Posted by lex, on October 8, 2006
Long-time readers here will know of my admiration for Bernard Lewis, emeritus professor of Middle Eastern studies at Princeton. He has a deep and abiding knowledge of, and respect for, the contributions of Araby and Islam throughout history. His seminal “The Middle East – a Brief History of the Last 2000 Years“ was the most influential book I have read in a decade.
Lewis combines a passion for knowledge with a personal compassion for the people whom he studies, their lives and world views. He persuasively argues that the dominant political theories currently on offer to the Arab world – the socialist tyrannies of the Ba’athists, the Islamist fantasies of the Salafists and Wahabbis – provide them no hope for a successful future, and really, form no part of the rich Islamic cultural tradition: the former being a Western import, the latter a pipe dream. And because our own lives are now so closely intertwined with theirs, he demonstrates why this is important: *
What happened on 9/11 was seen by its perpetrators and sponsors as the culmination of the previous phase and the inauguration of the next phase – taking the war into the enemy camp to achieve final victory. The response to 9/11 came as a nasty surprise. They were expecting more of the same – bleating and apologies – instead of which they got was a vigorous reaction, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. And as they used to say in Moscow: It is no accident, comrades, that there has been no successful attack in the United States since then. But if one follows the discourse, one can see that the debate in this country since then has caused many of the perpetrators and sponsors to return to their previous diagnosis. Because remember, they have no experience, and therefore no understanding, of the free debate of an open society. What we see as free debate, they see as weakness, fear and division. Thus they prepare for the final victory, the final triumph and the final jihad.
Arab democracy – not just the first vote, but the second and third, combined with the supporting institutions of democracy – will not look like ours. But as Lewis points out, ours did not look like ours when it was invented. Arab democracy will grow in accordance with the rhythms and customs of the culture in which it is planted. It will be a tender flower at first, greatly in need of tending.
But tended it must be, or else they will continue to send murderously disenchanted young middle class men to try to kill us in our thousands. And then we will have to try something else.
** 09-02-20 Original link gone; substitute found – Ed.