Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On Labor Day, American and Arab Workers on the Global Up and Down Escalators

As we celebrate this pro forma holiday - a last chance for a barbecue, where it isn’t raining - and we prepare for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, what is the status of American workers compared to those in Muslim nations?

This week’s Nation is devoted to the Arab Awakening.  The depth of the articles is remarkable, providing the most complete picture of the situation in the Middle East that I have read. What struck me reading them is that having risen up, Arab workers have crucial choices that American workers do not have: they argue freely whether to have an Islamic state, or a liberal or social democratic state. True, the fifty-year old Muslim Brotherhood is using its grass roots experience to organize for the coming elections. But it is no longer monolithic.

The Arab peoples do not simply form a compendium of events and players. Their struggle illustrates where the United States on one hand, and the rest of the world on the other, are going. The vast majority of the world’s peoples are on an ‘up’ escalator, rising from deprivation of economic and civil rights to espouse the most avant-garde ideas of sustainability, economic and gender equality. Like a lone ship passing in the night, the United States is on the down escalator that would take us back to where the Arab street has been for centuries.

- While large swathes of Arab youth fight for a secular, democratic society, the Tea Party preaches a return to the Protestant fundamentalism of the Pilgrims, which is not very different from Islamic fundamentalism.

- While trade unions are playing an important role in Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt, American trade unions are being driven into extinction. (French colonization of North Africa brought much suffering to its people, but it also brought a tradition of strong trade unions...)

- While Arab women participate in freedom squares, inspiring Israelis to set up similar camps in Tel Aviv and other towns, Michelle Bachman tells American women to ‘obey’ their husbands.

What does all this mean?

First of all, as I have pointed out before, nothing is forever.  All empires die: the Western Roman Empire lasted 500 years, the French and British Empires, about 400 years each, Hitler’s Empire, 12 years, the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe, 45. (I expect that readers who focus mainly on numbers, will call me out on some of this, but I continue to hope that most will retain the overall message of my posts. I am numerically challenged, but I usually get my insights right.)

If we take as our starting point the end of World War II, when the United States occupied Japan and Germany, and gradually become the dominant force in Western, then Eastern Europe and the Middle East, by 2010, the American Empire has lasted 65 years.

Increasingly, the pundits dare to murmur, sotto voce, that this country is in decline. I believe the reasons go beyond the inevitable ‘what goes around comes around’: they are at root due to our rejection of the path taken by all the other developed nations after the second world war, under the broad heading of social democracy.

In the United States, the terms Marxism, Communism, Socialism, have consistently provided ready markers for a suavely organized campaign against the many. Now, as Arab peoples debate every ideological and religious belief under the sun, we are fed a continuous diet of carefully hedged opinions as to who might be the next Republican presidential candidate, and whether he or she might constitute a serious challenge to the man who only three years ago represented our best hope of breaking out of our cage.


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