Combs Spouts Off

"It's my opinion and it's very true."

Pipes is becoming optimistic!

Posted by Richard on March 1, 2011

When Natan Sharansky expressed cautious optimism about events in Egypt about a month ago, those of us who read The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror weren't exactly shocked. But when Daniel Pipes, of all people, writes a column entitled "My Optimism on the New Arab Revolt," that's a real surprise. And a must read. Here's the nut:

The revolts over the past two months have been largely constructive, patriotic, and open in spirit. Political extremism of any sort, leftist or Islamist, has been largely absent from the streets. Conspiracy theories have been the refuge of decayed rulers, not exuberant crowds. The United States, Great Britain, and Israel have been conspicuously absent from the sloganeering. (Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi blamed unrest in his country on al-Qaeda spreading hallucinogenic drugs.)

One has the sense that the past century’s extremism — tied to such figures as Amin al-Husseini, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ruhollah Khomeini, Yasser Arafat, and Saddam Hussein — has run its course, that populations seek something more mundane and consumable than rhetoric, rejectionism, and backwardness.

Pessimism serves as a career enhancer in Middle East studies and I am known for doom-and-gloom. But, with due hesitation, I see changes that could augur a new era, one in which infantilized Arabic speakers mature into adults. One rubs one’s eyes at this transformation, awaiting its reversal. So far, however, it has held.

Perhaps the most genial symbol of this maturation is the pattern of street demonstrators cleaning up after themselves. No longer are they wards of the state dependent on it for services; of a sudden, they are citizens with a sense of civic responsibility.

I, too, was struck by the demonstrators cleaning up Cairo's Tahrir Square. It reminded me of our Tea Party rallies. At every Tea Party rally I'm aware of, the attendees picked up all the trash afterward and left the place cleaner than before. Compare that to any leftist gathering (for example, see here and here).

When I saw a news clip of Egyptians cleaning up the square, I did a little fist pump and exclaimed "Yesss!" This is how people who see themselves as citizens, not subjects, behave. They embrace both freedom and personal responsibility. 

I share Pipes' and Sharansky's cautious optimism, and I consider these spontaneous, self-directed cleanup efforts as a very hopeful sign. Three cheers for "the transformational power of liberty"!

(Dare I say it again? I blame Bush! It was he who told the Washington press corps , "If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy read Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy." It was he who talked about a "freedom deficit" in the Middle East and predicted that the example of a liberated and democratic Iraq could trigger change throughout the region. It seems that prediction is coming true. Who knew that Chimpy McBushitler was so prescient?)

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