Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Young ducks and runs
Like all proprietors I demand rent, and Chuck (in the previous posting) is merely paying his way. However, I build on the housing metaphor to say that having lived in the Middle East for most of my life, I’m more skeptical than he about the plumbing. When Pan-Arabism turns to sand, I’ll be there, with Chuck, applauding, as I will when my fellow Arabs understand that the collapse of a tyranny in Iraq somehow liberated them--if only they knew how to take advantage of it.

Chuck’s feel for the jugular has already found a flaw in my argument. If Edward Said is what the Arab world comes to, isn’t that, after all, better than an ocean of Osama bin Ladens or, God forbid, Hosni Mubaraks? The anti-American whining might become unbearable after a while, but then the new liberal Arab could team up with Daniel Barenboim and soothe us with a sonata, as we swirl brandy in an Upper West Side apartment. Tom Wolfe could write about it.

For all the despair I feel when reading Said, it comes solely from the fact that he’s failed to fulfill a duty he routinely claims the intellectual must fulfill: he offers no practical way out of the stasis of Arab autocracy. Chuck mentions 'Adly Sadeq’s paeans to Saddam. But at least he is honest in his servility. Probably the most damaging thing I’ve seen in recent weeks are those hypocrites who preface their comments on the Iraq war with a “Yes, we know Saddam is a thug, but…”, before launching into what is, objectively, a defense of Saddam through a sustained attack against the U.S.

Chuck knows me too well to read into this a defense of the pious George W. Bush. However, I believe that the key to the emergence of Arab liberalism -- since that is our mantra -- is a resolution of the Arab hang-up on the United States. I think this will take much self-analysis on the Arab side (if you can forgive an Upper West Side expression I abhor), but also -- and this is thrown at you Chuck -- actions on the American side that can sustain Arab liberalism.

That means many things: Making representative government work in Iraq without turning the country into what Arabs will decry as a U.S. protectorate; resolving the Palestinian problem fairly, since it remains the single most redoubtable obstacle to Arab acceptance of American impartiality; and accepting what both of us, as downtrodden libertarians, see missing in the current discourse on American triumphalism: recognition that an open global society, like a free market, can only flourish when all the actors are somehow accepted as being equal in their rights, if not necessarily in their potential.

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