Writing earlier this year about the prospects for the “Arab Spring” – as the recent uprisings in the Middle East have been dubbed – Professor Fouad Ajami declared:
“The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the urge to walk. For decades, Arabs walked and cowered in fear. Now they seem eager to take freedom’s ride. Wisely, they are paying no heed to those who wish to speak to them of liberty’s risks.”
But some of us are not so sure, for liberty’s risks are great.
As we watch cities in Yemen fall to Islamist warriors who claimed to have “liberated” it from “the agents of the Americans,” we fear that radicals and militants could exploit the breakdown of authority to trample the nascent democratic movement to take control. As we watch Egypt open its borders to Hamas in Gaza, we wonder what that country’s liberty will mean for the security of Israel.
We are all mindful that the Arab lands, where people are throwing off the yoke of oppression, have little experience with liberty or democracy. And we all have studied enough history to know that revolutions – which by definition are violent upheavals – seldom end with American-style outcomes.
So what will be in the Middle East – liberty or death?
On this holiday of Shavout – when we commemorate our own revolution, the Sinai Revolution – we are wise to ponder the meaning of liberty, its rights and responsibilities, and its elusive paths.
So let us retrace our steps to the earliest roots of freedom and the first establishment of a government that honors the individual rights of all its citizens. Let us consider what happened 3323 years ago, when the human race received its mandate to build a civilized world, which would be free for one reason only – it would rest on a foundation of such core values as peace, justice, equality and social responsibility – values which were not part of any civilization until then.