Saturday, April 23, 2005

Two Superb Middle East Essays

The May/June 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs arrived in my mailbox today, and it contains a pair of brilliant essays from the two foremost scholars of the Middle East.

First, Dr. Fouad Ajami offers a superb analysis of Syria's occupation of Lebanon, and the prospects of ending it:

The entrenched systems of control in the Arab world are beginning to give way. It is a terrible storm, but the perfect antidote to a foul sky. The old Arab edifice of power, it is true, has had a way of surviving many storms. It has outwitted and outlived many predictions of its imminent demise.

But suddenly it seems like the autumn of the dictators. Something different has been injected into this fight. The United States -- a great foreign power that once upheld the Arab autocrats, fearing what mass politics would bring -- now braves the storm. It has signaled its willingness to gamble on the young, the new, and the unknown. Autocracy was once deemed tolerable, but terrorists, nurtured in the shadow of such rule, attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. Now the Arabs, grasping for a new world, and the Americans, who have helped usher in this unprecedented moment, together ride this storm wave of freedom.

(Quote edited: duplicate text removed-DD: 4-25-05)

The Autumn of the Autocrats

The second essay is from the dean of Middle East historians, Bernard Lewis. He discusses the historical and philosophical background of governance in the Muslim Near East, and the democratic possibilities for that region:

For Muslims as for others, history is important, but they approach it with a special concern and awareness. The career of the Prophet Muhammad, the creation and expansion of the Islamic community and state, and the formulation and elaboration of the holy law of Islam are events in history, known from historical memory or record and narrated and debated by historians since early times. In the Islamic Middle East, one may still find passionate arguments, even bitter feuds, about events that occurred centuries or sometimes millennia ago -- about what happened, its significance, and its current relevance. This historical awareness has acquired new dimensions in the modern period, as Muslims -- particularly those in the Middle East -- have suffered new experiences that have transformed their vision of themselves and the world and reshaped the language in which they discuss it.

Unfortunately, the full article, "Freedom and Justice in the Modern Middle East", is not freely available online. However, you can read the transcript of a lecture by Dr. Lewis that contains the essay's main points.

Both pieces are thoughtful, interesting and well written. If you're interested in the current state of affairs in the Middle East, you'll want to give them a read.


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