Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Mark Twain on the Middle East

Readers of NLT know that tomorrow the Iraqis will become the first Arab people to choose their government in a genuinely free election. As I follow the news of this historic event, I happen also to be reading Mark Twain’s interesting account of his travels (1867) in what we call the Middle East. At one point he says that if ever there was an “oppressed race”, it is the Arabs, who were then suffering under the “inhuman tyranny of the Ottoman empire.” He develops this theme a bit, and then concludes:

These people are naturally goodhearted and intelligent, and with education and liberty would be a happy and contented race. They often appeal to the stranger to know if the great world will not someday come to their relief and save them. The Sultan has been lavishing money like water in England and Paris, but his subjects are suffering for it now.

Subjects suffering while the Sultan lavishes money in Paris? Haven’t we heard that before? But today the “great world,” or at least part of it, has come to the relief of the Iraqis; and it’s no accident that the helper is a part of the world still capable of using words like “tyranny” and “liberty”. We hope the voting goes peacefully, and congratulations to the Iraqi people.

Discussions - 3 Comments

general sentiment and join heartily in your congratulations to the Iraqi people, I would like to correct the record a bit.

Lebanon, for a time between French decolonization and the onset of the civil war in 1975, ranked as a parliamentary democracy (the Arab world’s only one ever till the U.S.-led armed destruction of the Saddam tyranny in Iraq).

Very recently, in May of 2005--that is, since the U.S. liberation of Iraq--the Lebanese have held what many observers say are the freest elections in the country’s history. These elections produced the parliament that is currently sitting in Beirut.

Arab-world democracies are still a very small club, but I would wager that the smart money is on this club growing rather than shrinking over the next few decades. These new Arab regimes will probably be rather uneven democracies, somewhat like Turkey’s, perhaps, but still an immeasurably vast improvement over the dictatorships that rule so much of the Arab world today.

Do the Lebanese consider themselves to be arabs?

My Lebanese friends (ok, I only have three of them) all consier themselves to be asian. For what it is worth. Actually, we have had that conversation at lunch. "Most people think I’m arab, but I’m asian" (usually followed by other humerous comments too decidedly un-PC to repeat here...)

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