"An Outbreak of Liberty" in Egypt, America and Israel
First you should understand that I am not involved with international diplomacy or even travel, and see things not from the ground but from the bird’s eye perspective of mass-communications and history. But many media representatives have been gurgling over the uprising in Egypt and the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, who had presided over the nation for over 30 years. They are all aflutter about an outbreak of liberty, even likening in to the spirit that inspired America’s founding. I thought it sounded a little hasty, but YEAH, I was right. So, let’s think about this.
Years ago now, when under a Republican administration we brought democratic elections to Iraq, I wondered whether democracy could actually work in a Middle Eastern country. Actually, I agreed that all men have a natural hunger to be free. But in cases like this, just how deep was that yearning buried in the cultural refuse of subjection of the human spirit to other agencies and canons? And that’s just ONE question.
For one thing, even in the then novel case of an 18th century America grounded in a Christian cultural context, that recognized the personal satisfaction and social virtue of freedom as well as the moral responsibility implied by it, the prescient framers of our system recognized that democracy uncontrolled by a system of fundamental restraints and checks and balances on power, was not a good thing at all. So, just voting in a Middle Eastern nation was in no way a simple and certain path to a good and productive society. We could only hope for the best; what else could we do? As a matter of fact, most Iraqis would have a better chance of understanding Greek than the principles of the American founding. On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, George Will referred to “the old idea of the Arab exception; that the Arabs are exceptionally immune to the democratic wave.” He was discussing how social media had made it impossible for a government to seal off a population’s access to outside information. And he said that tyranny might be impossible to impose today, and that the “old idea” might have to be rethought.
I was glad to see them discuss that, because I thought it was a critical factor: not only Egyptians’ access to information through new technology, but the ability for it to be transmitted to the outside world. I had told someone that without digital technology and the Internet, the army might just have obeyed an order from Mubarak to crack down on and disperse the crowd, which is how such situations would nearly always have been dealt with before. In fact, it was the second time in a few days that Will had highlighted points that I had been making recently. Several times of late, I have pointed out that our domestic distinction between fiscal and social issues was not entirely distinct at all. The same reckless selfishness has brought us fiscal problems has for decades countenanced the notion that our own offspring is a matter of our convenience. Several days ago, discussing social conservative Rick Santorum’s casting of fiscal issues in moral terms, Will wrote, “He is, of course, correct that America's debt crisis is, at bottom, symptomatic of a failure of self-control, a fundamental moral failing”. I don’t see things exactly as Will does, but he is our most illustrative writer and one of those few people who absorbs information like a sponge. For 35 years, I’ve watched him in amazement, citing non-fiction and fiction sources alike.
Anyway in Egypt as here, the most familiarized and busy users of the newer technology are the young. Needless to say, they will be the most prone to be impetuous in democratic choices. Ironically though, they likely are also probably most exposed to outside values and least inclined to suffer repression after making poor choices, but also least inclined to the self-control and discipline necessary for a virtuous and prosperous society. Those waxing rhapsodic about an outburst of freedom in Egypt, are particularly enchanted with this fact that it is in large part driven by “the young.” Why? If as I believe, there is a critical element to a prosperous democracy of prudence about human nature and the structures to restrain it, those things are products of experience, not youth. The American Republic was formed by adults who had read the great writings of Biblical scripture and the European enlightenment, and knew of the flaws of human nature. Freedom enables maximum potential and also allows terrible selfishness and evil.
Actually right now, the Egyptian military is in control there. They promise a transition to elections AND a maintenance of Egypt’s agreement with Israel. Again, we can only hope…and pray. Honestly, it’s difficult for me to imagine that after all of these years, The Muslim Brotherhood is going to sit by and let this opportunity pass without stirring unrest and possibly injecting violence and chaos. A radical Muslim regime or at least a toehold seems very possible. We hear from multiple polls that a majority of Egyptians approve radical Islamist practices, and I expect this is more common among an older more traditional faction. So, the youth might be a negative force in terms of restraining foolish democracy, but a positive one in impatience with tyranny. For the interest of the rest of the world, particularly here in America, the greatest concern is maintaining the agreement and embargo of offensive implements that Egypt has provided with Israel. Israel is a remarkable place. In theological contexts, I’ve said I support Israel not because I feel a Biblical imperative to do so, but because they are the only established and true aspiring peaceful democracy in the Middle East. If they were an indecent nation as adversaries advertise, they paid when they fell into poor conduct long ago, and they would again. But, one must marvel at the top-flight technological and productive performance of a population smaller than New York City on a sliver of land smaller than New Jersey with relatively little in natural resources. Incidentally in a recent book, George Gilder suggests that we might assess intentions in the world today by the attitude toward Israel: The Israel Test.
Speaking of hasty youth, in The Republican Party they are largely enthralled by Ron Paul and his liberty and non-intervention platform. Paul is the clearest and most consistent of American politicians on fiscal and monetary folly. But, he thinks America should largely withdraw from the world, except in trade. But, the days of happy insularity from the world are long over, as we have been discussing. Paul says that we should withdraw from the region and cut off foreign aid to Israel. We have supported them since they reestablished a nation in the late 40’s. But at this point, it’s a live question whether they need us as much as we need them. Of course we are 40 times their size in population and a lot more than that geographically. But in the world-record debt and moral squalor of today’s America, there’s relatively lttlle for Israel to marvel at here. I have a suspicion that even if Israel met the worst possible fate and Iran or some other hostile neighbor detonated a nuclear bomb and killed off most of the population, that a remainder of Jews both there and around the world would organize and rise again . Or do you think it would be all over?