THE SPINE JANUARY 19, 2011
That is a simple fact, no matter what the apologists, paid and unpaid, say.
And what they are not immune from is murder activated by politically motivated killers. It almost doesn't matter who the victims are. It's the numbers that count, the bigger the better.
Yesterday, Stephen Lee Meyers reported in the New York Times that at least 49 hopefuls for the police academy were blown to smithereens in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town. Meyers wrote that the ministry of the interior had announced that there had been 60 dead. The reporter's own number for the wounded and maimed was 116. An A.P. dispatch estimated that at least 150 were wounded. John Leland told today's Times readers that an ambulance packed with explosives blew up and "killed at least five and wounded 76." It's that afterthought about the wounded that also goes unreported after the initial reports that makes you ponder. How many of the injured had ultimately died from their wounds? But Iraq is now almost forgotten. The president has, more or less, declared "mission accomplished." Their dead don't concern us.
Although it is situated across the Mediterranean from Sardinia and between the humongous countries of Libya and Algeria near the western salient of Islam, Tunisia is now the center of the Arab world. Or at least at the center of Arab consciousness, if that is there is an Arab consciousness that sees clearly. How many people have been killed in the streets of Tunis alone will never be known, although some postmortem social science will make some crude estimates when the revolution will be all over.
But not so soon. In fact, the revolution may not be self-contained. With all the throat clearing of the professional reassurers notwithstanding, even the consummate prevaricator of Arab diplomacy, Amr Moussa, told an emergency meeting, at the luxurious Red Sea resort at Sharm El-Sheikh, of the Arab League (of which he's been head for decades) that "the Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession." The report of his remarks are in today's ArabNews.com. Moussa warned, "The Tunisian revolution is not far from us. The Arab citizen has entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration."
So what was the new idea of the league's secretary-general? According to "the Middle East's leading English language newspaper," "he called for an Arab 'renaissance' to lift people from their frustration." Now, why didn't Saddam Hussein think of that?
Egypt's dottering president Hosni Mubarak, whose country is waiting for him to die and his son inevitably to take his place, stressed the importance of "economic cooperation," to which his country has literally nothing to contribute.
And the Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal "urged all member countries to do more in strengthening joint Arab action in order to realize the hopes and aspirations of Arab citizens." Surely he did not mean citizens as we mean it in "citoyens." No, this is really crap. On behalf of his uncle King Abdullah, the "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" (one of them, the mosque in Mecca, now embellished by a neighboring architectural extravaganza including a vulgar replica of Big Ben), the prince "invited al Arab leaders to attend the next economic summit in Riyadh in January 2013. So maybe the Tunisian revolt will not spread.
The truth is that it certainly will not spread to Saudi Arabia. This prince is one of about a dozen grandsons, also princes, of King Ibn Saud who was born in 1876. This dynasty is still ruled by one of the founder's surviving sons. It's not about to pass out. (Forgive me: I can't quite figure out the status of Ibn Saud's inheritors. All I know is that women don't count. There's no Queen Elizabeth among them, and certainly no Queen Victoria who lived about as long as Ibn Saud.) But this is an exception to "no Arab society is immune." This one is immune.
Apparently, Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya is actually quaking from the bitter news from Tunisia. Madman that he is he attributed all of it to WikiLeaks. See Robert Mackey's blog post in the New York Times. Please pay attention to the crazed photograph accompanying the story. The dictator condemned the uprising and said also that it "pained" him.
In a dispatch from Amman, Jordan, the Jerusalem Post's correspondent Ruth Eglash reports that "anti-government protests gather steam" in the kingdom.
So Ray Hanania, an Arab-American Chicago radio talk show host, asks also in the Jerusalem Post, "What's the alternative?" And he answers: "The extremists are the only other option in several Arab countries and they offer an even more frightening future -devoid of any freedoms."
Daniel Pipes also takes up the question of "Tunisia's uncertain impact" in a challenging Jerusalem Post column. "If one exults in the power of the disenfranchised to overthrow their dull, cruel and greedy master, one also looks ahead with trepidation to the Islamist implications of this upheaval."
In the meantime a few more protest suicides have taken place, an index--if an index of anything--of utter hopelessness.
In an immensely moving personal op-ed in the New York Times, the Tunisian novelist Kamel Riahi gives us something of a feel--how could it be more than something?--"a night in Tunisia." "Tear gas, bullets and death fly above us." Much of this piece focuses on Haroun, the 18 month-old son of Riahi and his wife. Keeping him out of peril and his insistence on playing and laughing. Still, with the clatter of death and devastation outside, Mrs. Riahi is driven to saying, "I don't want Haroun to live if we're dead." Mothers usually want their children to survive...to survive anything. Even in the Holocaust, as we know from many accounts. What the treachery of Arab leaders has done to their subjects is to deny them from imagining the joys in life.