The New York Times’ Non-Democracy Agenda

The voice of the bien-pensant class can’t believe Arabs want freedom

Whose side is the New York Times on?

“Syria’s Chaos A Test for U.S.,” reads a front-page headline from yesterday’s Times (online, the headline became, “Unrest in Syria and Jordan Poses New Test for U.S. Policy”). The headline’s implication is that Syria used to be a well run state and that now it is afflicted by “chaos.” It’s the equivalent of a headline the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall stating, “East Germany’s Chaos a Test for U.S.”

The “news analysis” by Mark Landler worries that “deepening chaos” in Syria “could dash any remaining hopes for a Middle East peace agreement, several analysts say.” It’s unclear who those unnamed analysts are, since the only pundits quoted, Andrew Tabler and Martin Indyk, actually are supportive of the Syrian protests and skeptical of Mr. Assad’s usefulness to the US. Mr. Indyk sees “an unusual confluence of our values and interests” while Mr. Tabler states that Syria’s brutish but slick-appearing leader, Bashar al-Assad, has “given us nothing, even though we’ve engaged him on the peace process.”

In a reported piece on Syria by Michael Slackman and Liam Stack, we are told that, “In Syria, there have been no widespread calls for President Assad’s departure.” It’s pretty obvious that by the time protesters burn Baath party offices and take to the streets with machetes, knives, and clubs, as the article states, they are not exactly giving him a vote of confidence. And the article reports that “pro-government demonstrators were also out in Damascus, where about 200 people drove around the city on Saturday evening.” I saw a similar “demonstration” on Syrian state television early on Friday morning (their time); such “spontaneous” events are a feature of dictatorships like Mr. Assad’s. The cars had neatly arranged Syrian flags on their hoods and official photos of Mr. Asssad in their windows—nothing improvised about it. Reporting this event as though it were of the same nature as the uprising of more than ten thousand anti-Baath protestors plays into the hands of Mr. Assad and his thugs.

Meanwhile, on the op-ed page of the same newspaper, Thomas Friedman hoped for the emergence of “Arab Mandelas.” Would he hope for the emergence of “Portuguese Mandelas” or “Greek Mandelas” to help those countries negotiate their economic crises? “Japanese Mandelas” to substitute for the weak leadership of Japan’s prime minister in recovering from the recent disasters there? Of course not. But in Mr. Friedman’s universe, Arabs need leaders to get them to do the right thing, the daily evidence to the contrary of the Arab revolt notwithstanding. True, the Arab states are less mature politically than Portugal and Greece, among the more feckless European powers. But the emphasis on leaders rather than civil society is what has kept the Arab states less mature. And to some extent, the US has played into this unfortunate trend by backing dictators who suppress peaceful opponents.

I don’t want to be naive about the Arab revolt. The region has a long way to go to developing civil society. In Egypt, which has a more robust sense of citizenry than most Arab states, and historically has lead the Arab world in literary and artistic culture, the military has sought to criminalize the very sorts of protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak. Recently the Egyptian Army has reinforced the local macho, misogynist culture, strip-searching women democracy activists and protestors and jailing and torturing men. A well-known local activist-musician who was a star of the earlier protests, Ramy Esam, was brutally beaten by the police after a March 9th Tahrir Square protest.

But the way the American newspaper of record is reporting on the Arab revolts, one would never guess that they were restoring the self-respect and hope of millions of people who have just as much a right to freedom as we do.

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