Why America Must Unequivocally Support the People’s Struggle for Liberty and Justice in the Middle-East
Houston, February 12, 2011
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Every day millions of Americans pledge their allegiance to the nation by emphasizing their commitment to the twin principles of liberty and justice so nobly enshrined in the American constitution.
Americans generally believe that these values enshrined by the Founding Fathers in the nation’s constitution are among America’s most important gifts to the people of the world, especially a world steeped in “tyranny and injustice” for millions.
This raises a few interesting questions and some inconvenient facts. Given these values are part of the nation’s DNA, why have American governments across the political spectrum persuaded foreign policies that have largely ignored these foundational values? The common refrain that we must be pragmatist and look after our national interests, and that the world is a brutish place, and basing the nation’s foreign policy on these high-minded ideals would be foolish, look increasingly unconvincing.
In the first few months of 2011, the fallacy in this strategy has become increasingly evident, as dramatic expressions for liberty and democracy have unfolded in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and other countries in the Middle East. The world may be a messy place, but people everywhere crave for the American values of freedom, justice, and protection of the basic human rights. Indeed these are universal values.
The principles of liberty and justice are not unique to the United States constitution. Many older documents and religious scriptures have celebrated these values. This may come as a surprise to some but constitutions in Islamic nations such as Egypt speak to these fundamental rights and values as well. Importantly, Islamic scriptures celebrate these ideals and principles.
The Quran considered as the foundational Islamic scripture celebrates human rights and justice in a number of verses. The “Quran is The Greatest Proclamation of Liberty!” proclaimed Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. According to an authentic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad said, “The best fighting in the path of God is (to speak) a word of justice to an oppressive ruler.” In other words, speech against tyranny is a an important form of jihad or resistance.
Unfortunately, millions of citizens in Islamic states are stuck in autocratic settings. Until recently, the Arab world with roughly 18 percent of the world’s Muslim population has been a “democracy-free zone” resisting gales of democracy blowing in many parts of the world in recent decades. Arab nations including Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia are among the least democratic nations in the world.
Why is this relevant for America? It is no secret that with few exceptions, American governments, both Republican and Democrat, have provided moral support and weapons to despots in the Middle East. This has tarnished the good name of America, and overshadowed the enormous sacrifice Americans have made in the cause of liberty and justice during the Second World War, and more recently in the Balkans and the Middle-East.
The most important reason why we must fundamentally rethink and realign our foreign policy towards to people of the Middle East is the global war on terror. Al Qaeda and its extremist allies are wooing the Muslim youths to its violent causes. As we have seen in Iraq, Pakistan and other places, terror thrives in societies racked with poverty, tyranny and injustice. As a long-term strategy the United States foreign policy should be aligned with values to what Founding Fathers bequeathed to the people in the constitution. It is time that American’s share their gift with people across the world both in word and in deeds.
After September 11 and the rise of Al Qaeda, many Americans have come erroneously to believe that Islam and Arab cultures are fundamentally incompatible with liberal democratic values. The largely peaceful people’s revolutions in Tunisia and in Egypt should shatter this myth. The Muslim masses can resist using non-violent methods. The Muslim citizens are no less attracted to a society based on justice, liberty and the rule of law as Americans are. Many already enjoy democracies and relative freedom. Among the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims, many millions reside in democracies in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Turkey, Lebanon, and Indonesia among others. In a few impressive cases, women have led democratically elected government, and the opposition.
However, a large part of the Arab world remains trapped in a vicious cycle of dictatorship and tyranny. In the past 18 days, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have braved bullets and brutal beatings to protest peacefully against an overpowering dictatorship and tyranny. The success of their brave and dignified struggle has become a beacon for freedom loving people everywhere. If America stands for liberty and justice at home, it must also stand for these principles for the Iranians, the Libyans, the Palestinians, the Tunisians, the Egyptians, the Yemenis, the Algerians, the Saudis, and citizens of other countries in the Middle East. As Martin Luther King aptly said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I believe America’s unequivocal support for liberty and justice for citizens in the Middle-East is both the right thing to do, and in the nation’s best long-term interests.
Email Munir Quddus at email@example.com