MIDDLE EAST: Was Bush right after all?
Sherri Muzher

`Mideast stirs with hope`, `Drumbeat for democracy in Arab world grows louder.` Different headlines from the last few weeks but the theme is the same - George W. Bush has inspired a revolution for democracy and freedom.

But anyone who has studied the Middle East knows that people`s emotions have been brewing for a long time. Think of a pot that has been boiling with a lid firmly placed, but now the lid has been lifted strategically so that the pressure inside the pot alleviates. Or quite simply, it`s been lifted just enough to allow the feeling of empowerment for some people in the Middle East.

Realistically though, no matter how much the lid is moved back, a deep and strong mistrust of the US will continue as long as we support the Israeli military occupation of millions. In essence, Bush`s words about freedom appear hollow and hypocritical. And US decision-makers should realize that the administration`s `support` could be a hindrance for individuals who have genuinely been pushing for democracy for years.

`The more that Bush crows about his victory in bringing democracy to the region, and pushes Syria to follow UN Resolution 1559 while not uttering a word about the rafts of UN resolutions Israel needs to comply with - well, I am getting depressed and anxious,` said anthropologist/journalist Laurie King-Irani, who lived in Lebanon and supports Syria`s withdrawal.

Note further that many courageous souls have languished in prison for pushing democratic reforms in US-supported regimes. Where was the US when these people needed them?

No, it`s not about Bush `bringing` democracy to the Middle East, but rather the unintended consequence of the horrific 9/11 attacks. Whether the US wants to acknowledge it or not, we are finally listening to some of what repressed people in the Middle East have been saying. It makes sense that if people had more control over their lives, the flames for extremism would be subdued. Yeah sure, the `experts` claim that people hate us because of our way of life. But that`s absurd. It isn`t about who we are; it`s about what we do. And what we have done is to deprive people of our way of life by helping to prop up autocratic rulers that further our national interests. It`s been like this since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

So now, we talk about freedom with one catch: we`d like control over the events, such as on the Syria/Lebanon front. But how can we demand that Lebanon be free of foreign forces like Syria? Bush says, `the Lebanese people have the right to determine their future free from domination by a foreign power`. Well, aren`t we a foreign power issuing diktats?

The best way to gain credibility is to take our own words to heart and let well-heeled lobbying groups in Washington take a backseat for a change. That means ending a decades long Israeli occupation - because if we intend to, we can help end it immediately. Look at how Bush has gone after Syria. With Syria and Lebanon, at least there is a long and close relationship that even resulted in an invitation to Syria to help end the Lebanese civil war.

There has never been such a relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, although Israelis are leaving memories through land confiscation and settlement building. To say that there is `shock and awe` among Palestinians at the vigor with which Bush is acting on the Syria/Lebanon front would be an understatement. After all, Palestinians are required to negotiate for every inch of freedom. Bush is demanding that Lebanon be free of foreign forces immediately while he supports Israeli forces sitting in the Occupied Territories until they decide when it`s OK to leave. That`s called doublespeak, Mr. President.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, `Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.` Well, the Palestinians have been demanding their freedom for decades. Despite the homage paid to MLK, Jr., it seems that Palestinian freedom is voluntary for the Israelis.

What was that again about spreading freedom and democracy? Bush might be able to convince more people in the Middle East if he removed the lid from the pot completely and vigorously interfered to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinians.

Sherri Muzher, who holds a Jurist Doctor in International and Comparative Law, is a Palestinian-American activist and freelance journalist. Acknowledgement to Media Monitors Network