Thursday, June 2, 2011

Arab Spring and what came before

Völkerfrühling and Arab Spring

Revolution in 1848

            For several months now we have watched an exciting series of events in the Muslim world.
            Nearly ten years ago a group of angry Arabs unleashed their hatred on America with the coordinated hijacking of four airliners and attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Arlington, VA, and presumably, the Capitol in Washington.
            Thus began a so-called “War on Terror” and most Americans recalibrated their minds from the Cold War that had ended a decade before. 
            We launched a war in Afghanistan to attack al Qaeda and their hosts, the Taliban, in 2001, and two years later we launched a second war in Iraq, to rid that country of a threat to peace and stability in the region, and, we thought, to eliminate a threat from a megalomaniac with weapons of mass destruction. 
            Over the past decade Americans have learned much more about the Middle East, Islam, Arabs, and Afghans. And we have generally learned that they don’t like us, they resent us, and they would like to wipe us off the face of the earth.
            Although we think we’ve learned much, most of us know very little about the Islamic world that stretches from the Maghreb of North Africa, across all of the Middle East, and on to Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
            Nothing is ever as simple as we try to make it, and that certainly applies to the Arab world, and probably most of the Islamic world.
            Just when we thought that it was all about Arab hatred for the West, and a blazing Jihad to remove us infidels, we started to see uprisings in country after country.   Mostly young Arabs, men and women, were fed up with the dictatorships under which they lived, and they want something more.  They want so badly to rid themselves of despotic leaders that they have taken to the streets, and risked their lives to make real change. 
And these people don’t necessarily spend their days just hating the United States and the West! 
            We’ve seen uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrein, and Syria, and there are likely groups working under cover in other countries, intending to join this movement. 

"Arab Spring"-- Women in Egypt

            As we attempt to understand what is happening in the “Arab Spring” it might be interesting to examine “The Springtime of the Peoples”, or “Völkerfrühling” of 1848.

            Mike Rapport, a lecturer in history at the University of Stirling in Scotland, is an authority on revolution and counter-revolution, and his book, 1848, Year of Revolution, 2009, New York: Basic Books, Perseus Books Group, 461 pp. is a good place to start such an examination. 

            In 1848 crowds of working-class radicals and middle-class liberals started uprisings in Paris, Milan, Venice, Naples, Palermo, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Kraków and Berlin that began a process of establishing a new, liberal world.  The world would not see such a sweeping change of regimes again until the collapse of the Soviet empire began in 1989.

            Like nations in revolt in the Arab Spring, this was a messy series of uprisings that resulted from strains at tectonic plates that differed from country to country, and from group to group.  We saw Europe as held together by the marvelous statesmanship of men like Klemens von Metternich come apart.  Metternich was the architect of the old conservative order, formed after the defeat of Napoleon, in 1815.  In many cases, the kings and rulers caved in easily when faced with determined opposition. 
            The Habsburg Empire, which traced its beginnings to 1278, and ruled most of the time from Vienna, faced many changes in the 1848 revolutions. However, it continued to exist until Austria-Hungary was defeated in World War I. 
            1848 marked the beginning for creation of the German and Italian states.

            We’ve noted that Arab Spring has used the lightning-fast communications of cell phones and the internet to spread the news of revolt and uprisings in other countries, and to coordinate demonstrations and events.
            In 1848 the telegraph was just starting to have an impact upon communications; travel by rail and ship enabled word to spread from one city to another faster than ever before. 

            In 1848 the industrial revolution was just beginning.  Wealthy men were creating factories that would put home craftspeople out of business.  Textile manufacturing could spin out fabric far faster and cheaper, if not as well, as women at hand looms.  People were leaving farms and moving to cities, and cities were growing in size and density, with increasing numbers of people who could not feed themselves. 
            In the old conservative order, wealthy landowners were the only voices that the kings heard, but now there appeared men with ideas for drawing the attention to the needs of the poor.  
            When revolution succeeded in these cities and states, it was only the first step in a perilous string of events, because each group, and each leader, had a different idea of what the new system would look like.  Among the various voices were men like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who developed their ideas of a “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” and their cry, “Workers of the World, Unite!” during this time.  Marx first published The Communist Manifesto in 1848.
            Other revolutionaries aimed at drawing together their ethnic group into a strong nation, and this often meant that other nationalities in the same country would be excluded or ignored. 
            As Arab Spring plays out, we on the outside are not aware who these revolutionaries are.  When they have overthrown the ruling regime in a country, will they answer the democratic aspirations of their people, or will they become even more repressive than the old order? 
            If the United States and other western states encourage an uprising, apply sanctions against the old leaders, or support NATO attacks as in Libya, how do we know about the rebels? Will we provide encouragement and aid to overthrow a regime, only to find out that the new is worse than the old?
            Arabs criticize the United States and President Obama for taking little or no action to support them in these uprisings.  However, al Qaeda and other Arab voices have long uttered a mighty roar, criticizing the U.S. for our “meddling” in Middle Eastern affairs.

            After the 1848 Spring revolutions came counter revolution, often because the conservatives had realized that they had caved in too easily, and some of the liberals were shaken to the core when they saw what had become of “their” revolution, with working-class disorder and chaos.  In many cases the liberals, in search of law and order, fell back, if unwillingly, in line with their old adversaries.
            Some might say that after the bright hopes of the Spring, much eventually failed, but much happened in 1848 that marked the year as a watershed in the history of Europe and western civilization.  Serfdom ended; People learned that they could make a difference; No longer was power left to the landed gentry—it became actually possible for the working class to gain political power in the state.
            Historians also point to the rise of Otto von Bismarck in 1848—a purely conservative young voice, his credo of “Blood and Steel” which eventually undid the achievements of liberalism in 1848 Germany may have laid the groundwork for Germany of World War I and the horror of Nazi Germany of World War II.
            In terms of tectonic plates, Rapport summarizes that in 1848 we saw the tragedy of 1848 in that liberals were all too ready to sacrifice freedom to power.  The liberal emphasis on political freedom and civil liberty butted up against socialist stress on social justice, of the friction between the individual and society.

