Beyond such stomach-churning lines like this (and we all know Michael Gerson’s 5th grade-level aptitude for similes) — “Democracy is not inevitable like communism was said to be; it is inevitable like hope.” — Gerson’s op-ed today is unsurprisingly political hackery. His broad brush paints an admittedly jagged swath across the Middle East, but this trajectory still inevitably leads — this is Bush’s former speechwriter, remember — where else but to freedom.
But while the development of democracy in the Middle East is not linear, it is also not random. It moves in steps, but upward. Taken together — a constitutional Iraqi democracy, a powerful reform movement in Iran, democratic achievements from the Gulf sheikdoms to Lebanon — this is the greatest period of democratic progress in the history of the region. Given consistent outbreaks, it seems clear that the broader Middle East is not immune to the democratic infection.
This reminds me of nothing so much as Condoleezza Rice’s cringe-worthy utterance that death and violence simply represented the natural “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” The reflexive habit of neoconservatives to any spate of elections as a triumph of this abstract notion of “freedom” — even, remarkably, when they acknowledge, as Gerson does, the tendency to “overinterpret events to confirm preexisting views” — is simply an indication of how politically fraught this term has become. Gerson does not need to analyze the specific politics and social dynamics of each Middle Eastern society; he sees what he wants to see (in Iran, that means a “powerful reform movement” and “martyrs” of democracy, who will no doubt eventually succeed), and uses these out-of-context planks to reconstruct his political project: vindicating his old boss’s “freedom agenda.”
Such a baldly partisan op-ed contributes less than nothing to informed discourse; its only effect is in reminding readers that Republican talking points, whatever the facts on the ground, will prevail. The ark of the political universe is long, one might surmise, but it bends inevitably toward freedom democracy the GOP.(image from flickr user carcollectorz under a Creative Commons license)
I like my hummus as much as the next non-Middle Easterner, but is such squabbling really necessary?
The president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association Fadi Abboud, said he is preparing to file an international lawsuit against Israel for allegedly “taking the identity of some Lebanese foods” and thus violating a food copyright.
Most Israelis seem to concede their indebtedness to Arab cuisine, and by any rational calculation, it doesn’t really matter what the “identity” of hummus is. Apparently, though, Greece set a precedent for this sort of alimentary litigation, suing for — and winning — a monopoly on the production of feta cheese. Throw in the more rational grievances long simmering in Middle Eastern politics, and you have the recipe for an environment far more explosive than even the spiciest hummus.
[I]t’s not just the Lebanese who are riled; it’s the subject of low-level complaints among Palestinians too, along the lines of: “First they take our land, now our food …” In a similar vein, Palestinians within Israel sometimes grumble about the Jewish state seizing language, since Modern Hebrew has borrowed from the Arabic dictionary – of curses, in particular.
I was told yesterday that there’s a word in Hebrew that means something along the lines of “to scrape the hummus off one’s plate with pita bread.” Perhaps the disputants should avail themselves of this spirit of sharing and resolve their differences over a plate of (conspicuously non-national) hummus.