Don't Let Me Stop You

What the heck, you'll do what you want anyway.

The Arab World is Now Bush Country

Posted by Dan Draney on May 18, 2005

Fouad Ajami has an inspiring article in the Wall Street Journal about how the Arab World is becoming “Bush Country.” Ajami has just been on a journey through the region, speaking to people, reading the news, and listening. Change has come, and it’s not lost on the people who live there, that George W. Bush has put this in motion.

Unfortunately, the link is subscription only at this point. However, they may add it to the free OpinionJournal.com site this weekend. Here’s a sample for now. After 9/11:

WSJ.com – Bush Country: “The children of Islam, and of the Arabs in particular, had taken to the road, and to terror. There were many liberal, secular Arabs now clamoring for American intervention. The claims of sovereignty were no longer adequate; a malignant political culture had to be ‘rehabilitated and placed in receivership,’ a wise Jordanian observer conceded. Mr. Bush may not be given to excessive philosophical sophistication, but his break with ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’ in the Arab-Islamic world has found eager converts among Muslims and Arabs keen to repair their world, to wean it from a culture of scapegoating and self-pity. Pick up the Arabic papers today: They are curiously, and suddenly, readable. They describe the objective world; they give voice to recognition that the world has bypassed the Arabs. The doors have been thrown wide open, and the truth of that world laid bare. Grant Mr. Bush his due: The revolutionary message he brought forth was the simple belief that there was no Arab and Muslim ‘exceptionalism’ to the appeal of liberty. For a people mired in historical pessimism, the message of this outsider was a powerful antidote to the culture of tyranny. Hitherto, no one had bothered to tell the Palestinians that they can’t have terror and statehood at the same time, that the patronage of the world is contingent on a renunciation of old ways. This was the condition Mr. Bush attached to his support for the Palestinians. It is too early to tell whether the new restraint in the Palestinian world will hold. But it was proper that Mr. Bush put Arafat beyond the pale.

It was Iraq of course that gave impetus to this new Arab history. And it is in Iraq that the nobility of this American quest comes into focus. This was my fourth trip to Iraq since the fall of the despotism, and my most hopeful yet. I traveled to Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil and Suleimaniyah. A close colleague — Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations — and I were there to lecture and to ‘show the flag.’ We met with parliamentarians and journalists, provincial legislators, clerics and secularists alike, Sunni and Shia Arabs and Kurds. One memory I shall treasure: a visit to the National Assembly. From afar, there are reports of the ‘acrimony’ of Iraq, of the long interlude between Iraq’s elections, on Jan. 30, and the formation of a cabinet. But that day, in the assembly, these concerns seemed like a quibble with history. There was the spectacle of democracy: men and women doing democracy’s work, women cloaked in Islamic attire right alongside more emancipated women, the technocrats and the tribal sheikhs, and the infectious awareness among these people of the precious tradition bequeathed them after a terrible history. One of the principal leaders of the Supreme Islamic Council for Revolution in Iraq, Sheikh Hamam Hammoudi, an elegant, thoughtful cleric in his early 50s, brushed aside the talk of a Shia theocracy. This Shia man, who knew a smattering of English, offered his own assurance that the example and the power of Iran shall be kept at bay: ‘My English is better than my Farsi, even though I spent 20 years in Iran.’ He was proud of his Iraqi identity, proud of being ‘an Arab.’ He was sure that the Najaf school of Shia jurisprudence would offer its own alternative to the world view of Qom, across the border. He wanted no theocratic state in Iraq: Islam, he said, would be ‘a source’ of legislation, but the content of politics would be largely secular. The model, he added, with a touch of irony, would be closer to the American mix of religion and politics than to the uncompromising secularism of France.

The insurgents were busy with their bombs and their plots of mayhem: Georgian troops guarded the National Assembly and controlled access to it. But a people were taking to a new political way. A woman garbed in black, a daughter of a distinguished clerical Shia family, made the rounds among her fellow legislators. Religious scruples decreed that she could not shake the hand of a male stranger. But she was proud and wily, a free woman in a newly emancipated polity. She let me know how much she knew about the ways and the literature of the West. American power may have turned on its erstwhile ally, Ahmed Chalabi. But his appearance in the assembly’s gallery drew to him parliamentarians of every stripe. He, too, had about him the excitement of this new politics.”

There’s lots more great stuff like this, so, if you don’t have the subscription, watch for it this weekend on the free site.

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