Sometimes It Sucks to be in Rome
When I taught in Damascus, the high school history teacher had her students personally prioritize the concepts in the Bill of Rights; the American kids invariably had "freedom of speech" at the top of their list and the kids from the Middle East had freedom to practice religion at the top of theirs . . . and when the Arab kids were asked how much they valued freedom to criticize their government, most didn't give this right a lot of significance -- "What do I know about that?" one student said -- and this may explain some of what is going on in Egypt and the Middle East right now -- Walter Russell Mead explains it far better than I could (in two recent essays) -- but in America, though liberals and conservatives have no lack of antipathy for one another, we assume that both parties love America more than they hate each other . . . and thus, democracy works (grudgingly) but in the Middle East, when the "wrong" party won (The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) then the tribes aligned and the bloodshed began . . . and so it may be a long time, or never, that the dream of both conservative and liberal Americans happens in the Middle East, when these countries adopt middle-of-the-road freedoms and values, and decide that free speech, individual liberties, the right to vote, and checks and balances of a democratic system are worth more than tribal grabs for power and oppression . . . until then, it's going to be very difficult to decide who to back and who to fight, but the cost of screwing this up is very high in terms of human cost . . . if you want to get really depressed, read "City of the Lost," in the New Yorker, a description of the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, which is the second largest in the world and growing every day, hosting the enormous flood of Syrians fleeing the bloody civil war that has ravaged their country.