Fouad Ajami has always been an astute observer of the Arab world, and he writes a fascinating piece in The Wall Street Journal on why the Middle East isn’t the land of America-hatred that it’s made out to be:
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. I was to encounter people from practically all Arab lands, to listen in on a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty. I met Lebanese giddy with the Cedar Revolution that liberated their country from the Syrian prison that had seemed an unalterable curse. They were under no illusions about the change that had come their way. They knew that this new history was the gift of an American president who had put the Syrian rulers on notice. The speed with which Syria quit Lebanon was astonishing, a race to the border to forestall an American strike that the regime could not discount. I met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush’s words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future.
Ajami’s observations are interesting and fly in the face of the status quo. At the same time, they’re not all that surprising. The Arab people, despite being fed a steady diet of anti-Semitic and anti-American propaganda aren’t stupid and they aren’t brainwashed – they know that the governments that they’ve lived under for years are corrupt and autocratic. They also know that the West enjoys freedom and prosperity unheard of in their world except for the very powerful. This engenders two reactions: resentment and desire. The resentment is the story we see all too often in the media, but it isn’t the only reaction.
The other side sees the power and riches of the West and asks why not here? Why can’t Kuwait, with all its oil wealth, have a standard of living that benefits all rather than just a few? Why should Saudi Arabia, a country that is probably the most strategically important on the planet have 30-50% unemployment? Why must Kuwaiti women not have the freedom of women in the West?
The essential problem with Islamic fundamentalism is that its at odds with human reality. Islamofascism can’t offer prosperity and peace, just subjugation and poverty. The people of the Arab world face a choice: embrace modernity or be torn apart. We hear constantly about the Arabs who hate the West and embrace totalitarianism — yet they are minority in the Arab world.
The will of the majority in the Arab world is represented by the pro-democracy protests in Egypt in Syria. It is represented in the Kuwaiti women voting for the first time. It is represented in the million who marched in Beirut in support of the Cedar Revolution.
There is a major democratic transformation in the Middle East that is occurring right now, and only a few like Mr. Ajami seem to be noticing its true gravity.