Nudnik - n. U.S. colloq. Esp. in Jewish usage: a pestering, nagging, or irritating person
It is no small irony that the American project for opening up the politics of the Arab world is being launched from Iraq. At first glance this would seem to be the most forbidding of landscapes. Arabs of my generation who came into political awareness in the '50s were raised to an idea of Iraq as a turbulent and merciless place. But this is the hand that history has dealt us. Americans may be strangers in the Arab world, but a bitter frustration with the ways of the Arabs, born of 9/11, has pushed America deeper into Arab life. That frustration has given urgency to a new determination to reform the Arab condition, to strike at that cluster of unreason and anti-Americanism that has poisoned Arab culture. We haven't been particularly skilled at that, and perhaps no foreign sword could cut the Gordian knot of an old, stubborn culture. But there is nobility in what is being attempted. Under Anglo-American protection the Kurds, for decades the victims of official persecution, were able to build a decent, moderate political world in their ancestral north. Now the work of repair extends beyond the Kurds, and Iraq today represents the odd spectacle, a veritable reversal of intellectual galaxies, of a conservative American president proclaiming the gospel of liberty while liberals fall back on a surly belief that liberty can't travel, can't spread to Muslim lands.
Leave aside American liberalism's hostility to this venture and consider the multitudes of America's critics in Arab and European intellectual circles. It is they today who propagate a view of peoples and nations fit--and unfit--for democracy. It is they who speak of Iraq's "innate" violence. For their part, the men and women in Iraq--who make their way to the ballot box, past the perpetrators of terror--will be witnesses to the appeal of liberty. In their condescension, people given to dismissing these elections say that Iraq is the wrong place for a "Jeffersonian democracy." (Forgive the emptiness of that remark, for America itself is more of a Hamiltonian creation, but that is another matter.) No Jeffersonianism is needed here. A kind of wisdom has been given ordinary Iraqis--an eagerness to be rid of the culture of statues and informers and terror. It takes no literacy in the writings of Mill and Locke to know the self-respect that comes with choosing one's rulers. Though it would not be precisely accurate to speak of the "restoration" of democracy in Iraq, older Iraqis have a memory of a more merciful history. Now Iraq has to be rehabilitated. These elections--flawed, taking place alongside a raging insurgency--are part of the rehabilitation of this deeply wounded country.