Sunday, February 27, 2011

The dead find fault with the living

"History's shifting sands":
"An epochal shift of historical momentum has occurred whose implications have yet to be imagined, never mind assessed. In the space of a month, the intellectual, political and ideological centre of gravity in the world has shifted from the far West (America) and far East (China, whose unchecked growth and continued political oppression are clearly not a model for the region) back to the Middle - to Egypt, the mother of all civilization, and other young societies across the Middle East and North Africa.
Standing amidst hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square seizing control of their destiny it suddenly seemed that our own leaders have become, if not quite pharaohs, then mamluks, more concerned with satisfying their greed for wealth and power than with bringing their countries together to achieve a measure of progress and modernity in the new century. Nor does China, which has offered its model of state-led authoritarian capitalist development coupled with social liberalisation as an alternative to the developing world, seem like a desirable option to the people risking death for democracy in the streets of capitals across the Arab world and Iran.
Instead, Egyptians, Tunisians and other peoples of the region fighting for revolutionary political and economic change have, without warning, leapfrogged over the US and China and grabbed history's reins. Suddenly, it is the young activists of Tahrir who are the example for the world, while the great powers seem mired in old thinking and outdated systems. From the perspective of "independence" squares across the region, the US looks ideologically stagnant and even backwards, filled with irrational people and political and economic elites incapable of conceiving of changes that are so obvious to the rest of the world.
 Although she likely did not intend it, when Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warned Arab leaders in early January that they must "reform" lest their systems "sink in the sand" her words were as relevant in Washington as they were in Tunis, Tripoli, Cairo or Sanaa. But Americans - the people as much as their leaders - are so busy dismantling the social, political and economic foundations of their former greatness that they are unable to see how much they have become like the stereotype of the traditional Middle Eastern society that for so long was used to justify, alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) supporting authoritarian leaders or imposing foreign rule."
"The problem clearly starts from the top and continues to the grass roots. Barack Obama campaigned for the presidency on the slogan "Yes we can!" But whether caving in to Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on settlements, or standing by as Republicans wage a jihad on the working people of Wisconsin, the president has refused to stand up for principles that were once the bedrock of American democracy and foreign policy.

The American people are equally to blame, as increasingly, those without healthcare, job security or pensions seem intent on dragging down the lucky few unionised workers who still have them rather than engage in the hard work of demanding the same rights for themselves.

The top one per cent of Americans, who now earn more than the bottom 50 per cent of the country combined, could not have scripted it any better if they had tried. They have achieved a feat that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and their fellow cleptocrats could only envy (the poorest 20 per cent of the population in Tunisia and Egypt actually earn a larger share of national income than does their counterpart in the US)."
"For their part, Americans have all but forgotten that the "golden years" of the 1950s and 1960s were only golden to so many people because unions were strong and ensured that the majority of the country's wealth remained in the hands of the middle class or was spent on programmes to improve public infrastructure across the board.
The youth of the Arab world, until yesterday considered a "demographic bomb" waiting to explode in religious militancy and Islamo-fascism, is suddenly revealed to be a demographic gift, providing precisely the vigour and imagination that for generations the people of the region have been told they lacked. They have wired - or more precisely today, unwired - themselves for democracy, creating virtual and real public spheres were people from across the political, economic and social spectrum are coming together in common purpose. Meanwhile, in the US it seems young people are chained to their iPods, iPhones and social media, which has anesthetised and depoliticised them in inverse proportion to its liberating effect on their cohorts across the ocean.
Indeed, the majority of young people today are so focused on satisfying their immediate economic needs and interests that they are largely incapable of thinking or acting collectively or proactively. Like frogs being slowly boiled alive, they are adjusting to each new setback - a tuition increase, here, lower job prospects there - desperately hoping to get a competitive edge in a system that is increasingly stacked against them.
It now seems clear that hoping for the Obama administration to support real democracy in the Middle East is probably too much to ask, since it cannot even support full democracy and economic and social rights for the majority of people at home. More and more, the US feels not just increasingly "irrelevant" on the world stage, as many commentators have described its waning position in the Middle East, but like a giant ship heading for an iceberg while the passengers and crew argue about how to arrange the deck chairs."

Listing Gaddafi's accomplishments is just pure racism.  You are saying the Arabs aren't "ready for Democracy", they need a "strong man" to make any progress.  You are as bad as a racist supremacist like Bernard Lewis. Why is it so difficult to understand that people want to make their own decisions, even their own mistakes?

Since the White Man is powerless anyway, this crappy paternalism is just silly.  Who cares what an fossil like Barnard Lewis thinks?  Hillary and Barack are irrelevant.  The Arabs have the momentum, are running with it, and nobody from the outside can stop them.
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