Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bang and Blame

Allahu Akbar echoes through the concrete streets of Hamra as a slight drizzle caresses the city's scars and keeps the flowers alive. It is a gray day but it is still quite bright with distant white clouds hanging somewhere over the sea. Not too far from here, Egyptians are gathering in mass protests against the 30 year dictatorship of Pharaoh Mubarak. A bit further off, Tunisians are trying to reassemble their country after a popular and mostly peaceful revolution overthrew their own dictator of thirteen years. In Yemen, thousands of people took part in demonstrations against their government, and Jordanians, too, participated in demonstrations on a smaller scale.

Here in Lebanon, they handed the government over to Hezbollah and Syria. Come on.

The world is changing before our eyes. I have vague recollections of images of Germans with sledgehammers standing atop a graffiti covered wall overcome by what can only be described as joy. What followed was a decade when the Western world was filled with hope for the future, but while we were celebrating the triumph of what we call freedom over the injustices of a failed revolution of a different sort, this part of the world in which I now sit continued to suffer from the same crushing authoritarianism that plagued the Russians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Germans, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukranians, Belarussians, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijanis, Serbs, Bosnians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Slovenians, Croatians, Armenians, Georgians, Macedonians, and all the subsets and everyone else I may have forgotten (the list is off the top of my head). It wasn't called communism in the Middle East except on occasion and in part of Yemen, but communism is just a word assigned to one variation of dictatorship.

The worst is that the United States supported so many of these authoritarian regimes over the years. We looked at the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire while at the same time allowing Pharaoh Mubarak to rule absolutely by what he called "Emergency Decree" for three decades, giving him a pile of dough so he'd make peace with our BFF Israel. Our other BFF, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, didn't need the money but we promised them to suck from the teat of their land if they would just ignore their Jewish neighbors. Our too big to fail car companies simply adored this foreign policy, and it was porn for the filthy minds of the military industrial complex.

After 9/11, Americans asked "Why do they hate us?" as if they had been living in a bubble to keep them immune from the disease known as Realworlditis. And trust me, they do hate us. Not just the hell-bound jihadis who blow themselves up, but common folk of all backgrounds. They do have just cause. But that hate isn't a willful hate. It's a frustrated hate, more of an envy, almost, because they see our hypocrisy in preaching freedom while supporting dictators.

But Americans have their own problems to deal with, things like mortgages and failing school systems and high unemployment. We don't sit around twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week devising new schemes for hurting the people of the Middle East. Most Americans - of the 300 million of them - don't think about the Middle East at all unless something extraordinary occurs, and when that extraordinary thing happens, it usually has to do with someone blowing themselves up in the name of religion. Yet the Arab world seems obsessed with blaming America to the point of counterproductivity. The controversy surrounding the "Ground Zero Mosque" (translation: Muslim community center located two blocks away from the WTC site) was given as proof that all Americans hated Muslims.

Nevermind that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama whose father was a Muslim is President of the United States of America, elected by popular vote by a wide margin.

What I am getting at here is that I am growing increasingly frustrated by the way the Arab world blames the US for ALL of its problems. Look, I am the first person to criticize US foreign policy, as anyone who knows me is all too familiar with. What Israel gets away with makes me sick. I also view the entire system of foreign assistance as neo-colonialism (though for the most part it is not intentional. It's just a lack of awareness by foreign policy bureaucrats and NGOs in Washington who think they are doing righteous work.) But the Arab world needs to look at itself in the mirror and acknowledge that it is not innocent in its plight.

For example, I've only seen one mention of how Mubarak came to power in the first place - Sadat, beloved by Arabs, appointed him in his government and saw his rise. And nobody seems to acknowledge that the pro-Mubarak thugs are, in fact, Egyptian, too, or that in a country with 72 million people, most are not demonstrating. (Contrast that with the Cedar Revolution (R.I.P.) in Lebanon, where a quarter of the entire population of the country marched in downtown Beirut.) Now is the time to rise up, so why aren't there 20 million protesters out there? Mubarak would never survive a protest of 20 million. Also, why now? Why sit and take it for 30 years until some frustrated kid sets himself on fire?

I pray that United States foreign policy changes as a result of this uprising. I'm not going to hold my breath, especially with Israeli cheerleader Ros-Lehtinen as Chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. (Another consequence of American-voter stupidity in the last elections.) And shame on Senator Feinstein and the others who blocked a Senate resolution last fall demanding more democracy in Egypt. Why don't we spend more of our tax money on domestic programs instead of giving it to Egypt and Israel? Why give them anything at all? Seems most of what we gave Egypt went into the pockets of the Pharaoh, and the money we give Israel just makes people hate us more and makes us less safe. (I know the answers to these questions. Still, it feels good to say it aloud. If only more Americans would...)

Anyway, it's an interesting time to be in the Middle East, even if I'm sitting in a country where nothing is really happening except the same old same old Syrian puppets and Hezbollah and blah blah blah. I just played Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now," a song about the fall of the Berlin Wall that feels right at this time, too. Maybe once this is all over and Pharaoh Mubarak is deposed, Arabs and Americans can finally have a real dialogue based on mutual interests in having what Americans have and Arabs want - freedom - and we can put all of this finger pointing behind us.

So, go Egypt! You have the support of the world. And you, too, Yemen. And you, Jordan, and you, Tunisia, and you, Algeria, and you, Morocco, and you, Palestine. At the end of the day, Americans really do believe in the democracy and freedom that we preach, and we are watching you with pride. Your courage is inspiring.

No comments:

Post a Comment