Monday, September 14, 2015

It's a Long War

I retain hope that the Arab Spring was not a failure if you think of it as part of a long-term process that changes the deadening culture of Islam on Arab society. There are signs my hope is not misplaced.

While I hoped for better short-term results from the Arab Spring, I don't believe the hopes of that movement are gone. Remember, my hope was based on the simple fact that protesters broke from the long history of seeing the only alternatives for governance as secular or royal autocracies on the one hand; or Islamist states on the other. The protesters called for democracy.

They didn't know what democracy was, of course, just that it was associated with the progress of the West. The protesters needed to learn about democracy and the importance of rule of law as an integral part of democracy in addition to voting.

That's why I wanted to teach them how to elect good men.

But the Islamists were better poised to take advantage of the weakening of autocracies (with the so-far exception of Tunisia), and so the high hopes of democracy soon were smashed.

But progress in changing societies takes time. And there are indications that the recognition of the problems of Arab Islamic society laid bare by the current migration crisis in Europe is growing within the Arab world:

"Stop talking about the hypocrisy of [Western] morals and values, because reality exposes nothing but our own ugly countenance."

Al-Moussa's furious diatribe is one of many in the Arab press occasioned both by the pictures of Arab refugees seeking haven in Europe, and especially by the images of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian Kurdish boy whose body washed up on the shores of Turkey. The Middle East Media Research Institute has collected and translated several of these remarkable reactions, many of them expressing shame over what the images of desperation and death imply about the region the refugees have been fleeing. (It has also reprinted many political cartoons from the region expressing the same revulsion.) Although some commenters have trained their anger on European and American policies that have contributed to the crisis, many of the pieces are remarkable not for maligning the West, but for fulsomely praising its virtues, if not romanticizing its culture. The excoriation is largely reserved for the Middle East itself.

The Arab Spring was never going to be a quick solution. Although I hoped our ability to teach them the basis of the solution wouldn't be undermined by the Islamists as successfully as the Islamists have managed.

But the Islamists are being resisted rather than being seen as the real hope of good governance as an alternative to the autocrats. That is progress, too.

And some in the Arab Moslem world are more confident to point out that the problems in their world are not caused by the West.