Revolutions in the Arab World

Amid democracy battles, the West needs to use a humble but strong voice of support.

Posted: 02/22/2011 12:37 PM EST

Libyan men living in Amman carry a pre-Gadhafi era national flag as they shout anti-Gadhafi slogans near the Libyan Embassy in Amman, Jordan. (AP Photo/Nader Daoud)

The revolutions in the Arab world continue. Bahrain and now Libya. Two countries where events over the weekend went in very different directions—sadly and unfortunately in the case of Libya, where the army is firing on protesters marching on the Tripoli compound of Moammar Gadhafi, who has ruled the country for 41 years. All landlines and wireless communications in the country have been cut off.

As people around the globe struggle to make sense of these tumultuous past six weeks, the one thing that seems to be becoming most clear is the extent to which so many people outside that world—and so many inside that world!—had no idea what was going on.

At the website Jadaliyya, Fadi Bardawil writes about the “wrong-thinking”:

“The mass popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and the uprisings shaking Bahrain and Libya at the moment are contributing to sinking the culturalist mythologies of this intellectually exhausted generation of militants turned into detached, sour commentators. Not all wines age well. One also hopes that these world-historical events will contribute to overcoming the simplistic binary logic of interpretation which has dominated public discourse on opposite sides of the political spectrum for so long: external causes vs. internal ones, imperialism and colonialism vs. Islam, political logics vs. cultural ones. The recent popular uprisings have contributed to the disintegration of what now [has become] the old culturalist myth."

The news program Democracy Now! hosted an informative discussion with MIT professor Noam Chomsky and Al Jazeera senior political analyst Marwan Bishara, wherein Bishara said:

“There is something called an Arab. There is an Arab nation. You can fly—you can take a seven-hour flight from Morocco to Iraq—passing through an Arab region that speaks the same language, that has the same heritage. But it has been invisible to American media and to American decision makers. We've seen the Arab world. We've seen Saudi Arabia, we've seen Bahrain, through the lenses of military strategy, oil, prisms of Israel, and certainly terrorism and jihad. But what we've seen over the last six weeks has been completely absent. And hence, it caught everyone by surprise. Everyone was caught in the headlights—"What is going on? Who are these people?"—not realizing that in places like Bahrain, places like Yemen, certainly Egypt, Tunisia, and so on and so forth, a pent-up tension has been building up for years. This is not a new thing that’s gone on on Facebook.”

What should we in the West do? Sit back and watch, and not talk about it until things calm down? Sometimes that seems like it’d be wiser. The problem is that in a world as interwoven as ours, silence can have an effect of its own. So the best we can do, I would think, is to continue talking about it. Support the people on the street, the push towards democracy, the changes of governance in the Middle East. But with more humility.