Sunday, February 8, 2009

Obama's vanity shines through

President Barack Hussein Obama's first major international interview, given to Al-Arabiya, the Middle East television network, did not come as a surprise.
Nor was it a surprise that the new occupant of the White House, displaying his rhetorical skills, attempted to placate the Arab streets and Arab leaders by indicating the Obama administration will restore "respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago."

It is only a leader as vain as Obama, surrounded by a sycophantic and genuflecting mainstream media, who would indulge in such sophistry.

Thirty years ago another Democrat, Jimmy Carter, was in the White House when an anti-American revolution rent asunder Iran under the Shah and pushed the entire region in the direction of Islamism, with the situation gone from bad to worse.

There was the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union, an Islamist bid to overthrow the Saudi monarchy with the siege of Mecca, the Lebanese slide into civil war, the murder of Egypt's president Anwar Sadat by Islamists, and American diplomats held hostage in Tehran for over a year by Iran's clerical regime.

Since 1979 America has paid more attention to the Middle East than any other region of the world. It has to do with a host of reasons, but one not readily discussed is what Abdelwahab Meddeb -- a Tunisian scholar resident in Paris -- termed the "malady of Islam."


Islam's malady, or pathology, is about the condition of people and society in the Middle East, primarily Arabs in Islam's history from its beginning to the present time.

Arabs are less than a fifth of the world's Muslim population, yet their political attitude and views are of dominant influence across the Muslim world. Non-Arab Muslims defer to Arabs and, therefore, the malady of Islam is bound with the norms of Arab culture.

The birth of modernity -- liberalism and democracy in politics -- took place in Europe. Arabs are proximate to Europe and, therefore, it might be asked of them how did they respond to modernity?

Despite apologetics and much obfuscation, the answer is the Arab majority has shown preference for totalitarian tyranny.

In the last century there were three ideological responses to liberal democracy within the Middle East representing the divisions among Arabs.

Secular Muslims responded with Arab nationalism embodied in the Baathist ideology.

Majority Sunni Muslims were mobilized by Wahhabi/Salafi Islamist ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban. Minority Shiite Muslims supported Khomeinism, the Shiite variant of the Islamist ideology.

These responses share in common the totalitarian collectivist values denying individual liberty, suppressing dissent and disdain for minorities.


Two tyrannies -- Iraq under the Baath and Afghanistan under the Taliban -- have been demolished with American assistance. In both countries, such as with the post-1945 circumstances in Germany and Japan, American arms have put in place in Baghdad and Kabul governments at a minimum respectful of democracy.

Iran remains the third tyranny bent on reversing the post-9/11 gains for democracy in the Middle East.

But while Iraq's democratic evolution may likely influence positively future developments in the region, Iran will put President Obama to the test and his administration eventually will be judged on how he contends with or appeases the power-holders of a totalitarian regime.

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