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A Newly Paved Arab Street?

Wieseltier and Ibish cast uprisings in instructively similar lights

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Egyptians celebrating in Tahrir Square last month after Hosni Mubarak stepped down.(John Moore/Getty Images)

When two smart people converge on a common understanding from totally different angles, it seems wise to take note. Leon Wieseltier (a Tablet Magazine contributing editor), in The New Republic, and Hussein Ibish, in Bookforum, have each written essays that in their own ways proclaim a new era in Arab politics. “The Arab street,” no longer defined and in part shaped by the Orientalist assumptions of the West (to borrow from Ibish), has achieved, in Wieseltier’s term, “a post-post-imperial moment.” Against those who see the Arab world as respectful above all of power (and especially violence) and as unusually susceptible to religious extremism—a group that includes Tablet Magazine columnist Lee Smith—Wieseltier and Ibish conclude that, rather, members of the Arab street, no longer the victims of actual Western imperialism or of its legacy, must be accounted formidable and essentially modern political actors.

Which is not to say the two agree (or would agree) on everything. Wieseltier indicts President Obama’s view of the current upheavals, which, he says, is mired in the outdated, stereotypical view of the Arab street. And Ibish argues that despite the absence of anti-Western, -American, or even –Israeli sentiments among the main driving forces of the masses in Tunis, Cairo, and elsewhere, “There is no question that the Israeli occupation is still the prism of pain through which most Arabs view international relations—and that they are passionate about the cause of Palestinian freedom.”

But I still think reading the pieces together (choice excerpts below the jump) provides a fascinating, insightful window into the changes afoot half a world away and how they are realigning the ideological spectrum at home. What I mean to say is, it really struck me how the two of them use such different language to describe such a similar reality.

Wieseltier:

the democratic eruption of recent months marks the advent of a post-post-imperial moment, in which the future is finally allowed a greater claim upon the present than the past. Post-post-imperialism is another term for self-reliance, for an internal renovation, for what an early Zionist writer called “auto-emancipation.” There is no deeper emancipation. The blessing of the post-post-imperial moment is not that the terrible history has been forgotten, but that the lachrymosity it left in its wake, the lowered expectations that derived from the belief that there is only one story and only one enemy, the pessimistic effects of unceasing commemoration, have been dispelled. … Democracy, for these protesting peoples, is no longer defined, or tarnished, by its largely Western provenance. This is a milestone. Indeed, the post-imperialist analysis of the Arab uprisings is now the desperate and hallucinatory work of Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who would suspend all Muslims in eternal grief and eternal rage. They are the losers in the Arab apotheosis. Reality is shattering their conspiracy theories, in a grand historical rebuttal.

Ibish:

Any serious, honest appraisal of what is spreading throughout the Arab world refutes every aspect of this pernicious mythology. Certainly, the size, scope, and bravery of the demonstrations for democracy, good governance, and accountability mean that no one can continue flogging the Orientalist shibboleth that Arabs are inherently resistant to change—at least not with a straight face. Likewise, the idea that Arab political culture is inherently violent has been most eloquently debunked by the extraordinarily self-disciplined nonviolence of the protesters in Egypt and Tunisia—in spite of extreme provocation and abuses by the police and government-paid hooligans. …

Consider, by contrast, how events in Egypt might have unfolded had the Western stereotype of the Arab street possessed any real explanatory power: The demonstrations in Cairo would have been violent and chaotic—and driven by religious fanaticism. But Islamism and religious identity played almost no role in the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings; indeed, these supposed prime movers of Arab culture and politics haven’t been particularly evident in the region’s other mass protests, with the exception of Jordan. It wasn’t Islamism that brought millions of Arabs out into the streets to demand change. Rather, these protests were the product—and, just as important, the expression—of national consciousness, uniting Christians and Muslims, the devout and the skeptical, and a range of urban social classes, from the upper middle class to the working poor.

