Arab Spring

A barren tree, once full of life
Stands leafless, brown ice in gloom
A barren tree, once full of strife
Stands not a spark, not a flower in bloom
A barren tree, once full of promise
Stands in sorrow, a promise but for tomorrow
As for today, not a leaf dares there stay

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Between Fundamentalists and the West: Arabs Look on with Horror

In a day when Ayman Al-Zwahiri, Al-Qaeda’s second in command, and the US commander-in-chief, George Bush, exchange barbs, Arabs look on at an enduring, engulfing and confounding wilderness. While most Arabs admire American values of democracy, rule of law, human rights laws, independent media, freedom of expression and minority protection as shown by polls conducted by Zogby International over the last few years, there is a disconnect between American values and American policies in Arabia. The United States invasion of Iraq is only the latest example of this disconnect because the rule of law was ignored by the US as it invaded Iraq short of UN consent or even a reasonable plan of stabilizing the country. The effect of this war is a large festering wound at the heart of the Middle East, infected with foreign terrorists and militant Salafist ideology, throw in a mix of ethnic and sectarian killings and settling of old scores and Iraq is a destabilizing force for the entire region. The blind support the US lends to Israel, ignoring its announcement of building new settlements in the West Bank the same day that Zwahiri’s tape comes out, as Israel’s troops leave Gaza, is not only infuriating but deeply insulting to all Arabs. Where is American rule of law, human rights and adherence to international treaties?

As Arabs look on, the sad truth is that they don’t know who to support. They cannot stomach the massacres in the City of Peace, Sharm Al-Sheikh, or in London. Arabs do not want a Talibanized Middle East, against freedom, cultural exchange, diversity, tolerance and education. Aiding the terrorists morally or otherwise is a dead end. At the same time, the cavalier attitude with which the Anglo-American alliance destroyed a whole country must have some consequences, consequences that Arabs hope might prevent another invasion. In the absence of potent representative government the only possible Arab response is, unfortunately, the terrorists. Although, this, by no means, makes all Arabs complicit in the terrorist attacks taking place from Baghdad to London, it does give the fundamentalists an argument of fielding off oppression of Anglo-Americans and allies. The United States also offers financial and intelligence support to the most entrenched and ruthless dictators in the region. And though Bush’s talk of freedom and democracy is uplifting and welcomed, the Bush administration is not consistent and the Arabs are wearily suspicious. Unlike Dr. Rice’s strong speech at the American University in Cairo, Laura Bush touted the Egyptian government line of “gradual” change, even going as far as calling the opposition movement “naïve” for wanting decisive change. The situation is complicated by the deep distrust of the US in Arabia. Arabs have heard lectures about democracy from the US before but as always the US changes course as befits its national interest, often to the detriment of Arab democracy. This time it is only too obvious that the US brought up democracy in the Middle East in the context of Iraq as a justification for the invasion after the arguments of WMD, 9/11- Saddam Hussein link, and Iraqi government-terrorism links have all fell through.

In short, the United States and allies must hold themselves to the same standards that they hold to the rest of the world. The West cannot pillage and plunder and then react with shock when there is a response, even if it is terrorism. Many important issues must be addressed and the grievances of Arabs must not be overlooked. Such longstanding questions such as the “the Jewish Question” in Europe that was exported to the Middle East, support of undemocratic regimes by the West in quest of “stability” as well as Middle East oil and its importance for the world economy. When these issues are addressed, the anger in the region will subside and so will terrorism, inevitably, diminish. In the meantime, with every provocative Western move terrorism will flourish. My father once told me that you can condone terrorism or not but the barometer measuring the level of anger correlates directly with the amount of terrorism around the world.