August 1, 2016
On July 28, 2016, David Nakamura of the Washington Post reported that President Obama took the stage at the Democratic National Convention at a time when the nation is more starkly polarized than before. The words “starkly polarized” no doubt qualified a state of polarization by Western standards. By Middle East standards this would require no more than a few doses of passiflora.
President Obama’s address was again remarkable. He was speaking to the delegates of the Democratic Party and beyond them to the Republicans and the entire people of the United States. As expected, he urged people to vote for Hillary Clinton. He criticized Donald Trump in passing remarks. But all along, he gave messages of unity. The leaders and peoples of the Middle East also need to hear him (*). Referring to Mrs. Clinton he said:
“… She understands that even when you’re 100 percent right, getting things done requires compromise; that democracy doesn’t work if we constantly demonize each other. She knows that for progress to happen, we have to listen to each other, and see ourselves in each other, and fight for our principles but also fight to find common ground, no matter how elusive that may sometimes seem…
“… She knows that sometimes during those 40 years she’s made mistakes — just like I have; just like we all do…
Later, he referred to his grandparents:
“… And my grandparents explained that folks in these parts, they didn’t like show-offs. They didn’t admire braggarts or bullies. They didn’t respect mean-spiritedness, or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life. Instead, what they valued were traits like honesty and hard work, kindness, courtesy, humility, responsibility, helping each other out. That’s what they believed in. True things. Things that last. The things we try to teach our kids…
“…My grandparents knew these values weren’t reserved for one race… They knew these values were exactly what drew immigrants here, and they believed that the children of those immigrants were just as American as their own, whether they wore a cowboy hat or a yarmulke, a baseball cap or a hijab…”
To translate his address into the current political language of the Middle East one would have to consult the dictionary because words and expressions such as “compromise”, “finding common ground”, “admitting a mistake”, “humility” have for long disappeared from our vocabulary. All we use is their antonyms.
Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have been fighting civil wars for a decade or more. Interventions by regional countries and others have turned these into sectarian proxy wars. ISIL and its likes are extending their outreach. Turkey, the country which was supposed to inspire the region is deeply polarized on multiple levels. It is now home to three million Syrian refugees and more may be on their way from Aleppo. With the coup attempt of July 15, she in a state of confusion not only internally but also on foreign and security policies.
Skydiver Luke Aikins became the first person to jump from 25,000 ft. (7,620m) without a parachute, landing safely in a net. The Middle East is continuing its free fall but there is no net.
(*) President Obama and the Middle East, February 1, 2015.