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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Kudos for Edward Said

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F. GREGORY GAUSE III, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont and Director of its Middle East Studies Program writes in the September/October 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs where he questions the Bush administration contention "that the push for democracy in the Muslim world will improve U.S. security". He suggsts that this is faulty premise as "there is no evidence that democracy reduces terrorism. Indeed, a democratic Middle East would probably result in Islamist governments unwilling to cooperate with Washington".

The article is worth reading but it leaves many questions unanswred.

While I do not question the author's credentials I do not see how his 'evidence' supports his own claim.

Exactly what are the genetic features that make the Arabs of the Middle East - unlike all other peoples of the world - a thoughtless mass of people whose political behaviour is so one dimensional and predictable? Why Arabs are so unique that they, regardless of social class, ethnic, education, personal histories and ambitions, would invariably take the first available opportunity to excercise their vote to bring Islamic government, not only, say in Qatar or Bahrain, but ALL over the place, 22 countries. Why would we, Arab women and women, secular and religious, rich and poor, simply get hit by a collective wish to install an islamic government in every political space we have as soon as we get the chance? And, why can't we, Arabs of the Middle East, behave as normal people do which is what the the Indians have done. They voted Hindu fundamentalists, BJP, in and voted them out in the next election. Why do 'experts on our region, consider us, the Arabs of the Middle East, as hords incapable of anything deleberative? (Admitteldly, some of the Arabs of the Middle East are capable of such a feat and some are not. Just like other peoples).

Predictions are good, and sometimes they hit right. But often they do not. Remember how scores of high profile Middle East "experts" predicted that the Iraqis will welcome the American with flowers? Well! Some Iraqis did and some did not. Some Iraqis hailed the American soldiers as liberators. Some other Iraqis recieved the American soldiers as invadors. But the 'experts' were not shamed to modesty.

Once again, making a prediction is not bad if you are careful not to generalise. But to make such a bold and unpremised prediction that claims to chart how a population so diverse as that that inhabit our region is close to playing the dice.

Unfortunately this is a recurring game among some western 'experts' on the Middle East - an obbessive compulsion to predict.

Edward Said's thesis on Orientalism as a style of thought seems at work here too.

An update from September 17. Check Counterpunch for a recent homage to Said

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