Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fascinating Interview with Sharansky on the Promise of Freedom

Sharansky offers a unique perspective on the promise of the Egyptian Revolution and prospects for a more durable peace in the long run. Truly an original thinker. Worth reading in its entirety.

Maybe this is the Moment to Put our Trust in Freedom

A quarter-century after his release presaged the disintegration of the Soviet Union, an ‘even purer’ push for democracy is unfolding in our region, says Natan Sharansky.

It was precisely 25 years ago that Natan Sharansky, icon of the struggle to liberate Soviet Jewry, walked to freedom across Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge, that narrow tie between the Communist bloc and the West. Behind him, back behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union, he left a vast community of Jews who ached to follow in his footsteps.

But not for long. The crack from which Sharansky emerged grew swiftly into a chasm. Within less than six years, amid the dizzyingly rapid collapse of the Soviet empire, no fewer than 400,000 members of that community had been freed to emulate him in making new homes in Israel.

What makes this anniversary particularly poignant is that it coincides with another potentially defining moment in the struggle for democracy over totalitarianism – a moment when people across our region, some tentatively and others more confidently, are rising up against their autocratic leaders. They are demanding the same opportunities, the same stake in determining their own futures, the same guarantees of freedom from persecution for speaking their minds that even the mighty, grey, terrifying Soviet bureaucracy proved incapable of denying to its masses.

And for all that tiny Israel is understandably concerned at the direction the truly free peoples of the Middle East might ultimately choose to follow with respect to our unloved Jewish state, Sharansky is enthralled and enthused by what is unfolding.

Six years ago, he published a book – co-written with Ron Dermer, now a senior adviser to the prime minister – titled The Case for Democracy and insistently subtitled “The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.” But the skeptics and the self-proclaimed experts in this region always told Sharansky that, while he had evidently outwitted and outlasted the Communists, he really didn’t understand the ancient, bitter norms of the Middle East. In this part of the world, Israelis from Ariel Sharon on down would lecture him, bloody experience had long since demonstrated that nothing, actually, could overcome tyranny and terror.

Israel’s best hope, and that of the West, ran the thinking, rested in cultivating the more palatable tyrants. Arab democracy? How oxymoronic.

So this small, unstoppable man, who has somehow crammed long periods of dissidence, imprisonment, activism and politicking into his 63 years, is feeling a certain vindication on the 25th anniversary of his own liberation. Much more importantly, though, he recognizes the urgency and sensitivities of the hour. Huge public protest, the readiness to push for revolution, he says, is like water coming to the boil. Suddenly it rises up, overflowing with new capabilities. But slam the lid on, turn off the heat, and it falls back.

Iran saw a moment like this, less than two years ago, he recalls. The students, the unions, suddenly they scented weakness. Their frustrations with their Islamist rulers overflowed in the aftermath of the fraudulent presidential elections. They boiled.

But the West failed them. The West, and specifically, a new, untried president, hesitated. The moment was lost. The mullahs slammed the lid on.

This time, says Sharansky – in this fascinating conversation which took place at his chairman’s office in the Jewish Agency headquarters – Barack Obama is sending smarter signals. And Israel, he insists, must internalize how fortunate we are that the revolt is unfolding today in countries where the Islamists are not yet strong enough to sweep into power, in countries dependent on American aid, in countries where the West can yet seek to make its influence felt.

The unholy, unsustainable pact between the West and the dictators of the Middle East is being severed, as it should be, says Sharansky. It is being severed by the people. And their will must be done.

1 comment:

George Jochnowitz said...

After World War II, the United States forced democracy down the throats of West Germany and Japan. That was a most undemocratic thing to do, but it worked. Germany and Japan are richer, safer, and kinder societies than ever before.
Then the United States switched sides. Eisenhower overthrew the democratic government of Iran and installed the Shah--leading indirectly to Khomeini and a worldwide Islamist movement. G.H.W. Bush apparently opposed China's Beijing Spring movement, fearing democracy would lead to instability. He tempted Saddam Hussein to attack Kuwait by having April Glaspie tell Saddam it would be OK. Then after defeating Saddam, the US suddenly withdrew and allowed him to massacre the Kurds and Marsh Arabs.
G.W. Bush tried to create democracy in Iraq. It is not yet clear whether he succeeded.
Obama was silent during Iran's Green Revolution and actively tried to undo the rise of democracy in Honduras.
Now Obama has swwitched sides. Will democracy come to Egypt? Will the Muslim Brotherhood do what Khomeini did in Iran? It is good to know that Obama has become pro-democracy. It is unclear whether Egypt will choose freedom over faith.
Will Obama ever support democracy in Iran? In Syria? In North Korea? It seems unlikely.