            Some in America and overseas criticize President Obama because they think he and the U.S. are not doing enough to help in places like Syria. Perhaps it is time for us to look at history-- at 1848, and perhaps 1989 and the disintegration of the Communist world, before we leap into the fray.


Here are some books and papers from The Personal Navigator:

American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1833 Fourth Annual Volume 1832 Boston, MA: Gray and Bowen; and Carter, Hendee and Co. Calendar of Celestial Phenomena for the Year; Red snow of the Alps, Showers of Dust, Meteoric Stones, Mirage, Halos, Parhelia or False Suns, Lightning Rods. Part II: Executive Government. President Andrew Jackson receives salary of $25,000 per annum. Senate: Daniel Webster was Senator from MA; John Tyler from VA, Thomas H. Benton, MO, Henry Clay, KY; John Q. Adams of Quincy, MA was Congressman; Benedict J. Semmes was Congressman from MD, James K. Polk Congressman from TN. John Marshall was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Taney was Attorney General. Bank of the United States--a bill rechartering this Bank was passed by both houses of Congress but was rejected by the President. Census shows free white population of 10.526,248, free colored of 319,599 and slaves 2,009,043. Information on each state provides interesting data on railroads constructed, under construction, and planned, and river transportation.  Section on Commonwealth of Virginia contains interesting report on Committee on Slavery  and Removal of Free Negroes, which concluded with resolution that it is currently "inexpedient to make any legislative enactments  for the abolition of slavery." Includes reports on various foreign nations, and a Chronicle of Events for Sept. 1831 to Sept. 1832. 312 pp. 12 x 19 cm. Paper covered book with 4 cm. hole burned in cover; owner name "Fannie P. Matthes" handwritten on cover. Fair. (2555) $79.00. History

Bassett: An Oration Delivered on Monday, the Fifth of July, 1824, in Commemoration of American Independence Before the Supreme Executive of the Commonwealth, and the City Council and Inhabitants of the City of Boston by Bassett, Francis 1824 Boston, MA: Wells and Lilly, Court Street. Francis Bassett (1786-1875) delivered this address in Boston on the 48th anniversary of the American Independence.  Bassett, an 1810 graduate of Harvard, was from Yarmouth, near Dennis, on Cape Cod.  He practiced law in Boston as a contemporary of Webster, served in the Massachusetts legislature for many years, and was a designated orator in the City of Boston.  In this oration on page 23 he refers to "an American Congress, the Greeks have found an advocate whose eloquence 'may give them courage and spirit, teach them that they are not wholly forgotten by the civilized world...'". And Bassett notes in handwritten mark below "Webster".  It was Webster's eloquent support for Greek independence at this time to which the orator refers.  American support for Greece became diffused later in 1824 by adoption of the Monroe Doctrine, but the support of Webster and Henry Clay, our "Great Philhellenes" is admired in Greece today.  This copy is inscribed by Mr. Bassett: "Hon. Timothy Fuller from his Obed't Servant, F. Bassett".  Fuller was another Boston orator at the time, noted for his anti-Masonic rhetoric. 24 pp. 13.8 x 21.6 cm. Disbound paper pamphlet, inscription by author on title page. Fair. (7934) $65.00. History/American

Boston: Address Made to the City Council of Boston, January 5, 1835 by Mayor Theodore Lyman, Jr. Boston, MA: John H. Eastburn, City Printer.  Report by Mayor on the state of the city of Boston; debt, new construction, Deaths 1554, many deaths by consumption, but health of population better than 10 years before; only 4 deaths from smallpox; 249 persons committed in 1834 to House of Correction, of these 165 were common drunkards, 97 were men. Great Britain ships their paupers to us. Alludes to action taken to counter the attack on the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown.
“During the last summer the habitual peace and quiet of the town were suddenly menaced to an alarming extent…. In the exceedingly inflamed state of the public mind the ordinary police of the City might not prove adequate…I considered it my duty to appeal at once... to the citizens for their aid and support.....The military also assembled with very full ranks at a minutes warning.…”  31 pp. 13 x 21 cm.  Paper booklet, staples added to spine, fair. (5529) $24.00. History/Boston/Anti-Catholic.

Canning:  Sketch of the Character of Mr. Canning. From the National Intelligencer of Sept. 15, 1827 by Rush, Richard (?) 1828 Washington, DC: Gales & Seaton. Blistering picture of Great Britain's Foreign Minister, George Canning (1770-1827) published shortly after his death, apparently written by Richard Rush, but also attributed to John Quincy Adams.  Sketch accuses Canning of "British selfishness", Toryism, undeviating support for monarchy, ridiculing popular movements. Canning was never the political friend of the U.S., writer states. "From Mr. Canning, literally nothing has been obtained -- no, never; though we have held frequent and protracted negotiations with the British Government, during his administration of the Foreign Office." 22 pp. 13 x 21 cm. Paper booklet, pencil notes on cover wrap: "Richard Rush, author". Minor foxing.  Good. (7929) $42.00. History/Great Britain

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