Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Conference in Venice – Part Three!

“Irak sotto nueva dittatura”

Well, well, Venice is still capable of boisterous pronouncements I see. This graffiti scribbled in bold red on a hapless wall in Old Venice is proof enough that no matter how old a city gets and not matter how senile, it is still capable of making such boisterous pronouncements. The words of defiance streaming out of Damascus then, should come as no surprise.

The words and addresses if the conference organizers and participants, in contrast, were thankfully much more humble, albeit, at times, they could still be too apologetic.

“Modernization is not synonymous with westernization.” Said one of the speakers.
Oh really. Can anyone name one thing that is modern but not Western? Whenever I ask this question, people are often tempted to refer to Japanese ingenuity. Obviously they haven’t heard of Commodore Perry and gunboat diplomacy.

Will gunboat diplomacy work with a certain country I wonder? It might be worth considering.

The problem with reform in the region, the reason why we don’t have enlightened despots at work, is simply the total corruption of our political and economic elite. We have thieves and thugs for decision-makers, avaricious morons for policy advisors and dreamy nincompoops for technocrats. How on earth can we modernize with this lot? Add to the mix the highly illiterate and unskilled populations, and the conflicting interests and strategies of the superpowers, and the net result is: the Broader Middle East and North Africa Region – a black hole “glittering” in the heart of the world.

Ideas anyone? Independent media outlet for liberal actors. Multitasking. Capacity Building. Carrots & Sticks. Etc.

Wanted: a democracy that does not change anything, that does not upset any scheme, that does not antagonize any elite, that does not contradict American and European interests, not to mention Israeli interests, and these days, Chinese interests, Russian interests, and soon Indian interests and nuclear Iran’s interests. In brief, all interests, except the people’s interests. They don’t really count, do they? After all this is the Broader Middle East and North Africa Region. Democracy is not going to change that, is it? Well, it's not supposed to, damn it.

I knew from moment one at the conference that I was not going to take part in any of its debates. And I didn’t. The only thing this lot of dissidents, activists and oppositionists can cooperate on is to organize more conferences and issue more memoranda.

No, this is not because we are complete morons, albeit, and for the record, some of us indeed are, but because we are all stars now, stars in the firmament of our growing discontent. Stars can orbit, collide with and cannibalize each other, they don’t cooperate together. This is not part of their basic qualities, nor is it a skill that can still be learned, not in our age group anyway.

Still, at one point, I was tempted to ask the Question: how can a haphazard groups of westernized liberals attempt to transform a society that rejects them on all levels? For once, I’d want to attend a conference that is squarely centered on this very issue.
We are the only people that can help modernize our societies, but our societies continue to reject us, because we are too modernized, i.e. westernized (even though some of us are not really worthy of the epithet, but that’s another issue reserved for the times when we can feel more free to vilify each other, as honest dissidents and activists would and should). So how can we do it?

“Politics is dead in our part of the world.” Indeed. But, how can we train a new generation of political activists, of liberal political activists to be exact? The problems have been diagnosed a thousand fold, but so far few brilliant suggestions for solutions have been made.

But perhaps, we don’t need brilliance. Perhaps we are already doing a lot of the hard work, to no avail. Perhaps what we need is exactly what we cannot have at this stage: luck. Albeit we are all willing to be lucky, otherwise we won’t be in this “business.”

And I have been very lucky so far my love, haven’t I? My helplessness continues, but my luck never runs out.

Now that this conference is over, and I am back home, and I have finally emerged from that long series of interconnected illnesses, and just before I leave you for another conference, I can tell you, even promise you, this: nothing in the world is more real to me than you. You are my first priority, and you will soon be my last. I am going out of “business,” my love. But I plan to do it with a bit of style. You know me. I just can’t help it.