Revolutions are not simple. They are bloody and messy and they leave chaos in their wake. It can take years for law and order to be restored.
We all have visions of an up-and-running America immediately after its Revolution, but that never happened. After the British signed the peace treaty in 1783 and retreated, George Washington did not suddenly pop into power and take control of a new nation. America lacked a strong national government. It even lacked a concrete vision of what a strong national government should look like.
Chaos often reigned where reason failed. Riots in Philadelphia forced the Congress – the only branch of government – to flee the City of Brotherly Love. A farmers’ uprising in Massachusetts threatened that commonwealth’s stability, not just the fledgling nation’s. Money was often “not worth a continental,” a continental being the common name of America’s currency, which was basically worthless.
It would take four years for the leaders of the country to recognize the need for a more orderly system of governance. And it would take two more years to create that system and win its ratification.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that the revolutions dubbed “the Arab Spring” have not yet sprung forth the way we would want them to – with full-blown democracies. Instead, they present themselves as chaotic and unstructured, and threaten to morph into pastiches of the autocracies they supplanted.
What does come as a surprise, however, is that we expected anything else. We tend to look at the entire world as America waiting to happen. The Arab world is not the New World. The idea of individual liberties is an alien one in the Arab world. Even in its more “sophisticated” corners, tribalism remains the most powerful motivator. In too many places, feudalism is the only system people understand.
It took this country four years to go from an unworkable democracy to a workable one, but only because democracy was something Americans understood from the moment the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, Mass.
What should not have come as a surprise to Jewish organizations is how unsettling the Arab Spring would be for Israel and even for America. Not only does the Arab world have no history of Western-style democracy at work, it is highly unlikely that Western-style can work there, at least not in the coming decades. In the Arab world, the religious and the secular live in a halcyon symbiosis. Any democracy that eventually may emerge there will have to take that into consideration.
And that is not good news, at least not now. Islam is under attack from within by religious extremists who have an uncompromising hatred of anything Jewish or Western, and many of these extremists are in political power (think Iran, for example). The idea, then, that the Arab Spring is something to be cheered and encouraged is strange indeed.
To be sure, Jews especially should never support autocracy of any kind, and certainly not of the malevolent variety. That does not mean, however, that we can stick our heads in the sands of the Middle East and ignore the dangers that lurk beyond the next dune.
We hope that a moderate Islam will hold sway in the Arab Spring. Let us not allow ourselves, however, to be lulled into believing that every Arab revolution is a harbinger of happy days to come.