NightWatch Essay: Some time ago, David Goldman, purporting to channel Oswald Spengler for Asia Times Online, wrote a farsighted essay [And Spengler is…] that anticipated, predicted and warned that modern impulses in the youth of the Middle East would rise up against conservative institutions to assert a modern definition of being Arab, Berber, Turk, Persian as well as Muslim. He identified the cohorts under 25 as the driving force in these pan-regional impulses.
The events that began in December 2010 in Tunisia seem to have validated parts of Goldman’s prophecy. He foresaw the struggle as one between modern educated youth and the conservative, sclerotic Islamic clerisy of mullahs and ayatollahs. In the essay, Spengler did not anticipate an intermediate phase in which the cohorts of modernization battled the stodgy pan Arab socialist authoritarian strong men.
Few prophets live long enough to see even part of their vision come to pass, as has Goldman’s in 2011. However, the youth that started the pro-democracy movement lack the experience and shrewdness to plan well. Still, they have spoken the language of human rights, individual worth and elected, accountable government. The words should have been a rallying call to the Western democracies.
Those states that have the maturity and wisdom to help guide the Arab pro-democracy movement are the great western democracies, who else. But, the great democracies in North America and Europe have dithered. President Reagan’s beacon on a hill has not shined its light on the Arabs.
A month ago, caution was prudent. Each uprising has been different. A month later it is clear they have a consistent theme. Educated young people are tired of tutelage and have asserted their claim to have a say in their government and not defer to mullahs, imams, ayatollahs, pan Arab socialists or other authoritarian pretenders to leadership.
The youth have lacked plans and sophistication. One Brilliant and extremely well-informed Reader described the movement in feedback as a continuous Arab Grateful Dead concert. The superficiality of the celebrations should not camouflage the profound significance of the phenomenon of Arab youth risking their lives for personal freedom and individual rights against the might of entrenched authoritarian regimes.
Stodgy, professors in universities all over Europe, the UK, Canada and America and their students from all over the world for three generations can take a bow and go to their graves with a great sense of satisfaction and of accomplishment. Their work has had its impact.
Possibly more suprising is that a tribute needs be made to all the instructors in western general staff and command colleges. Who could have predicted that the military leaders of multiple authoritarian systems would choose not to fire on their fellow citizens on the orders of a single person. That is a peculiarly Western interpretation of military duty in a modern state. The armed forces have determined the outcome of every uprising thus far.
If ever there is a testament to the power of modern ideas — that every person is created equal and endowed with inalienable rights, however that is translated in Arabic — this movement seems to be it.
The tragedy of the past month is that the great western democracies have fiddled while Tunis, Cairo, Sanaa, Manama and, most importantly and recently, Libya burned. The leaders of democracy appear to have lost the power of discernment and the courage of convictions. The Libyan uprising is the real thing and it needs support.
Phi Beta Iota: This is a “Marshall Plan Moment” relevant to the 175 failed states, demanding a $200 billion redirection of funding from Program 50 (heavy metal military) to Program 150 (diplomacy & development). While the US Government lacks the individuals necessary to actually be helpful, across America and the world there are hundreds of thousands who would join a new Multinational Peace Corps instantly if they were given an opportunity–and serious logistics and communications support–to help create an Autonomous Internet and Participatory Governance. There is nothing wrong with America–or the rest of the world–that cannot be fixed by restoring the sovereignty of the collective peoples.