Friday, February 18, 2011

Beyond Tunisia...

It's been an interesting several weeks in North Africa and the Middle East. We've seen the toppling of two long-standing dictatorships, and the grumblings of insurrection in several other countries in the area. While I don't necessarily think that modern revolution is necessarily that helpful when looking at the larger impact upon the stability of the country, the country's economy, and even who's hands the government will eventually end up in, I do think that these rebellion's demonstrate a couple of things that should be a wake up call for the citizens of this country, as well as our government.
The first thing these widely popular rebellion's in these predominately Muslim countries demonstrate is that, unlike what too many people in the United States believe, Muslim's around the world, within country's, or even within local communities, do not all believe the same things about religion, government, morality, or social justice. Just the same as Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Atheists, etc. do not. The only difference is that the perception of Muslim's in the "western world", and specifically in the United States, has been warped by a worldview of American exceptionalism, and the drum beat of wars against those who "hate democracy". Somewhat ironic considering the last two dicators to fall, and those on the verge of falling (i.e., the King of Bahrain) have been supported by the United States for decades, in the face of their brutal suppression of opposition, and their less-than-fair "elections".
This brings me directly to my next point, the awkwardness with which the United States has supported these popular uprisings, in the face of historal support for the regimes that are being uprose against. We only support democracy when it is convenient for us to do so; otherwise, we'll support an autocratic regime when it is convenient for us to do so. Now, I should write a small caveat, not necessarily justifying this practice, but rather explaining my rational understanding that governments, specifically government in the western world, when faced with either dealing with an autocratic regime or no not dealing with an autocratic regime, are going to be much better situated to make a positive impact in the country by keeping up some semblance of good relations. Therefore, it is possible to "support democracy" while maintaining a cordial relationship with a dictatorial, monarchical, theocratic, or one-party governmental system.
The final lesson to be gleaned from this wave of insurrection in North Africa and the Middle East is that these uprisings are not only possible, but can have serious results (and consequences) that can and will impact the future of the country forever. The reason this is an important lesson to learn is that most of the people in the United States find rebellion to be an antiquated notion. It's not that people agree with everything the government does, but in our political system (which lies somewhere between Democracy and Plutocracy, the founders liked to call it a Republic), it's at least somewhat possible to create small ripples that spread far enough to have an impact on elections and laws. Therefore, the idea of demanding the president leave office is somewhat far-fetched, considering we can vote him or her out of office in less than 4 years.
However, what I think should be prescient to the American people about the North African examples, is that these were stable countries, where things were not perfect, but were still far from being the political tinderboxes that exist in so many other places in the world, and yet it was because of that that the impact was so great. When you push a wagon, it's easy to slow and stop it; but when you get a train going, it takes a much longer time to stop it, and you need a much greater force. So I think the American government should heed some of the warning signs, that though the American people are for the most part complacent, if not down downright apathetic, their disenchantment is growing, and it could be possible that at some point we may decide we've had enough of this government and this constitution, and decide to reshuffle the deck, write a new constitution, and elect new officials. It doesn't seem like it is going to happen here, but you never know...
"History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullsh!t, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons nobody really understands at the time - and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened." ~ Hunter S. Thompson


Naomi said... You know I love me some Tom Friedman :-)

mpm210 said...

I actually read that article yesterday, and I found it to be rather interesting. However, I feel that he's oversimplifying the issue in the Middle East, especially with regard to education and the treatment of women.