Arabs, like others, don't buy into abuse of historic grievances
The Arab Spring reflects a trend away from people accepting leaders who try to exploit the ancient wrongs of other countries for their own political or violent ends.
(Page 2 of 2)
Gallery Monitor Political Cartoons
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In recent years, China’s leaders have unleashed protests against Japan, France, and others by citing 19th- and early 20th-century abuse of their country, such as the opium war of 1839-42. Such appeals help stoke nationalism for the sake of keeping the Communist Party in power. But even party leaders have had to rein in such rhetoric of grievances in order to prevent such protests from turning on them.
How can countries reconcile? Often they need only try to write a common history decades later after a war. France and Germany did. South Korea and Japan tried but failed – although that is far better than North Korea citing Japan’s past abuses to justify military threats.
Some countries try to legislate history. Last month, French lawmakers made it a crime to deny the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. Truth, it seems, must be imposed by force in France.
A victim mentality may be useful for a while in the pursuit of justice and truth, but at some point it can also be misused. Serbia’s late leader, Slobodan Milosevic, turned the Balkans into killing fields in the 1990s by stoking old Serb resentments to right ancient wrongs meted out by Muslims and others.
The late Osama bin Laden tried to rally Muslims based on the “humiliation and disgrace” of Islam by the West for “more than 880 years.” His cause is on the ropes, not just because of his killing last year but because of the Arab Spring’s message that some bygones should be bygones. Violence can’t be justified by the distant past.
More people today are better educated and, with the Internet, more aware of other countries. They exhibit more empathy and fairness toward others, even old enemies.
That has been on display among the Arab youth, who welcome Western support – even its fighter jets – to their cause. They might as well be singing auld lang syne.