No to Thomas Friedman’s “Same War, Different Country”
Mohammed Hashas 9 September 2013

First, Friedman refers to US latest wars and interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and expects the Syrian (coming) war to be a continuity to this line. For him, “They are all the same war.” Excuse me, Mr Friedman. Details apart, I do not think they are all the same; you consider them all the same, that is why you miss to see the possible dire consequences of each; the Syrian case may be the worst, seeing that the whole region is “boiling.” Was the International terrorist network of Al Qaeda equal to Saddam’s regime? I did not know that Saddam, who assassinated numbers of religious scholars, was a Muslim terrorist? Wasn’t he the same old friend who used chemical weapons against his people without being “scolded”?

Second, you say “We acted on the ground as the army of the center” in Iraq war, and have facilitated communication among ethnicities in this multi-ethnic country. I can see that. More people are being killed with tense sectarianism and death sentences since your noble invasion of 2003. While Saddam’s regime is terrible, the current situation could confidently be described as worse, and that is thanks to your “army of the center” strategy. I wonder how long the Iraqi’s would take to clear the Sunni-Shii divide that was there before 2003 and has become tense since then, thanks to you. This is their problem, you would say. I would only partly agree. You add “But then we left before anything could take root.” Have you really left? If you left before you finish your work, then why did you go there in the first place?

Third, you refer to the democratic transition in South Africa and compare it with the (failed) Arab Spring, and say that America and the West should not be accused of failures. The failed are to blame for their failures. That is right, people in the Middle East should not always blame the West for their failures. But they should not stop from blaming this same West for its interventions when attempts seem to be taking place, even when they have shortcomings. South Africa and Eastern Europe received immense help from the liberal-democratic Western Europe and America, while the Middle East has not. Especially since the postcolonial 1950s, you have enjoyed working with dictators in the region that you knew were not democrats, or your Intelligence Services could not know that? Coup d’état is not called a coup d’état (in current Egypt), and the consequences are as you see them, more sectarianism and authoritarian rule which you have historically cooperated with. It is easy to say these Middle eastern countries do not want to change, but please remember some events of recent history, Musaddaq in Iran, and Nasser in Egypt, to name but these. Elections are not enough to speak of democracy, but it is the first step. The masses have to err to learn. It is better so than hijacking the “revolution” by the military!

Fourth, you say, “Their civilization has missed every big modern global trend — the religious Reformation, democratization, feminism and entrepreneurial and innovative capitalism.” I agree to a large extent, but I do not see why should them, the “other” as you write, be like you in these historical steps. It is true the way towards equality and justice has to be democratically protected and goes through stages, as “your” civilization has done. I just think that history does not require the same thing from everyone because each civilization has its way of going ahead in interpreting universal values in a humane manner most adequate to its mode of thinking. Your way seems to have done great, and the others need to take time and use their own energies; isn’t liberty all about that, liberty from any external authority? I think that your external authority is fundamentally against the liberty people need to build “functioning state.”

Fifth, you say that “We’ve struggled for a long time, and still are, learning to tolerate “the other.” Your achievements are great, undeniable in history, but you did not arrive there alone, I think. Civilizations build on each other, and since not all civilizations in the world can be of equal development in all levels, that means that while some civilizations can be doing well in science and technology, for instance, others may be doing well in some other fields. So, the other that you are tolerating may be saying the same about you. Just look around and you realize that. Or, maybe “the other” no longer considers “you” an “other” as you do towards them, but your excessive interference in “their business”, “their faith,” and “their land” may make what you claim to be your tolerance and values unwelcome. One should do what they preach, at least minimally, though it is sometimes difficult in international politics! Please do keep civilizations, and by implications religious differences, aside; that has done enough harm especially in the broad Middle East. Let’s try to specify what we mean, instead of giving general judgments that just add to the wounds in the region and the world. Maybe the tolerance you preach does not include such a more valuable aspect I am referring to, namely the right of people to be different.

Sixth, you also say “We’ve struggled for a long time […]. That struggle has to happen in the Arab/Muslim world, otherwise nothing we do matters.” This leading role you want to keep playing is interesting. I just wish you good luck in the task you have chosen for yourself, among “sick hearts” of the “other”, as you say. I think by now people in the region know your politics. It is high time you withdraw to take care of your other various problems, and cooperate for real good in the region.

Seventh, I agree with you that those “poisoned hearts” in the Arab world are fighting against something your modern civilization fought against for about three centuries. Terrible things happened in your civilization before the religious reformation you now enjoy happened. Your democracy took centuries to develop. I hope the Middle East will not take more time. They can learn from your experiences if you let them in peace and if you stop making of them an exception. There are no exceptions in history. History likes to tame exceptions. The so-called Arab Spring is going through a similar phase of change, and that means mistakes are unavoidable. When the West was taking its path for change, it was not blocked by external forces; can the Middle East be encouraged or at least be left go smooth with its changes towards democracy!

Eighth, I also agree when you say “they [people in the Middle East] lack any sense of citizenship or deep ethic of pluralism […], tolerance, cooperation and compromise.” That is one of the primal challenges the Arab Spring has to go through to build independent, modern and pluralist states. While sectarianism is being exhausted, people will hopefully soon wake up to the fact that it is only through tolerance and mercy, which also their tradition can teach them, that pluralism can grow up. Unlike the modus videndi you suggest, I would take another concept from your own tradition, one more demanding and more stable, i.e. overlapping consensus.

Having made these notes, hopefully the world will not see another “same war” in a “different country.” The Middle East is tired, very tired of international negative interventions. If there is any war to be fought it should be consultative and financial support of democrats that “locals” trust, and not the ones selected “abroad.”

Mohammed Hashas, LUISS University, Rome