As the most common interpretation of Middle Eastern history goes, the Arab countries’ defeat in the 1967 war with Israel marked the beginning of the end of secular Arab nationalism, and the subsequent rise of radical Islamism. The events of 1967 were a crushing defeat for the secular Arab regimes. For some (though of course not all), the defeat of 1967 proved not just the failure of these specific regimes (and their militaries), but the failure of secularism in general. The solution to these failures must lie in a turn to religion, they thought. Recently, a friend of mine asked me for my interpretation of this history: “Why do you think that is? Why did the defeat of 1967 make people believe that religion was the answer?” I thought about it for a minute, and then I replied: “I really don’t know. Why do people who have lost their jobs believe that Sarah Palin is the answer?”
Of course, “people who lost a war to the Israelis” as well as “people who lost their jobs in Detroit” are false categories because not all of the former turned to radical Islamism, and not all of the latter turned to Sarah Palin. But some did. Let’s talk about those select few.
In the first article of this Owl of Minerva series, I attempted to tie the Arab Spring to the current world recession which began in 2008. In the second article, I noted the irony of the reality that, whilst the Arabs appear to be embracing the Universal Rights of Man, the world recession appears to be nudging the Europeans to flirt with fascism. But who can say with any certainty how this will all turn out? It’s all up in the air. It is entirely possible that the Arab Spring marks the close of that era of Middle Eastern history opened in 1967. But we don’t know yet. We can’t know yet. The Owl of Minerva is still in flight. Likewise, we don’t know yet if Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are likely to play a significant role in the upcoming presidential race. What we do know is that a lot of Americans are feeling the shockwaves of this same world recession, and that the Tea Party has arrived as an immediate response.
The thing about the Tea Party that very few of its detractors will admit is that the movement does express legitimate grievances. A lot of people are out of work, and in its own confused and befuddled way, the Tea Party does speak to those who have recently found themselves unemployed. Indeed, the bank bailouts are a direct slap in the face to those without work. However, the Tea Party makes many crucial oversights, and fails to understand that screaming “Don’t Tread on Me” won’t get you anywhere. Most importantly, it fails to answer the question of how the quite financially secure Sarah Palin is supposed to speak for actual Americans who have lost their jobs. It remains a mystery! Talented country singer (and Tea Party favorite) John Rich speaks the truth when he sings, “While they’re living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town; Here in the real world they’re shuttin’ Detroit down.” He, however, makes one critical error: Not everyone in New York City works on Wall Street, and there are bankers in Detroit, too.
Just as the Arabs in the wake of 1967 need not have necessarily responded to their defeat with a turn to religious politics, those Americans hurt by the current recession need not necessarily turn to the right-wing populism of the Tea Party. Both cases are among the possible responses to their respective catastrophes; they are not the only response. The protesters of Tunis and Cairo, by their action, proved that it was possible to come up with a new response to their tragedy. Those men and women in Syria today on the receiving end of Bashar al-Assad’s bloodbath are proving that the process can be excruciatingly painful. Americans are no different from anyone else. They, too, can be creative in crafting a new response to their situation. Unfortunately, though, they haven’t been, as of late. Instead, in the face of their countless legitimate grievances against big Wall Street bankers and their patrons in Washington, many Americans have chosen the most immediate knee-jerk reaction: Sarah Palin. I would like simply to remind the reader that her folksy charm is only one of the many possible responses — not the response — to the people in New York and Washington whom her movement rightfully calls crooks. But we’ll have to wait and see if anyone comes up with anything better. The Owl of Minerva is in flight over Wasilla, Alaska. I, for one, hope that he lands somewhere else.