Readers of the buggy prof's recent series on the New Anti-Semitism in the Arab Countries and in the Wider Islamic World --- four articles in all, starting in late October 2003 --- might find the following interview highly informative and full of insight. It appeared in the NRO today, and the fellow being interviewed, Kenneth Timmerman, is an American journalist who has been traveling and reporting on the Middle East for two decades now. The author of a widely noted book, Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America, Timmerman is careful to distinguish between the hate-mongers in the Islamic world and those who strive and thirst for change, modernity, democracy, and openness to the rest of the earth.
Note that his analysis of the rampant anti-Semitism in the Arab world --- the preachers of hate winning so far, not least thanks to the collusion with them of the despotic rulers: anxious to divert the frustration and resentments of the masses outward, onto Jewish scapegoats --- is in line with the arguments uncoiled in those earlier buggy articles. Always gratifying for a non-specialist to find that someone with decades of cumulative knowledge and first-hand experience in a region of the world has views that bolster your own, more derivative views . . . and particularly, as in Timmerman's case, when he knows how to make crucial distinctions and find those on the side of progress at work in the Middle East. They may not be winning right now, he rightly notes: but they exist, and their impact will depend on what ensues in Iraq in the next few years.
Right now, as he says, the hate-mongers have the upper hand. Timmerman didn't mention in this interview, it's worth noting, that a Gallup poll administered in 10 Arab countries in early 2002 --- months after the 9/11 attacks --- found that 60% of the Arab respondents denied that Muslims had perpetrated the attacks or even been involved. Equally dispiriting results were found in September 2002, nearly a year afterwards, in Egypt . . . a country that has been receiving $2 billion a year for the last 24 years in foreign aid.
The Bold US Experiment in Iraq
Given all this, what can be done to strengthen the forces of progress in the Middle East?
Timmerman's answer, ours too: any boost to those forces hinges entirely on the outcome of the US campaign to reconstruct post-Saddamite Iraq and turn it into a progressive Arab country . . . the only one in the region, all the other Arab states depostic tyrannies run ultimately by the secret police. Each of these tyrannical countries is marked by rife corruption, rampant nepotism, startling economic and scientific backwardness, and career advancement by means of who you know and mutual backscratching, not to forget widespread illiteracy --- the worst in the world, even higher than in much poorer Tropical Africa. [On all these deficiencies, see the excellent UN study, Arab Human Development Report 2002, discussed at length in this buggy article with links to the original and commentaries by others.]
In the NRO interview, Timmerman makes no bones about what's at stake in Iraq now: the boldest experiment in US foreign policy since the rehabilitation of Japan and Germany as bustling, dynamic democratic countries after WWII is unfolding ithere. If it works out well --- which means a consenual government, a fairly effective and loose federalism among Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis, a better economy, and the ability of the security forces of this new Iraqi government to maintain law and order and suppress terrorism --- then the forces of progress and peace will, Timmerman predicts, be able to prevail over the preachers of hate. The outcome isn't assured; not yet. Not least, it depends on a determined presidency in this country, the support of American and British public opinion, and the ability within a few months to find some workable Iraqi government, even if a provisional one, as it draws up a constitution and eventually holds elections.
The doomsters and the Bush-haters, here and elsewhere, won't have any of this. And yet, at a relatively limited cost --- fewer than 450 US casualties --- we have, in the course of two years as Victor Davis Hanson noted in a Frontpage symposium yesterday on Iraq's future, destroyed the two worst tyrannies in the Middle and Near East --- Taliban Afghanistan and Saddamite Iraq --- ended the menace Saddam wielded over surrounding states, encouraged the Iranian opposition, and made noticeable progress in laying the basis of a new, more moderate and consenual Iraqi society and government . . . all the while altering the entire political landscape of the Middle East. And 85% of the population in Iraq live now in a generally stable, promising country: in the areas of the Kurds and the Shiites. Yes, the Bush administration made errors initially --- some of them matters of over-optimism about post-Saddamite Iraq, some a question of inter-agency squabbles between the Pentagon and the State Department, and some an issue of insufficient knowledge of the local society in Iraq.