By Inas Younis, New Age Islam
20, January, 2014
For as long as I can remember, Arabs have been admonished for their passivity in the face of brutal autocracies. And now that they are finally rising against tyranny, the voices of the establishment are calling for moderation and restraint. Which begs the question, is there something more nefarious operating here than just old fashion hypocrisy?
Is US Foreign just moody or downright malicious? Perhaps neither. The fickle nature of American foreign policy can only be understood when it is held up against the philosophical tradition which informs its policies. The tradition known as pragmatism. Very simply put, a Pragmatist holds that whatever works is good, and whatever doesn’t is bad. When your source of political guidance is not religion, pragmatism serves as a pretty decent substitute. And although it was reason, not pragmatism which established the principles of a free society, reason fell out of favour when Pragmatism took over as a philosophical movement in the 1870s.
Reason, like religion, holds that there are absolute truths. But unlike religion, which relies on subjective human interpretations, it arrives at truths according to objective standards, and maintains a strict adherence to certain absolutes. Pragmatism on the other hand, holds that there are no absolutes and right and wrong is determined according to what produces the best outcome. The best outcome for whom, does not factor into the ethics of a pragmatist. Therefore, Public polls, not principles determine policy. But pragmatism as a national principle, will prove to be a national disaster; not only because pragmatism is primarily interested in the immediate with no regard for how decisions can end up setting and resetting the national trajectory, but because more than any other nation, moral considerations must inform the direction of American foreign policy. It is in United States best interest to give precedence to the moral over the “practical?”
A pragmatic approach in foreign policy works politically, but it does not work in principle, except to destroy all principles. And a country like the United States, a country built on an ideology and founded on a set of clearly defined principles, cannot stand for very long without them. America’s political credo is the only source of America’s legitimacy.
As a self confessed pragmatist, Obama can afford to straddle fences, and deal with every situation on a case by case basis without a unifying ideology. A pragmatist can harbour contradictions, as Obama has routinely done in encouraging democracy in the Islamic world, then equivocating when the Islamic world demands democracy. Obama is not a hypocrite; he is simply a pragmatist, approaching his beliefs only in terms of the success of their practical application.
He has not betrayed his philosophical ideals, because that is his philosophical ideal. And after an ideologue like Bush, this anti -ideological approach may appear to be moderate. But it is potentially more destructive and not just in terms of its practical application.
Obama’s response to the ‘Arab Spring’ has been defined by his pragmatism, which is reflected in how he has dealt with it only on a case-by-case basis. He never allows ideology to influence his decision-making. He is methodical in his inconsistency.
But inconsistency in the face of Arab thugs and their criminal gangs proves only one thing to the world, that dictators stand for oppression and tyranny, and that the United States stands for absolutely nothing. To maintain a posture of equanimity in the face of despots is not just wrong, but it’s irresponsible. To remain relatively silent to what was clearly a battle between tyranny and freedom, not a battle of ideas, but a physical struggle between a thug and his victims, is a betrayal of the worst kind.
The irony is, that as the world is slowly acquiring moral certainty about the non-negotiability of freedom, the land of freedom is developing the kind of moral amnesia, which is making everything negotiable. And it will only be a matter of time and degrees before the vacuum this creates will suck us all into Alice’s rabbit hole, where nonsense and common sense become interchangeable, and where anyone armed with a consistent ideology, no matter how perverse, no matter how dangerous, can and will gain a foothold.
If Goodness has been castrated, it was not by the powerless forces of evil and their hypocrisy, but by the well meaning folks who fell prey to this last century’s latest fashion statement: That truth should not be drawn with sharp boundaries on the solid concrete highway of a civilized world, but must be drawn as a line in the sand on a windy day.
So to all the men in Washington, who are a bit, confused which way the wind is blowing, allow me to translate the Arabic writing on the wall. We are not to be dealt with on a case by case basis. We will not cooperate with our persecutors, and neither should you. If there was ever an authentic “you are either with us, or against us” moment, it has come and gone. And anyone who did not consistently stand for the oppressed, while they were being pummelled, was with and for tyranny and against freedom. To them I can only retaliate by plagiarizing the essence of the words uttered by a London protester of Egyptian origin, who with tears running down his face, spoke for the entire Arab world when he said, “ I am proud of all the people who have cleansed themselves of the last remnants of fear. And who have singly and collectively raised their heads up high, and no one will ever bring them down again. No one! No one! No one”!!
And although the Arab spring is turning into an Arab nightmare, it is to their credit and ultimately their victory that they have perhaps risked ten years of chaos for those ten minutes of freedom. And who is to say that it was not totally worth it. No one! No one! No one!
Inas Younis is a freelance writer residing in Kansas. She has written for Muslim Girl Magazine and her work was featured in the anthology Living Islam Out Loud. She contributed this article to New Age Islam.