Thoughts on the Revolutions

In this article, Professor Rashid Khalidi ruminates over the significance of the revolutions underway in the region. The article is long, but full of great information and insight. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, I recommend the following passages:

1. On how the revolutions are challenging Western stereotypes of Arabs

“The same mainstream Western media that habitually conveys a picture of a region peopled almost exclusively by enraged, bearded terrorist fanatics who “hate our freedom” has begun to show images of ordinary people peacefully making eminently reasonable demands for freedom, dignity, social justice, accountability, the rule of law, and democracy. Arab youth at the end of the day have been shown to have hopes and ideals not that different from those of the young people who helped bring about democratic transitions in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South, Southeast, and East Asia.

These young voices have been a revelation only to those deluded by this media’s obsessive focus on Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism whenever it turns its attention to the Middle East. This is thus a supremely important moment not only in the Arab world, but also for how Arabs are perceived by others. A people that has been systematically and habitually maligned — probably more than any other in recent decades — are for the first time being shown in a new, and largely positive, light. ”

2. On U.S. and European support of Arab Dictators

This last point raises embarrassing questions. Why were American tear gas canisters used copiously against peaceful protesters in Tunis and Cairo, as they have been systematically used for years against Palestinians and a few Israeli and foreign activists demonstrating at villages like Bil’in in the occupied West Bank? Why were the goons and thugs of Ben ‘Ali and Mubarak on such good terms with the intelligence services of the United States, France and other European countries? Why was support for “stability” (which really meant support for repression, corruption, the frustration of popular demands, and the subversion of democracy) in practice the main, and indeed the only, policy of the United States and the European Union in most parts of the Arab world?

These may be questions which policymakers prefer not to answer in Washington, Paris, London and Bonn. But they are on the minds of smart young people all over the Arab world who follow the Western and other international media, and are aware of what is happening in the rest of the world — much more aware than those who have repressed them for so long. Like people in the non-Western world going back to the eras of Lord Palmerston and Woodrow Wilson, this generation of young Arabs has also become aware of the long-standing gap between the proclaimed ideals of the great Western democracies and their cynical realpolitik policies. Because of the existence of this awareness, it would be a welcome change if American and European officials would refrain from preaching either to those in Tunisia and Egypt who have already engineered striking revolutionary change, or to others in the Arab world who are trying to do the same. Clearly, these young revolutionaries know better what they need to do to achieve democracy and social justice than those who until literally a couple of weeks ago were the closest friends of dictators in Tunis and Cairo, and are still intimately linked to the rest of the Arab despots.

I couldn’t hold back a “snap” when I read that last line.

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