Photos from Tahrir Square (c) Christina Rizk. See her album here.
Like you I have spent the last ten days glued to the screen, and the only way to convey my joy and excitement is: these are the greatest public events of my adult life. I wasn’t around for the civil rights movement, the counter-culture had its hedonistic side, and I was too walled in by maleness and straightness to understand feminism and Stonewall for what they were. Eastern Europe seemed inevitable. Obama’s election was 8 on the Richter scale. This is 11, this is Pompei, it’s buried the old world.
Is there anything more noble in human conduct than people with their bare hands taking on a dictator and a superpower so as to lead their children to a more enlightened future? Nothing. And when you combine that ravishing spectacle with the thoroughgoing prejudice against Arabs to which I have also been prey– they are lesser, uneducated, clannish, violent, fundamentalist, sexist, etc– well this has been shattering and transformative, as great as any revolution we read about in our schoolbooks.
And I’m not alone. All Americans have been swept up in this glory. You see this in the attitude of our reporters, Brian Williams and Anderson Cooper, and in Barack Obama himself. His statement yesterday was his best yet. He is being led by the Egyptian street.
Historic revolutions go well beyond their borders. The Russian revolution affected world discourse for two generations, the American and French revolution transformed the west, the Soviet Union’s collapse led the way to the application of international law. The Egyptian revolution will also sweep the world, arm in arm with the internet.
And while no one can be sure how this one will play out, this much I am sure of: America is about to begin a love affair with the Arab world. The romance of this revolution will soon come to our shores. Americans will come to regard Arabs with not just respect but prestige. Arab culture will become hip. Hookahs and humus will be the rage. Arab artists and performers will come to the White House. New York networks and theaters and museums will celebrate Arab magnificence. And more and more people will wear kuffiyehs.
This is inevitable because the pleasure, eloquence and beauty of Arab culture have been dammed up too long in the American psyche, and this is a dam break. The neoconservatives who infected us with racist ideas are on the run, it has been more than 30 years since Edward Said published Orientalism, enough time to bear fruit. But most of all the love affair is a necessary response to the incredible policy errors of our government. We are far enough away from 9/11 and the Iraq war to understand that the U.S. made grave errors in its conduct.
Also, we can finally say that we are on the right side, and take pride in that. I believe that the Obama administration will play a positive role in carrying this revolution forward peacefully, and we had a role in fomenting the revolution; as the new prime minister of Tunisia told Piers Morgan on CNN last night, This is a revolution made by facebook and twitter.
How shocking to see America in such a good light in the Arab world. It can’t be long before the revolution will bring a tidal wave of American tourism to Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo, Tunis, and yes, walled Jerusalem.
I have traveled in many Arab countries and always struggled to make out that world through the fearful screen of American prejudice. Even my travels in Palestine, meeting noble people forged by nonviolent resistance– I have seen Arabs as other. And I looked for the revolution to come inside American life, Jewish life, even Israel; and I was wrong (and Pamela Olson, Annie, and Susan Johnson and Rachel Corrie and Emily Henochowicz were way ahead of me) The Egyptians have shown greater bravery and vision. So they will lead Americans and American Jews too. I see it in Wolf Blitzer and Martin Indyk’s awe at these events– two powerful Jews who once worked for AIPAC and its offshoot; I see them deferring to the power of the Egyptian imagination. I see it in the prevalence of hijab-covered women on television, civil rights leaders for once, not signifiers of difference.
Is the Israel lobby still around to try and block this awareness? Of course. The reactionary are talking about sharia law and the Muslim brotherhood. That is the definition of reactionary. The intelligent are waking up. Today on the NPR show On the Media, they had segment after segment about Arab opinion, Arab attitudes. As I have said before, Mona Eltahawy and Tarek Masoud have become stars because we so crave their understanding. Intelligent reasonable Americans all share something of my joy, and now have deep curiosity about a world they have been lied to about again and again. The awakening that so many of us have had in the Palestinian solidarity community will occur across the U.S. discourse, and we will begin to see the beautiful diversity of Arab life.
Will it change the Israel/Palestine conflict? Of course it will. I’m not going to predict just how but that conflict has been a dam against human understanding, for over 60 years, way too long, but now a huge flood of understanding and sympathy will break the dam. Pro-Arab feeling will rival pro-Israel feeling. Jews in the power structure will begin to question their Zionism, or they will be forced to. Yes there is tremendous resistance. This Times piece today shows the hand-in-glove relationship of the US and Israel. (“Daniel Shapiro, a White House Middle East adviser, met on Tuesday with American Jewish leaders, and Mr. Obama talked to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Sunday.”) Or last night Eliot Spitzer showed a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman stating that Palestinians had a right to resist Israel and imperialism in such a way as to make the man out to be a jihadist. But the dam will break over Spitzer too, as Americans demand to know more about the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas too, and learn about the steady racist dispossession of the Palestinians.
All the neocon lies about Arabs wanting to restore the Caliphate and smoldering Arab resentment over civilizational decline contained a shadow truth, of Arab greatness as members of the human family. They have been outcast too long. They are home at last. Let the Angry Arab stop being angry, let Abunimah into the NY Review of Books, break out the tabbouleh and the oud.