Thursday, September 20, 2012

Change is Slow:: Remembering Chris Stevens

“The reality is the Middle East is going to be turbulent for the foreseeable future and beyond that,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official in the Bush administration. “It’s going to present the United States with any number of difficult choices. It’s also going to be frustrating, because in most instances our interests are likely to be greater than our influence.”  (Peter Baker and Mark Lander, “U.S. Is Preparing for a Long Siege of Arab Unrest,” NYT, 15 Sept. 2012.)

“The fall of dictatorships does not guarantee the creation of free societies.  There is often a period in which we witness the legacy of tyranny.  The Arab uprisings have overthrown tyrants in Egypt and Libya, but the populations and lawmakers have yet to grasp that democracy is not only about free elections but creating free societies.”  (Ed Husain, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, “Arab Spring nations don’t yet grasp Freedom of dissent, 14 September 2012.)
It’s good to be reminded that change is slow,that Arab societies “are on a journey” to find alternatives to intolerant and tyrannical regimes
“It’s hard for younger Arabs born into freedom to understand how individual liberty works in real life,” scholar Ed Husain tells us. They don’t understand that religious freedom and the freedom of expression go together in our American system of democracy, where even heresy and blasphemy are tolerated. 
They grew up under dictatorship and think government controls its citizens,that a film for instance, can't be produced without government approval.  So they hold the U.S. government responsible "for the tacky and distasteful film produced by a right-wing Mulsimphobe," Husain argues.   
The majority of Muslims abhor the violence.  They seek the peaceful essence of their faith.  
Ed Husain tells the story of a Bedouin Arab who desecrated the sacred mosque of the prophet Mohammed in Medina. The prophet cleansed the mosque himself and forbade anyone from reprimanding or attacking the man.This is the way of the prophet Mohammed.  “Where is the spirit of mildness, forgiveness and compassion amid Islamist activists today?” Husain asks.
Slain ambassador Christopher Stevens knew where it was: in the hearts and souls of the majority of Muslims. It fed his love of the Arab world, its language and traditions.  "He plunged into Arab social life...allowed himself to be governed by its habits, proprieties and slower pace...traded personal risk for personal contact," wrote Steven Erlanger in a thoughtful New York Times article (15 September 2012). 

He had high hopes for Libya and other Muslim countries. He shared the dreams of the many. That's why I think we have to keep his hopes alive,to honor his memory.  We have to continue to believe in the process of history and social change in the tradition of Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  They never gave up.  Look how long it took us to destroy slavery. Hundreds of years.  
A more tolerant, democratic society will emerge overtime in the Arab Spring nations.  But as Husain and other scholars remind us, it surely will take time, patience, understanding, and a measured, informed and thoughtful U.S. foreign policy.  

In a Washington Post editorial (19 September 2012), Mustafa A.G. Abushagur,newly elected prime minister of Libya,remembers Chris Stevens as "a dear friend of mine who played a key role in helping to liberate Libya from the oppressive regime of Moammar Kaddafi....Libya is a moderate, tolerant country that does not condone violence as a form of expression....What I ask of America is do not lose faith in Libya...If we move forward with...the same optimism and courage that Chris Stevens embodied throughout his service in Libya,there are no obstacles we cannot overcome." 

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