We Americans are caretakers of a noble experiment that goes back 235 years. Since 1776, we have attempted to govern ourselves through consensual politics that is enabled and protected by a constitution. When it comes to democracy, we are perhaps grand old masters of the game; but when it comes to fledgling democratic impulses in a 21st-century world, we are the new kids on the block, trying to puzzle out what is going on while the rest of the world moves too quickly for us to assimilate.
During the fiery days of our revolutionary birth, the urges for freedom had been squeezed out of a painful crucible of Christian Reformation and Enlightened humanistic Rationalism.
But now we are witnessing, through media, nascent democratic movements in Muslim North Africa and the Persian Gulf. We must understand, however, that we see this amazing roll of events only through a myopic, self-deceiving lens of electronic images and theoretical biases.
We must not deceive ourselves into thinking we know anything about what is going on over there, although the consequences can be huge for us and for the world if things go wrong. There is a lot at stake, including, just go ahead and admit it, the frigging oil supply.
With or without full understanding, we as Americans must necessarily support the democratic movements that prove to be authentic, even if the resultant chaos is scary as hell.
In Egypt, for instance, the united front of idealistic, young reformers emanating from Tahrir is now fracturing into a collection of disparate groups. Which faction will emerge with the mantle of leadership?
It needs to be all of them, and none of them. What do you expect from a democracy?
Look at our own inception. We had the Patriots and the Tories, then the Federalists and the Democrats, the Whigs (whatever they were), then the Republicans and the Democrats, which we still have today. Who came out on top? Both of them, and neither of them, and that’s the way it should be. What do you expect in a democracy?
In contemporary Egypt, they have–let’s just say for the sake of rhetorical simplicity–two poles of political possibility. On one end are the “democrats.” That’s the broad, generic meaning of the word. They’re the ones who got on Twitter and Facebook and made this whole thing happen. But they are young and disjointed, zealous but politcally inept, and certainly naive when it comes to dealing with the army, the police, and entrenched political structures. Charles Levinson offers, in the Wall Street Journal, an initial inventory of some leaders who may emerge there:
So, on one end of Egyptian political possibilities we have these liberators. On the other end are the Islamists, aka known most commonly in that particular country as the Muslim Brotherhood. They are well-established, well-organized, legalistic, and (to this American Christian) scary as hell.
But in a free society you can’t have one without the other. You’re always going to have the wild-eyed democrats on one end and the fanatical legalists on the other. I mean, look at Wisconsin.
Anyway, we Americans need to support the thrust of democratic reform in Egypt. And if we must take sides as events further unfold, I say it is necessary for the cause of freedom that we support fully the young secular whippersnappers with their tweets and facebooks.
When the time comes for Egyptians to select between them and the Islamists, the young democratic-republicans need to have our full support, lest the “brotherhood” muscle their way into a new repression based on Khomeini-style religion instead of human (and I believe, Creator-endowed) rights.
There are of course many dark clouds on the horizon.
Daniel Greenfield opines on the Bahrain situation, which is very different from Egypt, for numerous reasons, the two major ones being 1.) puppeteering hegemony between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and 2.) the labor constituency in Bahrain being largely foreign ( ie Pakistani) imported labor, instead of native citizenry.
Mr. Greenfield also links to a report on a Tunisian mob gathering vindictively outside a synagogue in Tunis, which is quite alarming when you think about it from an historical standpoint, pogromically speaking. And Mr. Greenfield also mentions the emergence, back in Egypt, of one Qaradawi, whose high-profile leadership in the Muslim Brotherhood could indicate what direction that well-organized force will take in politics along the Nile.
The energetic impulse for political reform in the middle east is forged, like ours was, partly upon religion. But this time the religion is not a blooming protestant Christianity tempered with latent humanistic rationalism, but rather a fierce Islam that considers itself restricted by the historical dominance of Europe and USA.
The rolling revolutions in North Africa and the middle East–are they Islamist or democratic?
They are both. But for the sake of true political freedom, that’s a chance we’ll have to take.