Every once in a while we come to believe that the ends justify the means. But most of the time we scramble to find the means to a given end. And if we don’t find the right means, then the end we seek will not be found, no matter how justified it is.
There is no question in my mind that much of what is happening on the Arab street can be explained as the fervent wish of some very well-intentioned people to shake off the oppressive yoke of the past, and to open the door to a brighter future. The people on the street have found the courage to embrace such noble aspirations as freedom and democracy. And to that end, they have put life and limb on the line, in an effort to dismantle established and entrenched regimes, in favor of new leadership which will be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.
And yet, as justified as these ends are, the means to these ends do matter, because the wrong means could very well spell a dead end to even the most justifiable ends. A revolution, almost by necessity, brings with it a period of instability and even chaos. After all, you can’t very well bring change without disrupting the status quo. After a while, a certain measure of battle fatigue is bound to set in, and the revolutionary fervor of the man on the street can easily be overtaken by the political ambitions of political factions which are averse to freedom, which are authoritarian in nature, but which promise to restore some semblance of stability to the nation.
The revolution of 1979 in Iran is a case in point. The Shah of Iran lost favor in the eyes of the people, due in part to his repression of dissidents, even as he ushered in an era of gradual reform. His removal from power brought Shapour Bakhtiar into power, for only 36 days, supposedly with a public mandate to usher in democratic reforms. A period of instability ensued, only to bring to the fore another revolution, by which Ayatollah Khomeini took hold of power, and put in place a regime that was far more authoritarian than anything that preceded it.
It would be a travesty of justice for the people of the Middle East to have shed their blood, and to have invested their hope, only to be overtaken by the insidious agendas of ideological extremists. One way to avoid this, in my opinion, is for people to focus on goals which are realistic, which can be achieved more easily, which are not overly threatening to the powers that be, and which can help to bring about reform that coincides with the aspirations of the people. In short, the aims of the revolutions may have to take current realities into account. Even if a dictator is toppled, there are still those left behind whose agendas and ambitions must be taken into consideration.
I would focus on growing the economy, instituting economic reforms, and guaranteeing personal freedoms, as realistic means to achieving the greater ends of freedom and democracy. Economic growth and job creation may not resonate as dramatically as freedom and democracy. However, it could well be argued that business can be used to create a neutral pathway to freedom and democracy. A good paying job can go a long way to ease the burden of a hard life. But in addition, the same conditions which are needed to grow an economy are the same ones which will allow a viable democracy to take root and to flourish.
Once people across the Middle East are making money together, their lives will gain a good measure of dignity, and gradually, each person will become more humanized in the eyes of the other. Along with the empowerment that comes from personal economic well being, comes a natural inclination to demand and receive greater personal freedoms, and eventually, with the requisite institutions in place, will come a transition to democratic rule, not just in form, but in substance as well.
The economic path to democracy may seem, at first glance, to be a more circuitous path. However, in the long run, it may be the best way to get to where we’re going, while minimizing the risk of getting lost along the way. Business is ideologically neutral. Business is something that most people have come to understand. And business is less threatening to the powers that be, who may decide to support the effort, as a way of effectuating positive change, in a more gradual and moderate fashion, while side-stepping the prospect of chaos at their doorstep.
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