The two elements of change
In an elegant little book from the 1970’s, the late psychiatrist Allen Wheelis says about change that it has two parameters: attitude and environment, or, rather, he says attitude or environment. Change in one produces change in the other. While it doesn’t seem possible to add to his list, the particulars of each can be elucidated to underline his point.
Begin with environment. The Middle East is as good an example as any of a milieu that could reasonably have been asserted not to be capable of much change. In fact, it has been proposed that change would not be a good idea. While the Middle East didn’t have much else going for it, at least it was stable. Why introduce change and upset the balance of a poverty-stricken, despot-ridden, sand-blasted anteroom to Hell? Why disturb the Arab Street and bring down its wrath upon the West?
The crowbar that G.W. Bush inserted into the apparatus of history has changed that environment irrevocably. Do things still blow up? Do people still die unfairly and before their time, in cruel and useless ways? Yes and Yes. But they were doing that before Bush arrived and they were dying in much larger and more predictable numbers. Now that he and his men have marched through in army boots, let’s tick off the changes their journey has wrought in the environment of several countries.
Starting with the first quagmire,
a. Afghanistan. The Taliban is gone, or gone enough for government purposes. The rest is the long, slow process of putting the million tiny pieces of the puzzle into order. Poppies? You were hoping for zero-tolerance for drugs? Is that your litmus test of success? How about the freedom to sing again, people digging up their buried radios, sending their little girls to school? Women appointed to high office? The rest will come with time. Umm.. those of you in the back, how about humming a few bars of “give peace a chance?”
b. Iraq, or Quagmire #2. 1,500 dead American soldiers and 25,000,000 free Iraqis. On the spectrum between harm and good where should the present situation in Iraq lie? It depends on where you stand — or even more crucially, what platform you were standing on when this train departed. Some of the doubters are coming around. Most of the Iraqis are, too. There has been a sharp decrease in ‘insurgent’ (read ‘outside agitators’) activity. Iraqi police recruits are blown up and the next day there are even more standing in the same place. And now the EU is moving in to train the judiciary. Surely if the EU and the UN are in town, the new environment is safer.
c. Most of the wagers for the next environmental change are on Lebanon. Liberty brought to you by a bloody (and bloody stupid) assassination, which the UN is now set to blame on Syria. Even Hizbollah came to pay its respects at the martyr’s tomb. Meanwhile, it looks as though Syria is on its way home while the Lebanese decide on their next elections.
d. So whither Syria? Or, “wither Syria,” as the case may be. Or Palestine? Or Iran? Wherever they are headed, it is not back to the status quo ante. That road is closed, the entrance guarded by the fierce cherubim of history.
The environment of the Middle East will never be the same, and that is change, change for the good. GW Bush doesn’t much care who gets the credit, which is fortunate. A president whose focus is liberty rather than his ‘legacy’ is a man willing to risk change for the sake of freedom.
Meanwhile, how about the other element of change? Attitudes seem to be evolving at a rapid clip.
When I came to Lebanon two weeks ago, I watched with awe, and at times envy, as the Lebanese took to the streets striving to recapture the freedom they were robbed of for so long. Their efforts represented to me an epic struggle against the impotence of the Arab world and a condemnation of the failings not only of the Lebanese leadership but that of the Arab world in its entirety.
On my way to a demonstration commemorating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, I saw Egyptians enthusiastically making their way to Martyrs’ Square, where the opposition rallies have been held, all too eager to participate in solidarity with the Lebanese people, but also perhaps out of frustration with the status quo at home.
The winds of change in Lebanon are not necessarily the result of Iraqis and Palestinians going to the polls, or because of U.S. President George W. Bush’s manifesto of spreading freedom and democracy in the region. All these variables, while certainly interlinked, are not the overarching causes for the unfolding events. Instead, change is in the air because of a thirst to live a democratic life with dignity, to speak freely, and above all to repudiate the ominous and abhorrent conditions Arabs have lived under since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
He’s right. It’s the “thirst to live a democratic life with dignity” that is driving this change in attitude.
Imagine having lived in the desert for a long, long time, dreaming of water. Imagine a well being drilled right in your own courtyard.