Vision: Will the Inspiring Revolutions in the Arab World Help Westerners See the Folly of Their Prejudices?
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A Rejection Not Only of Violence, But of the Old Lies
The new Arab condition is not Nirvana, nor has some political utopia been achieved. In no Arab state is the endgame in sight, much less played out. History warns that revolutions have a tendency to devour their children, just as it warns that every religion can sponsor violence and war as easily and naturally as nonviolence and peace.
History warns as well that, in times of social upheaval, Jews are the preferred and perennial scapegoat, and the State of Israel is a ready target for that hatred. Arab bigotry has not magically gone away, nor has the human temptation to drown fear with blood. But few, if any, revolutions have been launched with such wily commitment to the force of popular will, not arms. When it comes to “people power,” Arabs have given the concept several new twists.
Because so many people have believed in themselves -- protecting one another simply by standing together -- they have been able to reject not only violence, but any further belief in the lies of their despotic rulers. The stark absence of Israel as a major flashpoint of protest in these last weeks, to take a telling example, stands in marked contrast to the way in which the challenged or overthrown despots of various Middle Eastern lands habitually exploited both anti-semitism (sponsoring, for instance, the dissemination through Arab newsstands of the long-discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion) and the plight of Palestinians (feigning sympathy for the dispossessed victims of Israeli occupation while doing nothing to help them, precisely because Arab dictators needed suffering Palestinians to distract from the suffering of their own citizens).
Not surprisingly, if always sadly, the Arab revolution has brought incidents of Jew-baiting in its wake -- in late February in Tunis, for example, by a mob outside the city’s main synagogue. That display was, however, quickly denounced and repudiated by the leadership of the Free Tunisia movement. When a group of Cairo thugs assaulted CBS correspondent Lara Logan, they reportedly hurled the word “Jew” at her as an epithet. So yes, such incidents happened, but what makes them remarkable is their rarity on such a sprawling landscape.
To be sure, Arabs broadly identify with the humiliated Palestinians, readily identify Israel as an enemy, and resent the American alliance with Israel, but something different is unfolding now. When the United States vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the very thick of February’s revolutionary protests, to flag one signal, the issue was largely ignored by Arab protesters. In Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza, the spirit of Arab revolt showed itself mainly in a youth-driven and resolutely non-violent movement to overcome the intra-Palestinian divisions between Fatah and Hamas. Again and again, that is, the Arab Muslim population has refused to behave as Americans have been conditioned to expect.
The Mainstreaming of Anti-Muslim Prejudice
Conditioned by whom? Prejudice against Arabs generally and Islam in particular is an old, old story. A few months ago, the widespread nature of the knee-jerk suspicion that all Muslims are potentially violent was confirmed by National Public Radio commentator Juan Williams, who said, “I get worried. I get nervous” around those “in Muslim garb,” those who identify themselves “first and foremost as Muslims.”
Williams was fired by NPR, but the commentariat rallied to him for simply speaking a universal truth, one which, as Williams himself acknowledged, was to be regretted: Muslims are scary. When NPR then effectively reversed itself by forcing the resignation of the executive who had fired him, anti-Muslim bigotry was resoundingly vindicated in America, no matter the intentions of the various players.