Saturday, April 19, 2003

Opportunities gained or lost?
My friend Chuck Freund has written this commentary for Reason, where he argues that the defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq might also signal a defeat for Pan-Arabism and victory for liberal forces in the Middle East.

Here is his opening paragraph:

The fall of Baghdad this month was accompanied by another event that was less visible but that has potentially far greater consequences: the collapse of Pan-Arabism as an essential and controlling aspect of Arab political thought. Because the triumph of Pan-Arabism half a century ago led to the eclipse of liberal thought in the Arab world, Pan-Arabism's collapse may well make room for liberalism's gradual return in the region's discourse. That could in turn allow the region to break its historic cycle of political failure and economic stagnation. If that occurs, it would be a clear--if perhaps paradoxical--case of liberal interests advanced and served by military means; the true victors of the overthrow of Iraqi Ba'thism would be the long-powerless Arab liberals.

That would be great news. The only problem is that the Arab world tends to respond to its defeats not by opening up but by closing down and falling back on the old ways--no matter how discredited they may be. Witness this genuinely pathetic commentary by Edward Said in the English-language portion of the Al-Hayat website, which utterly fails to see the advantages the Arabs might derive from Saddam's fall.

Witness, too, the fact that what begins as a fairly serious commentary soon becomes petty as Said turns his piece into yet another attack on Fouad Ajami and Bernard Lewis (or maybe it's just the same one he keeps recycling). Said, like Candide, invariably prefers to cultivate his little garden of recrimination.

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