Friday, May 06, 2005

The Dioscuri of the Atlantic Alliance: Blair & Bush

The Dioscuri were the twins Castor and Pollux; heroes in the ancient world, honoured in temples in Rome, celebrated in the star of Gemini in the sign of the zodiac. A pair of heroes set in the stars.

As Tony Blair sweeps to a record third victory, it is worth thinking back to the grace given by Providence to what used to be called the Atlantic Alliance. In the 1940s, it was given to Churchill and FDR to bring down the Nazi Third Reich and lay the foundations for a democratic Europe. In the 1980s, Thatcher and Reagan, teamed with Pope John Paul II, brought down the Communist empire of Eastern Europe without firing a shot. At the dawn of the third millenium, Tony Blair and George W. Bush have launched a democratic revolution that has liberated Afghanistan, brought democracy to Iraq, forced the Syrians out of Lebanon, and shows hope of bringing democracy to the Arab world.

We cannot at any level underestimate the boldness of their dreams, the courage of their leadership, or their tenacity in the face of tremendous obstacles that would have broken the will of lesser men. For Blair and Bush are the first leaders of any stature to say that the Islamic world can, should, and must democratize. In doing so, they are calling for a revolution not merely in a bloc of nations, but in an entire civilization--and one of the great civilizations of human history.

For the rise of Islam in the seventh century AD was one of the great watersheds in the course of civilization. For centuries Islam held a standard of education and culture that could not be matched either in Europe or anywhere else in the world. Yet Islam ultimately fell behind in developing institutions of freedom; fell behind in science, technology, and economics. By the nineteenth century, the Islamic world was defenceless against the imperialism of the West.

For some, the absence of democracy in fourteen centuries of Islamic history was an indictment of Islam itself. Islamic societies, it was held, could not democratize.

It fell to Tony Blair and George W Bush to challenge that thinking head-on. The temerity of their endeavour brought to mind the old quotation from George Bernard Shaw that Robert F Kennedy so often quoted: "Some see things the way they are, and ask why? I dream dreams that never were, and ask why not?" Bush and Blair dreamed of raising the flag of democracy from Tehran to Tripoli. They dreamed not of armies marching in conquest through the streets of foreign capitals--they dreamed of citizens in the Near East marching through the streets of their own cities to voting booths; they dreamed of Near Eastern parliaments electing their own leaders, and choosing their own governments. That dream was answered in the elections in Afghanistan in October 2004, in the brave ink-stained fingers of the Iraqis in January 2005, and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon with its flags waving over the cheering crowds of workers and students.

We are witnessing a revolution of a magnitude that has not been seen in Islamic civilization for over a thousand years. The transformation of a civilization nearly a millenium and a half old calls for comparison with the fall of Nazism in Germany and the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. No doubt much remains uncertain, and more fiery furnaces remain to be traversed. No doubt too, the ultimate credit for what has been achieved so far must go to the brave men and women in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon who have placed their lives on the line in their quest for liberty. But justice requires us to note that it is not likely that any of this would have taken place without the leadership of Prime Minister Blair and President Bush.

President Bush received his reward at the American ballot box in November. Now Tony Blair has received his as well. It is not clear yet how long he will serve, and it is certain that many difficulties lie ahead. Yet already there is reason to believe that when he leaves office, the pair of Bush and Blair, Reagan and Thatcher, Roosevelt and Churchill, will be remembered in the same breath--as Dioscuri of the Atlantic Alliance.


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