MIDDLE EAST: Clean up the cobwebs of outdated ideas
Youssef M. Ibrahim

April 12, 2005

Bertrand Russell once said that he would never die for an idea, because it may turn out to be wrong. Indeed many seemingly worthy ideas have been abandoned in the long voyage of humanity toward progress and the world is much better for it.

Shelved quests include communism, nationalism, male chauvinism and the League of Arab States, to mention some seemingly wonderful goals proven unworthy of pursuit after many years of disappointment.

This is, in fact, a good time in the Greater Middle East to clean up the cobwebs of rotten ideas still hanging in there from the last century to pave the way for the twenty-first century.

Among these:

Gone is Israel`s outmoded idea that it can control millions of Palestinians by force, forever stealing their lands, humiliating their men, women and children, evicting them from ancestral homes and locking them up in cantons surrounded by soldiers and Jewish colonists.

Similarly dead is the notion of militant Palestinian movements. Most notable among them is the notion that Muslim fundamentalists and Arab nationalists, living outside Palestine, will one day be able to throw Israel`s 5.5 million Jews into the sea and return 4 million or so Palestinian refugees exiled in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere to Palestine.

Also heading for the dustbin is the Syrian Baathist decrepit ideology that holds on to the creed that the only way to deal with opposition at home and in Lebanon is via assassination, imprisonment or kidnapping, and that still hangs on to the view that Lebanon will forever remain a Syrian protectorate.

Other ideas ripe for shelving include those mind-boggling hopes by former army officers in Egypt, Libya and Yemen of replacing themselves in power with their eldest sons as if they have forgotten that their own advent to power was paved by the overthrow of monarchies. In Egypt the Kifaya, or `Enough`, movement seems to have already ensured that.

In Yemen rebellious tribes are sending the president a loud and clear message that the country is a republic, not a kingdom.

If there is an idea whose time has long passed it is that sons of royalty or of bosses can behave as pashas anywhere in a transparent world of satellite television and Internet. Unquestionably, the worst aspect of this embarrassment is not that it keeps on happening in the Arab world in particular, but that both sons and fathers think that this is their rightful entitlement.

By far one movement that is now overdue for retirement is the Iraqi insurgency. Some time ago it ranked as a movement that many Arabs and Muslims supported as a nationalistic surge against foreign military occupation.

But the insurgency has long ago collapsed into acts of piracy, kidnapping and random killing of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

Iraq as a whole is ripe for a reexamination by Arab nationalists, themselves a threatened species.

To be sure, the American occupation has committed many crimes and images of Abu Ghraib prison where Iraqis were tortured and abused are very much alive in everyone`s mind. But the so-called insurgency has gone far beyond that.

Wholesale butchery by suicide bombers targeting Shia worshipers, Iraqi Sunnis and civilians seeking jobs, going to their schools, praying in their mosques or churches are acts of moral bankruptcy and pure madness.

Such an insurgency deserves to be extinguished.

There must be a recognition that today, two years after the American invasion, some 27 million Iraqis are trying to reclaim Iraq`s rightful place as a pillar of Arab civilization.

It is becoming clearer every week that both Iraqi Kurds and the country`s largest demographic group, the Shia, have agreed to a sort of federal government structure.

Progress has been slow, but methodical. And in a region where there is nothing resembling free choice, these Kurds and those Shias are setting an example, conceiving a federal republic that by all accounts shall stand as a multiethnic, multi-religious democratic entity.

A similar exercise will take place in Lebanon after free elections are held there at the end of May. No Arab power should be allowed to interfere with these two hopeful signs of democracy. Such quests must be allowed to thrive unmolested.

As many in the Arab world have noted, we are living in interesting times. Old orders are crumbling. New hope is arising.

Rebellion is sweeping across a region with encrusted rulers increasingly looking awkward and out of place. This is a part of the world that has long awaited one hero to deliver it.

Instead, it is getting millions of smaller heroes, all agreeing on one thing: the old stuff will not do anymore.

For now, all the Middle East has are brave voters who, ballot by imperfect ballot, e-mail by e-mail are burying a culture of fear, sweeping away bad ideas of the past. And for the moment, that may be enough.

Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for The New York Times and energy editor of the Wall Street Journal, is managing director of the Dubai-based Strategic Energy Investment Group. Acknowledgement to Gulf News.