Monday, May 23, 2005

The horses of Bush Country 

"To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country."
So writes professor Fouad Ajami.
"George W. Bush has unleashed a tsunami on this region," a shrewd Kuwaiti merchant who knows the way of his world said to me. The man had no patience with the standard refrain that Arab reform had to come from within, that a foreign power cannot alter the age-old ways of the Arabs. "Everything here - the borders of these states, the oil explorations that remade the life of this world, the political outcomes that favored the elites now in the saddle - came from the outside. This moment of possibility for the Arabs is no exception."
The whole piece highly recommended. Ajami ends with this observation:
As I made my way on this Arab journey, I picked up a meditation that Massimo d'Azeglio, a Piedmontese aristocrat who embraced that "springtime" in Europe, offered about his time, which speaks so directly to this Arab time: "The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong, and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the desire to walk." It would be fair to say that there are many Arabs today keen to walk - frightened as they are by the prospect of the Islamists coming to power and curtailing personal liberties, snuffing out freedoms gained at such great effort and pain. But more Arabs, I hazard to guess, now have the wish to ride. It is a powerful temptation that George W. Bush has brought to their doorstep.
I couldn't help but to chuckle, recalling the words spoken by Osama bin Laden in December 2001, reflecting his belief about the decline of the West and the rise and the appeal of his style of militancy: "when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse." Well, the "weak" American horse has bucked first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, and now, as Ajami writes, America is presenting the people of the Middle East with "the horse of democracy". People might hate the fact that it's not an Arab thoroughbred but an Arab-American stallion hybrid high on neo-con steroids, but in the end a horse is a horse. You don't look the gift one in the teeth, and who cares what sort of a horse it is as long as it ultimately takes you where you want to go?


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