“Three powerfully wrong – and wrongfully powerful – american narratives about the Arab Spring” (an absolute must read)

Posted on June 12, 2011


This article lays down some knowledge: “Three powerfully wrong – and wrongfully powerful – american narratives about the Arab Spring” .  It’s long, and yes there are big words and complex ideas. But for the love of all things sane read the freaking article.  It is so crucial that we try to understand from as many angles as possible what is happening on the other side of the world.  Especially as young people, who will one day be running the show.  We need to know now what is going down and remember it, because our media is already getting the story wrong.  Who knows how they’ll be re-framing it as it’s crammed into one corner of a textbook page in the future.  My favorite part:

Now that the people are unwilling to wait any longer, their remarkable accomplishments are being hijacked and they are being told to focus on political reforms…and to wait while the adults make the decisions that are best. In the meantime, Egyptians and Tunisians—and not only the youth and labor movements—are continuing to take to the street to demand a wide range of reforms, many economic, but many more local and specific. As the policymakers, journalists, democracy experts, and even many academics advance the narrative that the focus is (and should be) on the technical details of political transition, what is foreclosed are the truly democratic possibilities of realizing the demands of a diverse citizenry for a future that looks substantially different from their past. For the vast majority of people in the region, that future is impossible to realize as long as the question of substantive economic reform is off the table.

And as Obama made clear in his speech on the future of the region, the Administration will fully support political reforms, but only as long as the dominant neoliberal economic system remains intact. In this regard, the Administration finds no shortage of domestic comprador elites eager to decouple economic and political reforms before too many take notice. These local elites—who stand to profit mightily—are ready allies for the United States in “de-economizing” the so-called transitions and trying to promote a blind deference to electoral processes and political reforms while concealing the likely failure of these processes to resolve the socio-economic imbalances that led to the uprisings in the first place.

and also:

First, the low-hanging fruit: the United States has never been consistently interested in the promotion of political freedom in the Middle East (or anywhere). This part of the narrative is met with a wink and a nod by all but the most deluded ideologues, like those who think Iraq has been a successful example of democracy promotion. The existence of policy inconsistencies is less the issue than the arguments used to justify those inconsistencies. To be clear, we are not suggesting any one-size-fits-all policy. But a consistent approachdoes not require identical tactics. It requires unwavering support for the idea that people are entitled to accountable government and a say in their future, and on even this minimal front, US policy has been equivocal. To be sure, many individuals who work in the administration or in other US government agencies are unquestionably committed to advancing political freedoms on a global scale. But when it comes to crafting actual policies, promoting political freedoms on a global scale slips quickly down the list in favor of “vital” (read: military and economic) interests.

Second: Implicit in this narrative that the US must prioritize its own interests is the assumption that democracy is threatening because it holds the potential to produce the “wrong” winners. Not everyone is ready for the responsibilities of democracy, the argument goes, and unprepared electorates will probably choose wrong. Aside from its utterly paternalistic and neocolonial logic, this approach reduces practice to outcome. The measure of democracy, according to this narrative, is the substantive outcome it produces, not the exercise of choice. Most people currently enjoying such choices elsewhere in the world would probably not agree that this is what is important about democracy, if it were put to them so starkly. Why do we herald choice when it comes to market practices, but evaluate outcomes when it comes to (other people’s) politics?

emphasis mine. I hope people around the world know not all Americans believe the bs, and want a consistent policy that regards all humans as entitled to an accountable government and basic human rights in general, regardless of “output”. Fucking capitalism. And everything that stems from it (like our media being unreliable, for one.  our colleges not turning out independent, critical thinkers who can cut through the bullshit for another).

Another super interesting part of this article is about how the different Islamist parties have different approaches to the democratic process:

 Islamist organizations throughout the region are eager to participate in meaningful elections, but each has a set of experiences and a set of demands that is unique to its local context. In Yemen, for example, the Islamist Islah party is central to a fully-legal opposition coalition (including Marxists and other Leftists) that has been challenging Saleh through legal and peaceful channels for nearly a decade. In Jordan, the Islamic Action Front has been at the forefront of pushing for substantive democratic reforms, including a more fair electoral law that distributes seats evenly among the population, rather than locating a disproportionately small number of seats in areas where the majority Palestinian population is concentrated. For more than 18 years, Jordan’s Islamists have worked steadfastly with other oppositional political parties (including liberals and Leftists) to achieve these reforms….

Indeed, one uncomfortable truth is that …The United States has been a close ally of one of the most repressive Islamic states in the world—Saudi Arabia—and has had little difficulties with Turkey’s Islamic government. The “fear of Islamists” component of this narrative is clearly a red herring, brought into the conversation to distract from more durably uncomfortable discussions.

Smoke and mirrors, peeps.  On one hand our government and the media and the corporations want americans to believe that Islamists are the same everywhere, they want us to believe that they are not to be trusted and bla bla bla (if you live here, you know the story).  On the other hand they take absolutely zero issue with the fact that the governments they have been allied with (and still are, in cases like Saudi) are horribly repressive.  Who gets to decide this narrative?  Who gets to decide which Islamists are the good ones or the bad ones?  And how is anyone supposed to make an objective decision or have a developed opinion on any of it when the truth of the matter is hard to get through.  It’s hard to find amongst all the bullshit.