The Nudnik File

Nudnik - n. U.S. colloq. Esp. in Jewish usage: a pestering, nagging, or irritating person

Monday, May 24, 2004

              Where to Now?
Over the last few months, as events in Iraq have turned towards the worse, there has been a noticeable shift in sentiment. Even many of those who saw the liberation of Iraq as a first step towards the democratization of the entire Middle East have shown signs of stepping back from this ambitious agenda. For many, the goal in Iraq seems to have changed to merely stabilizing the country, perhaps under a benevolent dictator (as suggested by Daniel Pipes, among others). The question posed by Victor Hanson and Lee Harris a few months back - did Saddam create Fallujah or did Fallujah create Saddam - seems for some to be resolving itself towards the latter.

Meyrav Wurmser, in this article from National Review, has not given up hope for a transformation of the Arab world. Yet, at the same time she acknowledges that the problem is deeper than what we thought it would be going in to this.
Coming on the heels of events at Abu Ghraib, the difference between American society's reaction to American misdeeds and the reaction of the Arab world to the brutal acts in Iraq and Gaza tell the whole story. For those of us who believe that the Middle East can be improved this is a moment of crisis, of soul-searching. It is very difficult not to think that, after all, there may be a hopeless clash of civilizations taking place between the Middle East and the West. It is impossible not to ask whether there is inherent violence and lack of civility in Arab society.

It now has become clear that we are confronted with a deep malady. So many years of corruption, despotism, and tyranny — not just a century of Arab ideologies, but also centuries of Ottoman imperial rule and centuries of Arab tyrannies before that — have distorted, even sickened, Arab societies.

There has always been a divide among those who study history. Some argue that cultures and civilizations are organic entities with lives of their own, creating the states they deserve; proponents of this view write off the Arab world as incapable of liberalism. Others continue to hope that the crafty state is, over time, the main forger of society. But merely removing a despotic state after a millennium of tyranny is no longer a sufficient corrective to the illness afflicting Arab society. The problem now is not only political. Arab economies have been reduced to Mafioso-like monopolies and fights to control the state. Arab culture and art have been reduced to statist self-glorification. Most of all, Arab politics have been reduced violence and personal destruction rather than debate and mutual respect. In Arab politics, opponents are not answered or rebutted, they are discredited or destroyed.

We should not give up on all Muslims or all Arabs. But the burden of proof now is on them. It is no longer up to us to show that we treat them as equals and are not motivated by Western (or Jewish) anti-Arab conspiracies. It is no longer up to us to solicit their approval and acceptance. We should no longer blame ourselves.

This is now more than a struggle for Arab and Muslim freedom; it is a struggle for Arabs and Muslims to reclaim their souls, and it can only be decided within their own societies. It is up to the Arabs and the Muslims of the Middle East to decide not whether they want to be a part of modern, Western society, but whether they want to be a part of the civilized world. Now is their moment of truth.
David Frum, on the other hand thinks it is more an issue of religion than political culture.
|| Nudnik 9:26 PM
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