Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Myth of the Arab Reprobate

I saw somebody 'tweet' earlier that in spite of the brutal repression of the Arab regimes, they were much more progressive and secular than their people had ever been. They then added the 'tags' of #Egypt #Syria #Yemen #Libya. At first I wanted to reply immediately, to fire off a snide comeback. The comment made me angry on so many levels, but was a retort really the best way to respond? Probably not. Regardless, I wanted to think about why this comment annoyed me. What could drive somebody to say that the Arab regimes - in all their disgusting behaviour - are better than the people that they rule? Did this person have a horrible experience with ordinary citizens? Were they wronged so horribly, or seen something so shocking, that it made them think that Mubarak, Assad or Gaddafi were preferable to them? I cannot say, but I do know for certain that such a remark is misguided and cruel. For all the instability and horror we have been seeing over the past eight months, I cannot say that the status quo prior to the 'Arab Spring' would be preferable.

The Arab dictatorships did have a certain progressive air to them, and they did make great strides in terms of gender equality and the spread of education, but you can say the same things about the Nazis or about Stalin's Soviet Union. The fact that these dictators got something right does not justify in the slightest the existence of torture chambers, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and the lack of political freedoms. This is like saying a wife-beater is not so bad because he's good with the children and brings food to the table. But to be fair this isn't what the person who made that 'tweet' meant. They were saying that the people governed by the Arab regimes are far worse than a typical Arab regime. But even so, there are problems with this line of reasoning. An uncle of mine once told me that God sends the ruler that people deserve. My response to him at the time was that each generation gets its own ruler, and that this was his generation's ruler. That shut him up (and annoyed him greatly) but it portrays an underlying sentiment, very similar to our Tweeter above, of saying that we are somehow unworthy of a proper government or ruler. But this is a very unusual way to view the relationship between the people and those who rule.

Originally, the ancient Greeks believed it was a ruler who was responsible for the moral well-being of the citizens through laws. The better the ruler, the better the people. This was also a view that the Islamic philosophers also held onto, and one which existed in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and up to the Renaissance and Reformation. Even with the arrival of the 'modern' age, there was, as far as I can recall, no peculiar insistence that the people must somehow be worthy of a good government. The only parallel that comes to mind when I hear these arguments is the ugly 'Orientalist' assumption that the brown man was better off being ruled by the Europeans, and when he would revolt, that how dare he bites the hand that fed him. But that is being a bit unfair to our Twitter user.

I think that the fallacy in their argument lies is not the unwittingly Orientalist heritage it possesses, but in that they ignore the horrendous effect that these dictators have had on society. For over forty years, the goons and thugs of these regimes, be they literate or illiterate, have toyed with society, manipulated the people like puppets, and bullied, coerced or in some cases completely brainwashed a generation of people to become the very perversions which lie at the heart of an Arab dictator. Unlike the wise philosopher-king of the ancient Greeks, a king who would temper the people of his city into just and noble people, the present day rulers of the Arab world shaped their people into their own image: bastard gods manifesting their perversion into their own progeny. I don't deny that Arab societies, like any other, have immense problems. What I do deny is that these problems are somehow innate in the people, that this fruit we see today did not grow out of any tree, but was always there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is very difficult for a democracy to emerge in Syria. It would ditort the balance of power not only regionally but globally. The US and Israel would be better off with Syria becoming a nuclear power than becoming a democracy. Have you entertained these ideas at all?