Has the Muslim and Arab Spring been dangerously deflected, its brief moment of democratic hopefulness hijacked by the hard men of power? Observing the bloody events in Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen, not to mention the crackdowns in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, many have drawn just that conclusion. Even in Egypt, where a dictator was successfully toppled and elated citizens flocked to vote in a national referendum, the future seems, at best, up for grabs.
All this has reinforced the worries of those in Israel and the West who warned from the start that little good was likely to come from the popular rebellions rocking the Arab and Muslim world, that they might be followed by long-term chaos and anarchy or by regimes even more repressive and dangerous than those now on or over the edge of collapse.
But not so fast. No movement toward freedom has succeeded in the blink of an eye, absent a struggle, or without periods when all has seemed lost. In the case of this latest movement, not only has its work barely begun, but it is up against a formidable combination of odds. That is why the next phases are so crucial—and why in my view the nations of the free world must, without delay, seize the moment to lend a hand.
What sort of hand, and how? Here a little history is in order.
For decades, the policy of the free world toward the Arab and Muslim Middle East was based on a simple principle: The overriding aim was stability, purchased by deals struck with leaders. That the leaders in question were autocrats of one stripe or another mattered little; neither did the cruelty and rank corruption endemic to their rule. To the contrary, tyranny was seen as the guarantor of stability, just as corruption guaranteed that the regimes' friendship could be bought.
For all those who have nourished an intense if unspoken yearning to experience a Passover seder with veteran news stars Steve and Cokie Roberts, your long wait is finally over: March 2011 has brought us Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families. Promotional materials from HarperCollins promise “a unique, personalized vision of the traditional Passover Haggadah, combining their own family traditions with favorites from other families in a fun, intimate guide” that will leave readers “enthralled by this glimpse into the couple’s inclusive Passover rituals.”
Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs “Cokie” Roberts remains a proud Roman Catholic and so, despite her enviable career as a broadcast journalist for ABC and NPR, she might not constitute the most obvious choice to reformulate the ancient liturgy of the festival most firmly associated with the emergence of the Jewish people as a distinctive nation with a unique godly calling. Her husband, Steven V. Roberts, has written about growing up in an Eastern European Jewish family in New Jersey (My Fathers’ Houses, 2005) and then making his way to Harvard, the New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, and the faculty of George Washington University, but he has never emphasized religious scholarship or commitment in his work. To lend an air of traditionalism and authenticity to their new venture, Cokie and Steve launched their Our Haggadah book tour at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on Orchard Street, apparently ignoring the likelihood that the impoverished, fiercely Jewish immigrant masses who made that gritty neighborhood their portal to America would have lacked both the inclination and the funds to shell out 20 bucks to purchase a “fun, intimate” interfaith Haggadah.