Post-Post-Imperialism [TNR]
Under Western Lies [Bookforum]

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Ibish is a good guy, but the notion that Palestine is still, or was ever, really, the genuine focus of the Arab political imagination is part and parcel of the antiquated, Western world view that he repudiates. It has been a proxy for grievances that had previously found no outlet for their expression. Inevitably, Palestine’s status as the paramount concern in the Middle East is going to diminish, a fact that probably will redound to its benefit in the end, if it serves to persuade its leaders that it’s time to make a deal.

George One says:

If any Arab leader is serious about improving the lot of his people, he should ignore stereotype Arab propaganda – stop the hate teaching to children against Israel persuade Hamas, Hezbullah and PA to stop any attacks on Israel and punish any perpetrators, then sit down and negotiate a REAL peace – more, a partnership with Israel. If such a man or men genuinely want to improve their peoples’ lives they would not need Israel as a scapegoat excuse for all the problems usually deriving from internal bad governance. That is the ONLY way the lot of the Arabs would improve.

The advance of hope in the Middle East also requires new thinking in the capitals of great democracies — including Washington, D.C. By now it should be clear that decades of excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability, have only led to injustice and instability and tragedy. It should be clear that the advance of democracy leads to peace, because governments that respect the rights of their people also respect the rights of their neighbors. It should be clear that the best antidote to radicalism and terror is the tolerance and hope kindled in free societies. And our duty is now clear: For the sake of our long-term security, all free nations must stand with the forces of democracy and justice that have begun to transform the Middle East.

George W. Bush, March 8, 2005, at the National Defense University

Well put, fw!

Won’t take credit for Bush’s forward thinking, if not his words. Wasn’t he heavily influenced by Natan Sharansky’s writing on democracy in the Middle East?

Can’t say as I voted for the man either, but for better and worse, he never equivocated.

One of the major weapons in this propaganda war against Israel is the “Remember these Children” website which compares the numbers of Arab children who have been killed in the conflicts to the number of Jewish children murdered by terrorists. The Arab list totals 1,437 since 2000 and the Jewish list totals 130. Not withstanding that such reporting is unsubstantiated, After visiting the site, I noticed that according to this report, most of the Israeli children were murdered in drive by shootings and human bombs exploding themselves in restaurants, buses and markets. In other words, the Arab terrorists targeted those children and murdered them in cold blood. For all of the Arab children, on the other hand, the site identifies the causes of death as gun shot wounds or explosions during the firefights with Arab Hamas fighters. What were their children doing in the middle of a war zone? That is clear and convincing evidence that the Hamas thugs where using the local children as human shields. Soldiers are trained to return fire when fired upon. The bushwhacking urban guerrillas who fire at enemy troops from a neighborhood full of children are the ones causing the deaths of those children. More at http:moshesharon.worpress.com

powzon says:

@ George One and Moshe Sharon

While settlers steal their wells and land, Israel has been pushing Arabs from from villages in Samaria towards the major towns in the West Bank, evacuating Arabs from the Jordan valley and has been directing the expansion of major settlement clusters to virtually surround the Arab population centers and cut them off from one another. It wants all the land and the most it will tolerate are islands of Arab residency clustered around Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarm, Jenin, Jericho and a perpetually harassed Hebron district. Israel’s claims to want to “make a deal” or “negotiate with” the Palestinians are nothing but a delaying tactic for a program intended to unfold over the next two generations. Israel’s actions indicate its intentions; “all the rest is commentary.” All other incidents, no matter how attention-getting, and all associated blather by all parties, are side effects.

As for objections to this strategy on the part of the USA, Europe, Middle East nations, etc., Israel counts that time and chance will largely dispense with them. The objections of the Palestinian Arabs themselves are of almost no consequence.

I don’t know if violence in the middle east will ever subside but I do like that people are starting to look at other avenues to working things out.

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A Newly Paved Arab Street?

Wieseltier and Ibish cast uprisings in instructively similar lights

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