Watching Camels Fly

Thomas Friedman:

It's good news, bad news time again for the Middle East. The good news is that what you are witnessing in the Arab world is the fall of its Berlin Wall. The old autocratic order is starting to crumble. The bad news is that unlike the Berlin Wall in central Europe, the one in the Arab world is going to fall one bloody brick at a time, and, unfortunately, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa and the Solidarity trade union are not waiting to jump into our arms on the other side.

No one is more pleased than I am to see the demonstration of "people power" in Iraq, with millions of Iraqis defying the "you vote, you die" threat of the Baathists and jihadists. No one should take lightly the willingness of the opposition forces in Lebanon to stand up and point a finger at the Syrian regime and say "J'accuse!" for the murder of the opposition leader Rafik Hariri. No one should dismiss the Palestinian election, which featured a real choice of candidates, and a solid majority voting in favor of a decent, modernizing figure - Mahmoud Abbas. No one should ignore the willingness of some Egyptians to demand to run against President Hosni Mubarak when he seeks a fifth - unopposed - term. These are things you have not seen in the Arab world before. They are really, really unusual - like watching camels fly.

...

I write all this not to suggest that we are on a fool's errand in Iraq. I write it to underscore that we are on the first step of a long, long journey. The fact that the extremists and autocrats have had to resort now to unspeakable violence shows how much they have failed to win the war of ideas on the Arab street. But the emerging progressive forces still have to prove that they can build a different politics around united national communities, not a balance of sects, and solidarity from shared aspiration, not a shared external enemy. There is still, throughout the Arab world, a very weak notion of statehood and citizenship. And there are still very few civil society institutions outside the mosque, and little historical experience with a free press, free markets or real parliamentary democracy to build upon when the walls fall.

It is about time Friedman wrote something I agree with. One of the interesting aspects of the column is that it the first I have seen where he acknowledges that the bad guys are losing the "war of ideas." I have always found this a curious concept because I was hard pressed to think of any idea the enemy had that they were willing to put into competition. They all seem to be the my or I will kill kind of guys. But if you buy into the concept and you figure there are over a billion muslims, they have only been able to persuade a tiny fraction if one percent to fight for them. If that is the war of ideas, the enemy is losing big time.

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