The Huffington Post, Jan 12, 2007
by Gabriel Rotello -
President Bush was still giving lip service
the other night to the fading goal of creating "a functioning
democracy" in Iraq and "advancing liberty" across the Middle
East. Although his escalation plan is fatally flawed in ways too
numerous to count, those goals certainly remain worthy.
Unfortunately, the chaos that Bush has
unleashed in Iraq has destroyed any meaningful chance of
Not just today, and not just in Iraq, but
probably for generations to come across the whole Arab world.
In part this is because Bush's Iraq
adventure has confirmed a primal fear in the Arab imagination,
the fear of 'fawda,' or chaos. Bush justified his invasion on
the 'freedom' narrative of history that we learn as children in
the west. But the Arab's have a very different historical
narrative, and Bush's failure to understand it will be one of
his most tragic legacies.
The western 'freedom' narrative goes
something like this. In the bad old days, our ancestors suffered
under tyrants like George III and Louis XVI. Then came a series
of great revolutions that ushered in freedom and liberty. Our
task today is to preserve our hard-won liberties and guard
against any return to tyranny.
Bush appears to believe that this narrative
is universally embraced. But the Arab narrative could hardly be
In the Arab version of the 'bad old days,'
their ancestors suffered not from tyranny but from 'fawda,'
usually translated as anarchy or chaos.
The strong preyed upon the weak, women
could not walk the streets in safety, violence and anarchy made
life miserable. Then came Mohammed, who established the divine
authority of Islam. Society became ordered, stable and safe.
Fawda was banished.
Arab children are taught that one of the
worst sins on earth is to challenge stability and order, since
this invites a return to the horrors of fawda. Hence the famous
Arab saying: 'Better a century of tyranny than one day of
This narrative goes a long way to explain
why the Arab world is so resistant to the messy workings of
And it also indicates that if anyone wants
to promote democracy in that region, they must decisively
challenge this deeply ingrained suspicion that democracy will
inherently lead to horrific chaos, rather than a Jeffersonian
pursuit of happiness.
Yet Bush has done the exact opposite.
From the very first, when he failed to stop the fawda-like
looting of Iraq, the connection between our invasion and chaos
was made explicit.
Confirmation that democracy equals fawda
was made even more explicit when the Iraqi people voted, waved
their purple thumbs for the news cameras, and were rewarded by
mass anarchy and mass murder.
The inevitable result is that TV viewers
all over the Arab world see a clear confirmation of the
historical narrative they learned on grandpa's knee: If you
replace strong leaders, however flawed, with elections and
'freedom,' the result will be disaster.
This connection has been strengthened by
the President's policies in Palestine and Lebanon. In both
cases, Bush pushed for elections and democracy. In both cases,
the people have been rewarded with violence and instability.
In a very real sense, the Bush
administration has handed the forces of Arab reaction a great
gift by essentially 'proving' the connection between freedom and
fawda. This, sadly, has dashed the possibility of democratic
reform in the Arab world. Pro-democracy advocates are in full
retreat. Who wants to end up like Iraq, Palestine or Lebanon?
Frankly, I seriously doubt whether
President Bush, Secretary Rice or any of their enablers even
know of the fundamental Arab concept of fawda, or of its
In their simplistic conception, the whole
world exists in a post-Jeffersonian mind-set in which freedom is
good, tyranny is bad, and the good guys are distinguished from
the bad by their love of liberty.
The very idea that an entire civilization
might have been raised with a very different viewpoint is almost
impossible to conceive for someone as densely incurious as Bush.
Tragically, his denseness has played
powerfully into the hands of anti-democratic forces in the Arab
world. And 20,000 troops can do nothing to fix that now. That
harm will take generations to undo.