A conservatory of Ldotter blogs.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The question. . .

. . .that ought to be in the mind of every Palestinian today is, "Why can't I be Arafat, instead of a martyr?" In fact, it ought to plague the minds of all Arabs and Muslims. Because, the truth of the matter is that the only reason Democracy hasn't developed in Arab nations is that Arabs simply accept the notion that they are fated to serve under human masters. The idea of personal autonomy is not simply rejected in the middle east; it's as though the concept has never even been introduced.

How else can you explain the fact that Yassir Arafat survived until his death by natural causes in a place where life is routinely bargained away for an explosive belt, $25,000, and some unseen virgins to be delivered after the fact? How do you explain Arafat's unquestioned position of power in a part of the world where power changes hands to the tune of small arms fire? How is it that a man can retain his control over a people who have seen no advancement whatsoever under his tenure?

From the time Yassir Arafat established his presence in international politics with the PLO, the one thing the Palestinians have pointed to as the reason for their hatred of Israel is that they are a people without hope. The constant refrain is that the poverty and hopelessness that come with Palestinian identity is the cause of Palestinian terrorism, and that until these problems are remedied, there will be no peace in the Middle East, and I have no doubt that the Palestinian people honestly believe that, themselves.

The question isn't so much whether or not the Arafat's followers are miserable -- I think there's very little doubt about that. No one is saying the Palestinians are carping over insignificant inconveniences, or looking for a free ride from the international community. (OK. . .while I'm sure some people do say that, they're in the minority and I take issue with the premise. I think the average Palestinian probably is sincerely miserable.) They are very poor, and they do live in squalor, for the most part.

But, Arafat rose to power with the promise of a better life for all of his followers. He established himself as the hope of his people, and vowed to prove that their hopes and wishes were not in vain. But, over the entire duration of his grip on power, the lives of Palestinians have not improved in any measurable way, and in fact, have mostly gotten worse.

Yet, no Palestinian was brave enough to stand up and say, "Arafat is a failure, and it is time for our people to stop sending our children out to blow themselves up in his name." Instead, they continued to support a man whose list of accomplishments reads more like the obituary page of a global newspaper -- and with good reason. That reason is that Arafat's list of accomplishments reads more like the obituary page of a global newspaper.

Middle East culture, it has often been said, respects force above and to the exclusion of all else. And that's how Yassir Arafat maintained his grip on power. He used shadowy groups to not only terrorize Israelis, but his own people. Anyone who dared to step forward and oppose Arafat, or even openly criticize him, ran a substantial risk of being executed in the streets as a collaborator. So, essentially, Arafat made the betterment of Palestinian lives something that could only be pursued with his blessing and control. And, if you're a Palestinian with different ideas, feel free to express them, but you'd better know that the price of such expression is often steep and bloody.

Now, Palestinians face a world in which the sole proprietor of their hopes for more than a generation has died. The person who takes his place in the world will assume domain over those hopes. Unfortunately, the likelihood that any great number of Palestinians will be willing to name themselves as Arafat's replacement is virtually zero. And, until Palestinians -- and Arabs throughout the mideast -- take rightful control over their own individual destinies, their hopes will lie encased in stone along with Arafat's rotting corpse.

The people of Iraq and Afghanistan are beginning to take steps toward wresting control of their lives from tyranny, in both its Islamic and Arab statist forms. They are the glimmer of hope for the people of Palestine and throughout the middle east. They are demonstrating that Islamism isn't by necessity brutal, and that an Arab state need not be gripped in an iron fist in order to be viable and vibrant. They are the new pilgrims seeking to bring freedom and self determination to their own people and land, rather than striking out to search for it elsewhere.

There will be setbacks along the way, and a large amount of blood will inevitably be spilled as totalitarianism asserts its will to perpetuate itself. Many people will likely die before life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the neue regel. But that has always been the case when human freedom asserts itself. And the loss of blood and treasure and life have always been accepted as a reasonable price for freedom.

Now, it's up to the Palestinians to figure out whether the price they've paid for what they now have is too much, and consider whether or not any one person -- whether Arafat, or one of his successors -- really possesses greater wisdom than the multitudes when it comes to realizing their hopes for the future. Now is the time to ask, "Am I truly advancing the cause of my people by spraying my flesh and blood all over the streets of Israel? And, if that is such a noble thing, why didn't Yassir Arafat do it, himself? And, what if I am the person who can lead my people to glory? How can I do that if I am dead? Don't I have more to contribute to my people in life than in death?"

These are just a few of the questions that go unasked in the Arab/Islamist world. But with luck, and the determination of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, those question could start popping up in some unexpected places very soon. God help them all.

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