In light of the continuing political uprising throughout the Middle East, American leaders are reported to be recalculating their approach to Muslim world.
Politico’s Ben Smith wrote this week that the Obama administration “clearly sees an opportunity,” signaling “that they’re hoping the changes in Tunisia and Egypt spread, and that they’re going to align themselves far more clearly with the young, relatively secular masses” in countries like Iran, Algeria and Lebanon.
Is this a new moment for American relations with Muslim countries? Is freedom a religious or secular idea?
We are all rejoicing that the Egyptian youth succeeded in winning freedom from an oppressive regime.
We now hope that the youth in other Middle Eastern countries will also rise and overthrow the dictators who have oppressed them for so long. Yet, we have not given much thought to the question: What does freedom really mean? Is it really enough to overthrow a dictator and have no viable replacement? There is a political void in Egypt that is going to take a great deal of effort to fill. The political structure in any country is built on the foundation of economic, social, religious and other forms of exploitation. This, unfortunately, is an outcome of the materialistic societies that we have built over the past few centuries. Materialism breeds selfishness and selfishness breeds all the evils that beset modern societies everywhere, including the United States. So, one must ask: Is it enough to win the right to vote and be able to elect a government? What about the exploitative foundation on which so many political systems rest? We have experienced this in the United States where we have powerful lobbies that influence elections and elected representatives. Can we elect people to the House or the Senate who will truly represent their constituencies rather than the powerful and rich lobbyists?
In short, the depth of political disaffection depends on the extent of oppression. We in the United States have comparatively milder disaffection because the oppression we suffer is contained and we have the freedom to make money.
In the Middle Eastern political imbroglio the only point for us to rejoice over is that for the first time we supported the people’s aspirations instead of supporting dictators as in the past. Significantly, many of the youth leaders of the Egyptian uprising frankly said that the western countries should keep out of this fight. They see the West as having supported the dictators all these years and bringing them to a state of despair.
Some commentators have recently made a very important statement that has not received the publicity it deserves. Osama Bin Laden and other terrorists were able to emerge as ideological leaders as result of the political oppression in the Middle East. If there was political freedom where people had not only the right to vote but the right to a better life, terrorism may not have flourished as it has. For our own selfish reasons we made bad choices of friends in many parts of the world. We paid lip-service to democracy while encouraging dictators. Whether we like it or not we now must shoulder the blame for living in fear of terrorist attacks.
So, to come back to the question: Is freedom a secular concept? Freedom is a universal concept which will only be meaningful when citizens are empowered are not exploited by anyone — politicians, religious leaders, economic giants or cultural demagogues!