islamic leaders fulfill those promises of a better life if compared to the violent dictatorships of Arab leaders from Morocco to Egypt to Jordan, Syria, and beyond. The reason that Hamas and the Islamic Fundamentalists throughout the West Bank and Gaza win the hearts and minds of the Palestinians is because they provide education, technological training, and such basics as food, warm clothes, and shelter for an otherwise desperate population. They are rich organizations. They get billions in donations from Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia who is home to the violent Wahabi Muslims. And, there are many other states that support the extremist religious groups. The fact that the more moderate leaders in that region talk peace with Israel is no incentive for the Palestinians to trust them. The only hearts and minds the more moderate Palestinians are winning are those in the United States and Israel.
Societies which have been oppressed for decades have no idea how to achieve freedom. More to the point, the American version of freedom or democracy is completely foreign to those living throughout the Arab world. Our idea of liberation fails on almost every attempt, whether in Iraq or throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Our misconception that people in those distant lands will embrace our brand of freedom is not only naïve but dangerous, as the people we are trying to liberate end up viewing us as oppressors. This predictable formula is similar to the countries that had no idea how to make the transition from living under a brutal but decrepit Soviet Empire in 1989 to the fall of the Berlin Wall which supposedly brought freedom. What happened instead was that criminal bands and former communist leaders rule Russia today, either behind the scenes or blatantly on the streets. Either regime that deposes dictatorships—mafia clans or extreme religious leaders—results in a deprivation of human rights, anarchy, and sets societies back thousands of years when it comes to social, cultural, and economic progress.
An article in the Sunday New York Times on 30 January, quoted an American woman whose son was currently in Egypt as an exchange student. Though she was worried about his safety given the riots going on there to depose Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, she also believed that her son was witness to a great moment in history. According to her, he was privileged to observe the Egyptian people fighting for freedom. But what really caught my eye was an article in the same edition that reported how gangs of armed men attacked at least four prisons across Egypt to free thousands of Muslim militants. As they sacked the jails, apparently the police temporarily vanished from the streets.
Predictably, the majority of Egyptians believe that once Mubarak leaves the country, freedom will reign and chaos will end. The reality, if history is any lesson, is that Islamic Fundamentalists will take over, promise people a better life, and tragically make good on those promises. What is even more tragic of course is the price people will and have paid for that so-called, on-the-surface better life.
In exchange for the youth having the opportunity to be educated and technologically trained, they will find themselves indoctrinated into a philosophical army that deplores America, intends to obliterate Israel, and ultimately will be willing to die for their cause.
In exchange for improved social services where children will not starve and the elderly will be cared for, women will lose any gains they had made when it comes to 21st century equality.
The truth is that the United States would rather see despots ruling Arab countries than risk Islamic Fundamentalists taking over, gathering strength, and attacking American installations at home or throughout the world. France, Germany, and England, to name a few European countries which have burgeoning Arab populations that are not afforded the same rights as their citizens, consider an Arab world ruled by Fundamentalists to be dangerous to peace within their own borders. These fears are not unfounded, which only makes the solution to this dilemma—the lesser of two evils—almost impossible to achieve.
The one possible solution to avoid secular anarchy or religious totalitarianism as an alternative to either a communist or fascist dictatorship lies within the definition of democracy, freedom and liberty. We, in America, and they, in other foreign democracies, must determine what kind of democracy, freedom, and liberty apply to those countries that have never experienced anything but autocratic rule. If we continue to foist our brand of freedom, liberation, or democratic rule on those inexperienced nations, we and they are doomed to relive Janis Joplin’s words…”Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”