You''ve heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. You''ve seen the pictures of Muammar Qaddifi''s death.
Given the comments of Barack Obama and the analysis that appeared in the New York Times, I''m not at that sure that enough American understand what they have seen.
Recall George W. Bush''s comments about bringing democracy to Iraq and elsewhere? http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7991-2003Nov6.html
Now there is Barack Obama on Qaddafi''s death. "This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya." http://news.yahoo.com/obama-gaddafi-death-ends-era-iron-fist-rule-182234538.html
The lead paragraph in one of the items in the New York Times: " For President Obama, the image of a bloodied Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi offers vindication, however harrowing, of his intervention in Libya." http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/world/africa/qaddafis-death-is-latest-victory-for-new-us-approach-to-war.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss
One must be careful. Not every Muslim is a blood thirsty, enthusiastic killer of those considered to be enemies, all the while screaming "Allah Akba." ("God is great" is a close, if not exact translation). However, one of the iconic videos of the intifada that began in 2000 shows a crowd in Ramallah killing two Israeli reservists who made a wrong turn. The massacre took place in a police station, more or less like the killing of Qaddafi. Prominent on the video is an ecstatic killer waving his blood soaked hands to the cheering crowd from an upstairs window.
That took place about five miles from here. Only a few hundred meters away were two cases of near lynchings in the recent year of Jews not familiar with the area, who made a wrong turn into Isaweea.
One has to wonder about American romanticism about Islam, the Middle East, and the magic to be produced by Israeli concessions to Palestinians. Is it simple ignorance about a distant land not well covered in schools and universities? Does it reflect the persistence of a frontier mentality that is nearly unique among western democracies in relying on a death penalty, long prison terms, and one or more guns in most homes for the sake of self-defense? Or is it nothing more than a cynical concern for the oil of places like Iraq and Libya, and the hope that soothing comments about Islam will keep enough Muslims quiet to allow business as usual?
None but the mindless should speak with confidence. Better to begin from the epigram that it is easier to destroy than to construct. And to recognize that while the Middle East (except for Israel''s little exception) looks dismally similar, the reality is one of differences. Things among the Muslims are not so different that we should expect anything like enlightenment in the near or distant future, but details are important.
Egypt is beginning to look like more of the same, i.e., one military autocrat replaced currently by a committee of generals, seemingly reluctant to relinquish power. We''ll know more the day after tomorrow about Tunisia''s election. Predictions are that the competition between more than 100 political parties will see a large minority--perhaps a plurality--voting Islamic. Guesses are that Syria''s current ruler has been sobered by the pictures of what happened to Qaddafi. Assessments are that he will try even more severe repression rather than personal flight or the convening of a representative convention to arrange forgiveness and build an enlightened regime. News about Yemen, Somalia, Bahrain, and Afghanistan are equally confused, and about as encouraging.
On this side of the street, we are preoccupied with pictures of Gilad Shalit, and reports about his physical and emotional health.
One of the more than 450 prisoners already released in order to bring him home (with another 550 scheduled to be let go in a month) has appeared before school children in Gaza to urge them toward a life of martyrdom.
That''s the other side of the street.