Liberty and the Arab World

I listened to President Bush’s speech at the Republican National Convention and thought back to a recent conversation. ‘Khadafy is a dictator but he’s now considered a good guy by the U.S,’ a relative with a ‘Get Real’ attitude told me. ‘It’s not about democratic ideals for the Arab World. It’s about U.S. national interests.’

He was right and despite my loathing of Arab regimes and desire to see Arab leaders lose power or be humbled, the reality is that those who play the game are guaranteed their preservation. That’s how it’s been since the days of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I wonder if the Bush Administration is aware of the numbers of Arabs languishing in prisons for seeking out democratic reforms in their respective countries. To listen to the patronizing speech of President Bush, one would think that Arabs have never heard of the concept of democracy or do not wish it for themselves.

And with President Bush following a playbook that could have been written by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, one wonders if he even knows the reasons for the current Palestinian uprising — all of which any human being can understand, and most definitely any American. Freedom from occupation would be a good start. Freedom: from having their olive orchards uprooted, a source of income for many; from having their homes demolished; from Israeli military checkpoints between every Palestinian city, which never went away since the signing of the Oslo Accords; from land confiscation to build more illegal Israeli settlements; to travel to hospitals during emergencies without being detained — some until death ensues; from torture, which still exists despite a ban issued by Israel’s High Court; from the sadist brutality of Israeli border patrol when they go to their jobs; to be children as opposed to fighting like adults so that they are not subject to the same humiliation their parents are; of the same kind of security that Israelis want for themselves.

Three million Palestinians have tolerated the denial of these freedoms for more than three decades, overwhelmingly and without incident. They ought to be commended for their restraint all of these decades, as opposed to being demonized by the Bush administration.

But wait, according to the ‘experts,’ – Palestinians and other Arabs just hate our freedoms and way of life. What a ludicrous analysis because the hatred is for those depriving Arabs an ‘American’ way of life. Be it freedom of association or freedom of the press, our Constitution’s guarantees are envied around the world. No, it’s definitely not freedom, but the hypocrisy naturally grinds people in the Middle East.

An example of this hypocrisy is our government’s strong criticisms of the Middle East’s freest and most-respected news network – Al Jazeera. Even the US-supported Iraqi authority recently shut down Al Jazeera for a month because they felt that Al Jazeera was inciting and encouraging Iraqis to fight. Setting aside the fact that people do not need to be told to resist occupation, the shutdown stunned Iraqis who were rudely reminded that a free press was not their reality. Iraqi Olympians stated as much when they angrily asked not to be part of campaign advertisements touting a free Iraq. Let’s face it, a media that reflects the anger of the average Arab Joe resisting US occupation just isn’t ‘good’ for our interests. After all, what Arab people would subsequently give the green light for subsequent US invasions in the name of ‘liberation?’

Further, we may hold countries like U.S. allies, Egypt and Jordan, as role models for the Arab World, but many Egyptians and Jordanians will happily tell you about the sham trials and police brutality. Saudi Arabia, another U.S. ally, doesn’t even allow women to drive and it manipulates the Koran to violate human rights. But hey, they do our bidding instead of the bidding for their own people. Would we, as Americans, accept such a government that put the interests of others before our own?

Ultimately, the true test of whether the U.S. really wants liberty and democracy in the Arab World is if we will defend aspirations of liberty, and whether we will respect the election of future leaderships, who in all likelihood will not be friendly to the US for the years we kept dictators in power. Call me cynical, but I’m doubtful — and this is no less true if John Kerry is elected.