Thursday, July 01, 2004

Dealing With Hard Truths

Here's a very candid piece from Lebanon's Daily Star that attempts to come to grips with the reality behind all the cant paraded on Western TV screens by Arab spokesmen and domestic politicians alike.

Interestingly, most opinion leaders and scholars in the Arab world seem to focus on the silence of the majority of Arabs who refuse extremism in all its forms and yearn for democracy and liberalization. While it is heartening to know that an Arab pro-democracy and anti-extremist silent majority exists, I am not sure how relevant is its participation in the current debate to reform the Arab world. This silent majority is essential to the success of such reforms, but how effective is it if it remains silent? More importantly, what keeps the silent majority so silent?


The other side of the coin is the existence of a minority of vocal extremists that has nipped in the bud the Arab discourse on openness and modernization. Most people tend to focus on the region's silent majority, but they ignore the alarming and seemingly growing presence of this vocal minority and its sympathizers. It is a chilling fact that Osama bin Laden and his ilk have a strong following in the Arab and Muslim worlds in general. Just travel throughout the region and mingle with Arab men to gauge the degree of radical zeal that exists and that is compounded daily by surrounding events. (emphasis added)
Here's a fellow who's willing to be honest about the true state of affairs, and individuals like him seem to be about as rare in that part of the world as hens' teeth. What good is it to keep on mouthing inanities about a "small minority" when the supposedly vast majority that doesn't share their views does absolutely nothing to indicate its disagreement? If all Arabs really do thirst for freedom of expression and the right to choose their leaders, why aren't they willing to actually agitate for such positions? As far as I can tell, the only Middle Eastern country where a thriving pro-democracy movement really exists is in Iran, which is most definitely not an Arab nation.

POSTSCRIPT: Here is a much more typical attitude towards self-criticism in the Arab world: castigate those who engage in it as traitors, and simply insist on keeping the dirty washing hidden from then onwards.