The Angry Arab & The Texas Cowboy
Consider yourself blessed to witness this remarkable moment in
world history. Afghanistan's October 2004 elections made the case
for people power. In January, first Palestine, then the biggest
election, Iraq, set the conditions for positive, pluralistic change
in the Arab Middle East. Now, occupied Lebanon seizes the moment
-- with public demonstrations similar to Ukraine's -- and the
democratic surge continues.
I don't believe in happy endings, merely a respite before the
next struggle, However, this Millennium War has reached and passed
a crucial midpoint.
All but the most recalcitrant, calcified and now laughable naysayers
in the West suddenly recognize the pragmatism of American idealism.
Since 9-11, extending political and economic opportunity into
the world's hard corners -- by curbing the power of corrupt autocracies,
by toppling the tyrannical thugs who rule by terror -- have been
the heart and soul of American strategy.
Syrian bayonets no longer paralyze the Lebanese. This doesn't
mean Lebanese democrats won't face terror strikes or even an attack
by Syrian forces, but it does tell us that in the streets of Beirut,
the power of hope is defeating the power of fear. It also says
that gutsy Lebanese are betting that U.S. military forces in Iraq
(on Syria's eastern border) won't let the Syrians massacre them.
The exemplary courage of the Iraqi people and American military
might have taken the tool of fear from the dictators' hands.
Is Syria next? Syria is a complex, fractured society -- so let
me put a personal face on Syria.
In the early 1980s, I attended school in Germany with a brilliant
Syrian man. The first two months we were together, he came on
hard with the Arab anger and Mulism militant act. He hated Americans,
and he hated "Jews." He bullied the other Americans
at the school with this moral castigation hustle, but I flat told
him to stuff it. If he hated Americans, well, I'm a Texan. That
perfect wisecrack puzzled him for 24 hours, and once he figured
out I was playing a Texas cowboy foil to his angry Arab, it amused
him. He also liked jazz, and would hang around when I played blues
and bop on the piano.
I got the tough facts by osmosis: The Assad regime had jailed
members of his family, but in Syria everyone lived in fear.
An early August afternoon: My Syrian pal and I were sitting in
a German cafe (quaint side street, great light), and he finally
broke. "How do you do it?" he asked me, meaning: "How
does America do it? How does America succeed in so many ways?"
I told him his real question was why Syria and a majority of Third
World countries were in such terrible and terrifying conditions
-- that's the deep subject. "First, you have to off your
autocrats," I told him. "But we can't do this,"
he said -- and his face was a work of pain. "Then, until
you do, you will continue to eat dust," I replied. "To
I remember the deep yet bright anguish in his brown eyes. We
loved to kid each other -- we both loved to pun in our not-so-fluent
German -- but he knew I wasn't kidding. He knew I'd put the truth
out there unvarnished, and I did so because I respected him. I
don't remember how the rest of the day played out, but I remember
he was quiet, and he wasn't a quiet kind of guy.
There is a universal hunger for liberty. It exists in Syria,
and my brilliant, frightened friend attests to that. At the time,
I thought his occasional bouts of "Sunni militancy"
were a response to the Allawite dictatorship in Syria. In retrospect,
I realize he was wrestling with the challenges of personal and
cultural identity in a world where there is no "over there."
Blame technology. Technology has compressed the planet. With
the Internet, all gossip is local. Jumbo jets mean everyone lives
within a two-day trip of everyone else, and the angry Arab and
the Texas cowboy will eventually meet.
I look forward to seeing my friend again, over a cup of tea in
2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
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