Gary Younge writes:
The events of the last month in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere have challenged the way the west thinks of the Arab world (and how the Arab world thinks of itself). What remains to be seen is the extent to which these ongoing events confront the way in which western powers view themselves and their relationship to the Middle East.
Over the last decade in particular, the Arab world has increasingly been depicted in the west as a region in desperate need of being tamed so that it can be civilised. It has been portrayed as an area rooted in religious fervour, where freedom was a foreign concept and democracy a hostile imposition. Violence and terrorism was what they celebrated, and all they would ever understand. Liberty, our leaders insisted, would have to be forced on them through the barrel of a gun for they were not like us. The effect was to infantilise the Arab world in order to justify our active, or at least complicit, role in its brutalisation.
While this view has been intensified by the 9/11 terror attacks, the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq, it was not created by them. “There are westerners and there are Orientals,” explained the late Edward Said, as he laid out the western establishment’s prevailing attitude to the region at the turn of the last century, in his landmark work . “The former dominate, the latter must be dominated, which usually means having their land occupied, their internal affairs rigidly controlled, their blood and treasure put at the disposal of one or another western power.”
So the sight of peaceful, pluralist, secular Arabs mobilising for freedom and democracy in ever greater numbers against a western-backed dictator forces a reckoning with the “clash of civilisations” narrative that has sought to overwhelm the past decade. It turns out there is a means of supporting democracy in this part of the world that does not involve invading, occupying, bombing, torturing and humiliating. Who knew?