Montreal, March 15, 2011 No 287


Gennady Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist and philosophical essayist, and is Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator. He lives in Carson City, Nevada.



Liberty in the Middle East
Means Liberty at Home


by Gennady Stolyarov II


          Finally, the people in the Middle East are taking decisive action to overthrow the authoritarian regimes which have held back liberty, prosperity, and economic growth in the region for decades. The dictators of Tunisia and Egypt have already been deposed, and rebels in Libya are fighting a determined civil war against the murderous tyrant Muammar Gaddafi. If the Libyan revolution succeeds, this will further invigorate protesters in Bahrain, Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, and even Iran to overthrow their own authoritarian, even totalitarian, overlords.


          This domino effect of political change will not be a panacea, of course. The Middle East will probably not become a libertarian haven and will probably not even reach the levels of political and economic freedom characterizing the West today. However, these uprisings could still be a cultural and political tipping point for the region. They have a real chance of inaugurating an Age of Enlightenment in the Middle East that will see the swift disappearance of the most blatant oppressions―murder and torture of civilians picked up on the streets by secret police―and the gradual diminution of religious fanaticism, economic illiteracy, and tribal collectivism.

          The long-term implications of successful revolutions in the Middle East include tremendous liberation in the West as well. Simply put, a less illiberal Middle East will render both Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and the US War on Terror obsolete. Many of today's terrorist organizations were incubated in an environment of fierce authoritarian repression. For decades, dissenters throughout much of the Middle East were hunted down and killed for the mere espousal of certain ideological and religious beliefs. It was therefore difficult for many to remain peaceful if they faced the threat of death for their beliefs anyway. Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups and dogmas could not have initially arisen in a country whose government protected the rights of free speech and free assembly. It is only repressive regimes that breed such absurd and repressive reactions, aimed at those regimes and their often correctly identified support from Western powers. Remove the authoritarianism, and prosperity and opportunity will set in.

          People who enjoy even a semblance of true liberty and can discuss ideas in peace rarely desire to blow themselves up to make a point. Economic freedom will forge more genuine connections with the West―the kinds of voluntary individual-to-individual and business-to-business trading that characterize true globalization and raise living standards for all. The more prosperous a man is, the more he has to lose, and the less of an incentive he has to endanger his prosperity due to a grievance or to literally blow it all up. Those made prosperous by trade have every reason to preserve the peaceful ties that make the trade possible. They have little incentive to fight with and oppress their trading partners―be they neighbors across the street or halfway around the world.

          The diminution of terrorism will confer some of its greatest benefits upon domestic civil liberties in the United States. It will become increasingly untenable to maintain the absurd, draconian, and humiliating surveillance and "security" apparatus that has arisen around air travel and is steadily spreading into virtually every area of Americans' lives. While the terrorist threat remains real, it is easy for politicians to offer false security and convince large numbers of people to debase themselves and surrender their liberties. When it becomes obvious to everyone that the threat has vanished, the majority of people will cease to tolerate any inconvenience that was rationalized by reference to it.

"People who enjoy even a semblance of true liberty and can discuss ideas in peace rarely desire to blow themselves up to make a point. Economic freedom will forge more genuine connections with the West―the kinds of voluntary individual-to-individual and business-to-business trading that characterize true globalization and raise living standards for all."

          It will probably be a struggle to convince politicians to roll back all of the intrusions that had been introduced in the name of fighting terrorism―but the most egregious and visible violations of liberty will have a strong chance of being terminated. The gropings and virtual strip-searches at airports, the indefinite detention and torture of terror suspects (and who knows whom else), the warrantless wiretapping of anyone for any reason, the US government's claimed prerogative to assassinate any US citizen abroad, the thousands of civilians and US troops killed in futile foreign occupations―all of these evils will have a chance of becoming historical atrocities only, no longer everyday presences in our lives. A return to the civil-liberties environment in the US circa 2000 would be an immeasurable improvement compared to what we have today.

          And, of course, the end of the War on Terror will enable the US to finally remove most of its military from the Middle East. The US military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan impose an enormous burden on the federal government's budget, a burden that American taxpayers shoulder through a combination of inflation, increased taxation, and economic chaos. Eliminating the military occupations will be a major step toward the vital goal of eliminating US deficit spending and reversing the trajectory of the national debt.

          In many ways, the current illiberal climate in much of the Middle East was brought about by the US and other Western powers in the quest to secure oil flows in preference to securing the inalienable rights of man. As long as Mubarak, Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Saleh, Bouteflika, the Saudi monarchy, and others like them kept oil production at a level satisfactory to Western governments―though still highly cartelized and artificially scarce―the West provided these tyrants with international recognition, military and humanitarian aid, and implicit or explicit support in brutal crackdowns against their own people. Indeed, the US government even had Hosni Mubarak's right-hand man, Omar Suleiman, do the dirty work of the US "extraordinary rendition" program―shipping people to Egypt to be viciously tortured in a style that the Bush and Obama administrations knew would be considered heinous by any civilized American.

          Of course, the support of dictators to ensure the flow of oil is a grievous blunder; it makes no logical sense. A country with a freer government will also have a freer economy, which means greater openness to international trade and easier, more reliable exchanges of resources. If the revolutionaries succeed in the Middle East, this will only render oil more reliably available there. At the same time, greater freedom will enable Middle Eastern economies to diversify so as to avoid the "resource curse" phenomenon, whereby authoritarian regimes take control of a single predominant raw resource and thrive off of its extraction and export―preventing the economic, cultural, and intellectual development that accompanies the production of capital or finished consumer goods.

          The people of the Middle East are giving a tremendous gift to the people of the West in every respect, bypassing both hosts of thuggish, repressive, and corrupt national governments. Let us hope that enough Westerners appreciate this struggle for liberation in all of its dimensions and withdraw all forms of support from the oppressors that stand in its way.