GOLDMAN: Lebanon, freedom and the Brandeis dilemma

March 11, 2005

What part dont you get? Syria Out Now! shrieked a protesters poster in downtown Beirut on the morning of Saturday, March 5. Between red and white flags embossed with Lebanons national symbol, a green cedar, another sign featured the face of murdered Lebanese politician Rafiq Hariri next to the caption, Hey, Syria! Whos Next? Still others featured the powerful, if unoriginal United We Stand, Divided We Fall;

and of course the ever popular slogan of the Cedar Revolution: Freedom, Sovereignty, and Independence!

The People Power protest in Lebanon over the past two weeks has been led by jubilant teens and twenty-somethings who sense that change is in the air. They believe that they can make a real difference for their country and the world. These kids delight in sticking it to the man, represented by Syrian despot Bashar Assad and his cronies in Beirut. Despite government bans and a deployment of armed police, the message has been taken to the streets and until something big happens, thats where its gonna stay!
Maybe this columnist is missing something, but dont these events sound so quintessentially Brandeis? When young men and women (yes, there are unveiled women banging the drums out there in the heart of Arabia) come into their own, standing up for their beliefs, doesnt that exemplify our proud university tradition of activism? If so, why exactly arent we Brandeisians doing something about it?

Of course, these proud young Lebanese dont agree with Brandeis students about everything. Certainly many of our fellows would be horrified by the Lebanese protesters celebration of Ju-Ju, an affectionate Arabic diminutive of George W. Bush. A faint queasy feeling must fill many who read the recent statement of the leader of the Lebanese Druze and onetime Syrian ally, Walid Jumblatt: I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world The Berlin Wall has fallen. One of Brandeiss favorite entertainers, the Daily Shows partisan host, Jon Stewart, senses something as well: Do you think that the people of Lebanon would have had, sort of, the courage of their conviction, having not seen–not only the invasion but the election which followed? Its almost as though that the Iraqi election has emboldened this crazy–somethings going on over there. Im smelling something.

So why and how did this colleges student body end up, by and large, on the opposite political side of those passionate people demanding Democracy Now!? Perhaps it was when it came out so forcefully in favor of the supposedly pro-tyranny Arab street consensus against the imperialist, capitalist aggression of the oil-hogging, Christ-praising, unelected warmongers in the White House, or later, when demands for retreat in the face of an allegedly popular Iraqi insurgency could be heard all over campus. Maybe it was near the conclusion of the 2004 presidential campaign, when, in the tradition of Hubert Humphrey, Brandeis sweetheart John Kerry came out firmly against the wrong war, wrong place, wrong time of what Gore Vidal slanderously terms the Bush-Cheney junta.

No one may ever know for certain. But one thing is clear. In the wake of free elections in Iraq, as well as the events in Afghanistan, which has been rewarded for its hard-won relative peace with obscurity, something dramatic is happening across the Arab World. Israel has found a true peace partner among the Palestinians for the first time in its history, as Abu Mazen appears to want not another piece of the Middle East, but real peace in it. Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, who once seemed as eternal as the monuments of the pharaohs, plans to allow this year the first multi-candidate elections in the states history. A round of municipal elections in Saudi Arabia has led to a surprising amount of campaign electioneering, and even in Damascus, Tripoli, and Tehran, one hears strange rumblings.

But it is Lebanon — that little hamlet of relative tolerance and democracy by the Mediterranean shore, where Christian, Muslim, and Druze once lived in peace together;

that land of war and despair, governed absolutely since 1990 by the iron jackboot of the Syrian Baathists — that at last has risen up to reclaim its birthright as a free, proud, and independent nation. The Lebanese patriots today should remind Massachusetts residents of a time when their freedom was jeopardized, when those Sons of Liberty took to the streets and risked jail and death to opposes the heel of King George IIIs oppression. The 2000s are the 1770s of the Arab World, and their attempt at the great experiment of Lockean republicanism wont be easy. Yet as fellow free people, it would be inhuman not to support them as we can and wish them the very best.

There are those at Brandeis as elsewhere who are so stricken by the overwhelming guilt complex of the modern Left that they will always leap to assign blame to America first, last, and always. Far from a beacon of freedom and a shining city on a hill, they imagine the United States as the nation which insolently opposes the new socialist order of Eastern Europe, arrogantly deposes progressive revolutionary tyrants the world over, and tricks the globe into admiring its products and culture to promote economic and cultural imperialism. Until these last die hard Chomskyites come to their senses, it is up to the rest of the Brandeis community to rectify the great wrong of opposing the liberation of twenty-five million tortured and enslaved Mesopotamians. The obvious starting point is Lebanon, with rallies against the autocratic weasel Assad at least as powerful as those against the freely elected Bush. After that, with democracy continuing to catch on in previously benighted parts of the world, who knows what other opportunities will arise?

If Brandeis students want to stop the next Darfur, they must want democracy in Africa. If they dream of world peace, they must surely sympathize with the democrats of the Middle East. If they hope to ease working conditions in Third World sweatshops, they can have no greater cause than democracy in Asia. Any young person at Brandeis who is for womens rights, free speech, homosexual liberties (including that ultimate right, to live) has one banner to rally under, and one alone. It is the cause of universal liberty, an entire human planet built around the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Lebanese get it. Do we?

Michael Goldman is the vice-president of the Brandeis Republicans

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