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May 15, 2004

TOC's Hudgins Gets it Right

As many of my L&P readers know, I have been extremely critical of a number of Randian commentators who have not shown enough sensitivity to the enormously complex issue of bringing"freedom" to the Islamic-dominated countries of the Middle East.

So it is only fair that I highlight an essay with which I do agree, in large measure. Edward Hudgins of The Objectivist Center has written an insightful essay that asks the following question:"Are the People of the Middle East Fit for Freedom?."

While Hudgins addresses the horrors and scandal of Abu Ghraibgate in fine fashion, he also argues that the"governments of most Middle East countries to varying degrees abuse and repress their own citizens, and have few mechanisms to redress abuses. Citizens of those countries who act to reform their governments often find themselves censored, jailed or worse." Hudgins sees, quite correctly, that politics is an expression of culture:

These governments reflect the values and cultures in those countries. ... The most active opponents of repressive governments often are radical Islamists who want to establish even more repressive dictatorships. Many individuals in those countries give their first loyalty to a tribe, ethnic group or religion, not to universal principles that apply to all people and at all times. Outsiders are viewed at best with suspicion and at worst as worthy of nothing but painful death.

Hudgins goes on to cite a number of surveys regarding attitudes toward arbitrary violence in the Middle East; an overwhelming majority of those surveyed in even"moderate" Arab countries believe that suicide bombings against Americans and Israelis are justified; and over 63 per cent favored Saudi Arabian, Syrian or Egyptian dictatorial models of government, rather than a US model.

Bush has argued that those who believe that the people of Iraq are unfit for freedom are a bit elitist, or maybe, even"racist," in their assumptions. (Arthur Silber demolishes"The Racist Smear," as part of his continuing examination of"The Roots of Horror," here.) While Hudgins applauds Bush's view that each individual deserves freedom, he asks, quite directly:"Are the people of Iraq and other countries in the region fit for freedom?"

For Hudgins, this is not an issue of race. It is an issue of culture, precisely what I and others have been arguing now for over a year. Hudgins writes:"Any given Iraqi, Arab or Muslim might well want to live in peace with his or her neighbors, foreign and domestic. But can we really expect limited governments that respect individual liberty and ban arbitrary force to be established in countries in which those principles are not written in the hearts and minds of ... enough of their citizens?" While Hudgins applauds those seeking to establish free societies in these countries,"we must understand," he explains,"that the people of these countries ultimately must create for themselves modern, civil societies and governments in their own cultural and historical contexts. If we fail to appreciate the limits of the ability of we Americans—the outsiders—to transform dysfunctional countries, we will only slow rather than hasten the day of those countries' true liberation."

To which I must add: Amen.

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