The Magazine

Will bloggers liberate the Middle East?

Oct 7, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 04 • By EVE TUSHNET
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Such alternatives are crucially important, but they need to be matched with sites that do for political philosophy what the Islamic blogs do for religion. The middle class, the people who are reading and starting blogs, are essential to liberal reform. Because we are fighting not an army but an ideology--not one specific state or an open alliance, but a covert network and a tyrannical tendency--the United States has been talking in terms of "regime change" across an entire region. And as G.K. Chesterton put it, "You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution." Before a "regime change" (whether from without or, much better, from within) can succeed, there must be a core of people who have some of the habits of freedom, including experience with free expression, and at least a mild sympathy for America. Otherwise, "regime change" just replaces one master with another. Persuasion and cultural interpenetration--through foreign trade, through entrepreneurial-assistance groups, and definitely through the Internet--are a major part of the long-term struggle.

Ordinary American citizens are doing interesting things online to encourage the attitudes that promote liberal reform, and we could be doing even more. One possibility is simply to create websites where people can talk about their own understandings of, and appreciation for, liberal democracy. These sites should not be government-run: Government sites are likely to be stilted or propagandistic. Even more important, blogging's great strength is its grass-roots origin; it's about people creating something that they own and control. What better way to promote a desire for free expression and self-ownership than to do it ourselves?

Why not start a site where immigrants talk about what America means to them? Sites could also be dedicated to immigrants from specific countries--country-specific sites get lots of links, since people are naturally interested in what pertains to them most directly. Many bloggers are excited to find other bloggers in or from their own nation. Country-specific news and opinion sites, from a reformist perspective sympathetic to America, are also needed. Although there are some fun sites of this type by and for American immigrant communities (like Iran Today), there aren't many aimed at people still within Islamic nations.

Bloggers in Islamic countries are slowly building communities and changing people's minds about what is possible. That may not be as dramatic as an exploding cave, but it's equally necessary for long-term liberalization in the Middle East.

Eve Tushnet is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C., and writes a weblog at