Monday, January 14, 2008

Giving Chutzpah the Silent Treatment

While we're on the subject of chutzpah, Hannah Allam, of McClatchy Newspapers, posted a nice analysis yesterday of the "progress" of Bush's anti-Iranian agenda in the Middle East, which was the basis for his sixth Chutzpah of the Week award last week. Those scare quotes reflect Allam's conclusion, summarized in her headline by the polite phrase "cool response" (which is why my Title suggests that a good way to respond to being on the receiving end of chutzpah is to ignore it). Here is the heart of Allam's analysis, which I found very well-considered:

But Bush appears unlikely, based on the regional reaction to his address, to find many Arabs to heed his alarms against Iran, a powerful neighbor and trading partner. Nor did many endorse his speech's other theme — a vision of "free and just society" featuring broad political participation and a voice for moderate Muslims in a region where money and family are common keys to leadership.

Even political analysts here who share Bush's democratic vision said that his speech painted over the daily reality for most inhabitants of the Middle East, an oil-rich region where power is largely inherited and human rights violations abound.

Whether chastising Iran or praising Palestinian elections, analysts said, Bush left out key facts that would have offered a messier — and more true-to-life — portrait of the modern Middle East.

"Iran is a neighbor, we have to deal with that," said Ambassador Ibrahim Mohieldin, director of the Arab League's Americas department. "The U.S. is thousands of miles away from Iran - it's OUR national security that will be affected" if leaders agree to keep Tehran isolated at Washington's request.

Allam also included a wonderfully perceptive quote from Manar Shorbagy, an associate professor who teaches a course on U.S. politics at the American University in Cairo:

Talking about freedom when you're occupying two countries in the region: Afghanistan and Iraq. Talking about justice while you're against the (Palestinian) right of return. Talking about democracy while you're against elected groups you don't like...Was he listening to himself?

Given my recent exploration of the "echo chamber" theme, particularly in Washington, I would say that Shorbagy hit the nail squarely on the head, leading me to wonder whether the best place to learn about our political practices these days might be on his American University campus in Cairo!

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