Saturday, September 09, 2006

Of Historical Musts & Clashing Desires!

Perhaps, for people who never heard of democracy, passing through a transitional phase of enlightened despotism was necessary and perhaps even a natural part of their societal evolution.

But for people who have been exposed to democracy, not to mention modernity, no matter how indirectly or vicariously, and for people who know it through direct experiences and contacts, even if they do not completely appreciate its complexity and its demands on them, the task of achieving it through a necessary period of dictatorial transformations becomes that much more complex.

For those who crave democracy would not want to wait for generations to build the necessary cultural framework for it, and those who fear it would not want to establish any of the necessary reforms and framework for its introduction. Meanwhile, those who crave modernity would not want to wait until the society learns to appreciate it democratically and on its own pace and terms, and those who don’t would would want to resist it on a popular level, as they often have the greater share of popular sympathy and approval.

Can we really have both modernization and democratization as simultaneous processes that can reach an acceptable level of fulfillment in the span of a single lifetime to appeal to all those impatient souls out there?

The West had the luxury of experimenting and stumbling, though not blindly, for many decades and centuries until it worked out democracy and found itself embroiled in modernity. It all happened in fits and struts and then more fits and struts. We have no other choice to follow the same rocky path. But some of us would be lost in their yearning for a faster fulfillment of it all, for they cannot ignore the finished product that they can examine with their naked eyes and insist on reinventing the wheel from scratch when the whole truth of it is right there for all to see. Furthermore, they can also see how impossible and out-of-character it will be for the rest of the world to simply wait for us to catch up with it on our own pace and terms.

No, the world will not wait for us to learn and assimilate its new cherished truths at our own pace, just as we did not wait for it to learn and assimilate ours so long ago. There is no real malice, spite or design involved here, at least not a malice, spite or a design that is conscious of itself all the time, and of all the implications of the various horrendous decisions that gets made in the name of progress, the historical must and the plain greed that are part and parcel of it. What is involved here is the sheer folly that emanates from our own humanity and from the very structures and institutions that give our lives meaning and us a sense of belonging.

We, the sentient inhabitants of this earth, are a desperate and fractious lot indeed, a pitiful lot, an over-aspiring lot. Our interests, values, yearnings, beliefs, needs and desires will forever clash, and we will constantly walk all over each other, intentionally and not so intentionally, whenever the need should arise, all our principles and sense of humanity notwithstanding.

After all, the West did not have the luxury of working out its modernity and democracy unmolested. Neither shall we. Albeit the external dabbling which we have to endure is on a radically different scale than what that the West had had to endure with regards to both quantity and quality. And the pace of it all is maddening and merciless.

No, we, the peoples of this unfortunate region, seem destined to be more like the Native Americans in their fate – much of who we are will likely become extinct by the time we are modernized and democratized, whether we like it or not.

In fact, most of us don’t like it, and are, therefore, putting up quite the fight. That is indeed what lies at the heart of international terrorism, especially Islamist one. Oh, we, as a culture that is, will eventually go into that good night all right, terrorism notwithstanding, following the lead of our long dead civilization. But we won’t go gently. That’s the point. Death often has pangs, even when it is collective, no, especially when it is collective.

Most of us are simply too attached to the old ways to allow for a gentle fading away. They didn’t have time to see the wisdom of change, or appreciate its necessity and its potential benefits, or take part in making it so they can feel that they own it somehow. And they never will. Even if they did, enough of them will still hold out to share enough of their pain and frustration with an equally hostile world. It’s their belief system, after all, that is at stake here, it’s everything that they are, including in many instances, their very livelihood, and the world cannot accommodate it anymore, it cannot accommodate the particularities of their basic desires, wants and needs, not in practical terms any. In theory, accommodation is almost always possible. But in practice, we are just too human to let it happen.

So, we will indeed change in due course of time, and we will be changed as well. In fact we are already changing and being changed, though some of us at a faster pace than the rest. And some of us, though not always the best, will survive this. But most of us, though not always the worst, will die, at least in the cultural sense.

The survivors might still call themselves Arabs, Muslims, Kurds, etc., but the only thing that will be recognizably Arab, Muslim or Kurdish about them will be their assertions in this regard, and perhaps even their languages. This will more likely suffice most of the time, except for those few moments when a deeply buried nostalgia resurfaces, invoked, perhaps, by the sight of the few remaining vestiges or the few surviving holdouts who opted for a quieter form of rebellion.

An Afterthought

Does anyone think that the just despots of the West would have introduced any reforms, had they known that these reforms will eventually destroy the entire systems they have built or inherited, and would change the entire way of life with which they were familiar and which they, perhaps, revered?

I think that the main difference between the just despots of the Old West, and the current despots of the Middle East lies in the fact that contemporary Middle Eastern leaders know very well where reforms will eventually lead, which is why they can never be just.