By Barry Rubin
President Barack Obama will probably be defeated in November by people voting for the Republican candidate who will then tell their friends that they voted for Obama. For them, that will be a compromise between responding to the reality they see as opposed to being in fashion and not being called nasty names by one’s peers.
It is like the story told by the latest Western woman to be sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Listen carefully to what she says:
“Heather said that she came forward to talk about what happened to her `because people need to know what goes on. It is the only way to start making it a problem that will have to be dealt with.’”
“However, many people told her to not reveal what happened to her because she was told, `it would hurt the image of the revolution.’ But Heather said after seeing the reports of others and their assaults, `I felt it was right to say something.’”
These few lines contain the most important of all wisdom for this year, 2012.
Heather articulates one of the greatest ideas of the Enlightenment and of Western civilization. The way to progress, succeed, and to solve problems is to speak honestly. That’s why freedom of speech is the very first principle in the U.S. Bill of Rights. But the dominant philosophy of the current age — Political Correctness — is based on exalting lies on behalf of allegedly good causes.
If that doctrine was about the importance of honesty it would be called Factual Correctness. Political Correctness is the doctrine of dictatorships, not democracies and certainly not the democratic way of life. It is not merely saying that the end justifies the means but that the end justifies sabotaging the real means for attaining success, thus guaranteeing disastrous outcomes.
Many — unfortunately including lots of journalists and academics — proudly think themselves virtuous to lie and urge others to lie. What use then are schools, universities, and the mass media?
Then there is the second part of the formula: the intimidation of those who try to tell the truth. They are censored out, derided, and called all sorts of names. They are deprived of the glittering prizes of jobs, fame, and money. We already know that it is hard enough for any woman to talk about being raped and that the onus is put on her for the crime of which she is the victim. Added onto that is the burden of “dissing” by truth the supposedly wonderful revolution or supposedly beneficial political forces.
It is an old Stalinist Communist argument. Do you want to help the reactionary capitalist imperialist forces? And now we are supposed to accept this as the latest word in liberalism? This covering up, lying, and twisting the facts is the supposed mission of the mass media and of academia, whose mission is supposed to be the exact opposite?
Yet this is the argument used against those who would complain about the hegemonic ideology in the West today and its poisoned fruits. And those who do complain, criticize, and point out the failures of this system are ridiculed as part of the unfashionable, of the unwashed, hideous, uneducated masses of know-nothings who cling to guns, religion, and racism. Or if obviously well-off and beyond being hurt by material punishments, they will be called greedy and mean-spirited. There is no shortage of insults. And have no doubt, a large proportion — in some places a majority; in others almost half- — of North Americans and Europeans, including people who have the best possible intentions, believe the propaganda they are being fed.
Then there are the material threats to one’s career (media or university job? Forget it) and livelihood, in many locales also to their social acceptance.
So why did Heather come forth despite those factors? Here’s what she said: After seeing that other victims had spoken up, “I felt it was right to say something.”
In short, only the words and actions of others (this means, you, gentle readers), especially people who show they are worthy of respect and who prove that the insults are lies, will make more people come forward.
Some will speak out; some will act only in secret. That’s why there’s a curtain on those voting booths.
Ah, but not all people live in democracies and even in the voting booth the people can vote in a dictatorship. Isn’t it the case for people of good will, people of “liberal” sentiments to support the victims of dictatorships and repressive forces, not their persecutors? How about teach-ins, articles, demonstrations, letters of protest by the “noble” elements of Western society? Apparently not.
Consider the case of Adel Imam, the Arab world’s most famous comic actor and a top Egyptian film star, who has just been sentenced to three months in prison by an Egyptian court for “insulting Islam.” Since Imam didn’t show up for the case, rejecting the whole idea of his being put on trial in this context, the conviction was automatic. Either he will appeal and may win or lose, or he will refuse to contest it, in which case the conviction will stand.
In Egypt, and other such countries, any citizen can bring such a case and the persecutor here was an Islamist lawyer. A similar case has also been brought against the billionaire Christian, Naguib Sawiris, who financed the main (real) liberal opposition party which gained almost 7 percent of the seats in parliament. The two defendants might eventually win this time but probably not a year from now?
In both cases, the men didn’t do anything against “Islam” but merely made fun of Islamists. The battle, of course, is being waged by Islamists who want their interpretation of the religion to be declared as the only acceptable version. Westerners don’t understand that when that happens anything more moderate or flexibly traditional hence becomes illegal and punishable. The Islamist counter-Bill of Rights proclaims that the country’s people have no freedom of speech or freedom of religion, no right to free assembly or of the press.
Months ago, Western activists were chanting and the media was cheerleading, “This is what democracy looks like.” They should be chanting, “This is what theocracy looks like.” But only if such brave dissidents continue to stand up in Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey will there be any hope for their societies. So will you cheer for them?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com