The Freedom to Be Unfree

IT SEEMS CLEAR THAT THE UNREST in a dozen Middle East countries does not bode well for the West. When the images of demonstrators first started appearing in the media, I wanted to believe that the people marching in the streets in Cairo, Tripoli, and Bahrain were marching for political freedom. After all, they all lived under cruel, repressive regimes. Some governments had military rule (Egypt), others maintained power by bribery (Saudi Arabia), and others by sheer anti-Americanism (Libya). Did not all these autocrats deserve to be overthrown?

Perhaps. Having traveled in the Middle East, I have seen first-hand the culture there and, suffice it to say, it is more elementary school than graduate school. Though the union protestors in Madison screamed like spoiled children, violence did not break out, even when anti-protestor-protestors met them face-to-face. In America, for the time being, it appears we still can have confrontations without gunfire.

But in these repressive Middle East regimes, it takes incredible courage to face down soldiers who have no qualms about shooting you. The people in these countries must really want freedom, right?

Yes, but freedom to do what? That’s the important question.

Commentator Mark Steyn mentioned that he’d seen a series of photos of female graduates of Cairo University, taken between 1950 and 2009. In the earliest photo, the women wore poodle skirts and tight sweaters to their graduation exercises, just like their counterparts in America. In the 70s, they likewise sported jeans and peasant blouses. But in the 1990s, there were no bare arms and legs, and by 2009, all the women wore hijabs covering their hair and heads. That fashion detail alone indicated to Steyn that the Arab world is growing ever more religious. His comment made me look for women in the demonstrations. I saw very few and those I did see were completely covered.

The Muslim Brotherhood, a key instigator of the demonstrations in Libya and Egypt, states explicitly that it will work within existing political systems for as long as practicable, but violence is always an option. (You’ll recall that the Brotherhood was a fertile petrie dish for the men who planned 9/11.) That same Brotherhood will have a powerful position in the new government of Egypt, so say all political commentators.

I was dismayed at Obama’s response to the demonstrations. Remember he completely ignored the “Green Revolution” (a true quest for freedom) in Iran in 2009, but quickly decided that Mubarak must go, dismissing our thirty year relationship with Mubarak, who has honored the treaty with Israel made by his predecessor Anwar Sadat and kept the Suez Canal open and functioning for all that time. Mubarak was a tyrannical despot, but I’m reminded of what FDR said in the 1930s when he was chided for supporting the dictator of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza: “Sure, he’s a son of a bitch,” said Roosevelt. “But he’s our son of a bitch,” which is a restatement of the famous Arab proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

We live in a dangerous world. We have no friends; we have temporary allies. To see the world in any other way is foolhardy. And yet when a true enemy of the United States, the madman Muammar Ghadaffi, is challenged by his countrymen, Obama takes almost two weeks to take sides. Ghadaffi was behind the murder of Americans on Pan Am flight 103, which crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland. It seems you can almost set your compass by Obama’s response to any crisis: whatever he does or says is the exact opposite of what should be done and said.

I believe Arabs throughout the world want more freedom, but the freedom they desire is apparently the freedom to live under a theocracy which will institute sharia law, with beheadings for marital infidelities and terror against the West in order to comply with the Koran’s mandate to convert, subjugate, or murder unbelievers. In short, it is reasonable to believe that Iran is the sort of country most of the people in the streets from Algeria to Pakistan desire, and that cannot be good for Western interests.

But as usual, Obama lives in a make-believe world where all people want American-style freedom. Sadly, his world is not the real world, where you and I live.

Imagine a single Muslim caliphate stretching from Morocco to Pakistan. Now imagine it with nuclear weapons and tell me you wouldn’t prefer Mubarak and even Ghadaffi still in power.