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Jay Lemke is Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York. He has also been Professor in the PhD Programs in Science Education, Learning Technologies, and Literacy Language and Culture at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and most recently adjunct Professor in Communication at the University of California - San Diego and Senior Research Scientist in the Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition (LCHC). Professor Lemke's research investigates multimedia communication, learning, and emotion in the context of social and cultural change.

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The Leader of the Stable World??

So, "the Leader of the Free World" is obsolete, a relic of the old Cold War. But the US used to stand for something. Our international support among people used to come from the belief that we stood for freedom and democracy (whether we actually did or not).

Now, with a supposedly liberal President, we hemmed and hawed on Egypt until the last minute, we almost saw a total massacre in Libya, we have in fact given tacit backing to violent suppression of pro-democracy movements in Bahrain, Yemen, and who knows where else (Saudi Arabia?). We have defended "stability", not democracy. Not the Free World, but the Stable World.

Even in the first Gulf War, it was all about not allowing the status quo to change. Iraq had a legitimate historical claim to Kuwait, which was taken away from them and made an independent sheikdom by the British to protect their naval bases and later the oil. The US was horrified that anybody might try to change the sacred order of things. Anybody other than us, that is.

The Iran hostage crisis came about mostly because Carter listened to Kissinger's advice that we had to give sanctuary to a dictator (the Shah), because he was OUR dictator (one of many). Mubarak in Egypt was another one of OUR dictators. My taxpayer dollars have been going to dictators all over the world, to equip their armies to use against pro-democracy movements.

We're not really interested in democracy in Iraq now, or Afghanistan (obviously), or (Allah forbid!) Saudi Arabia. We tut-tut about democracy in China. We have no credibility at all when we talk today about freedom and democracy in Cuba, or Russia, or North Korea, because no one believes we are looking out for anything except our own interests. Correction: the global financial interests based here.

Why do so many Islamic people hate the US? (1) Because we continued to support Israel no matter how brutal or illegal their actions toward the Palestinians, and (2) because we continued to support oppressive dictatorships from Egypt (until now) and Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf States) to Pakistan. Because we are allied with their enemies all around the world. The World Trade Center fell because it symbolized US-backed oppression all across the Islamic world.

We just missed a rare opportunity to prove otherwise. If we (i.e. Obama) had spoken out early, clearly, and impressively in support of the Egyptian revolution, the Libyan revolution, and the movement in Bahrain (at least), a lot of Moslems might have had second thoughts about donating money to Osama bin Laden.

ALL our leaders believe that US longterm strategic interests require that we support dictatorships and maintain "stability". They are all wrong. And they are putting all of us on the wrong side of history.

Reader Comments (1)

Hello Jay,

Your distinction between democracy and stability resonates with my understanding of what's happening in the world. But doesn't the act of positioning them as representatiations of good and bad engenders a new question, one thar pertains to what you mean when you say democracy or stability? Watching the news is only part of the story. We shouldn't forget that news broadcasts are agentive. They take a stand, they push forward, for simplicity sake, a one-sided story.
Discussions about what might be happening next, though, are mere specualtions. 'What if' remarks and 'if we have only done this or that' are also a form of taking over the conversation and shutting down dialogue. Saying that the West is bad and Islam is good, that Israel is bad and Palestinians are good is pushing forward one-sided narrative. This shuts down any effort for peace making. Listening attentively to different parts of the story takes a high level of affective cognition. It is a skill that not too many people are blessed with. People think that they have the answers to the problems in the Arab world without them experiencing-on a daily basis-what it means to live there. This is dangerous because it can easily fuel misconceptions, misunderstanding, and hatred. My argument boils down to the importance of not judging unless you know, first-hand, how it feels to live on BOTH sides of the conflict. I always ask myself, who startedd. Who violated the most sacred of human values--life. Seeing what's happening in all its complexity is not a small matter. But we can start of the discussion by talking about values. For example, being defensive is being human. So thinking about the events on two levels that of the facts and that of the interpretations that are attributed to them is conducive to a better understanding of what is happening. Another example, living in poverty does not grant a human being with the right to kill. It is paramount, for the sake of this world, to be very careful. The optimal solution, following the tenets of complexity theory, is Win Win solutions. And this is something that is based on genuine feelings of solidarity.

June 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOsnat Fellus

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