“The Fires of Spring” is a book about the Middle East that is part analysis and part travelogue through Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Tunisia.
The book is worth reading because it is a snapshot in time that gives a sense of history and also where we are today. But, when I read further into it than I probably should, I get a little concerned about the future of the United States.
Shelly Culbertson, the author, interviews Egyptian Diplomat Nabil Fahmy. He says that one of the great things about the United Stats is that its institutions are self-correcting.
“I lived in America during 9/11 and also when the U.S. went into Iraq. There is a laundry list of when U.S. institutions went overboard. But the strength of your system is that you came out yourselves and said that this is unacceptable — we need to change this,” Fahmy said.
He also said that U.S. did well because when one group lost an election it lost its influence in the government, but not its rights. He said Egypt needed to cultivate a more pluralistic approach.
“You need also to cultivate a political ethic where people of a different point of view not only express their opinion but also accept the role of other opinions,” Fahmy said.
Culbertson reflects on this in a particular context and writes:
“But I wondered now if Egypt’s Islamists were left out, with their identity taken from them. A sustainable system, in which people (both secularists and Islamists) thought they could make their voice heard without resorting to violence, would depend on including both.”
My worry is that we in the United States are losing our political ethic where people accept the role of other opinions. Everything has been ratcheted up to a place where shouting, assuming the worse, and believing people on the other side are villains, rather than other people that we disagree with.
It is worse than the fans of sports teams. They at least can admit when one of their players makes a boneheaded move or a bad play. Sports fans will critique their teams’ coaches and management. In politics, it seems that there is no room to admit that your guy made a mistake, or that anything the other side does or even thinks could be good.
Perhaps it was always a fiction, but people used to be proud of saying that they voted for the candidate rather than the party. Now, it seems to be the opposite, people seem to think that voting for someone from the other party would be the ultimate betrayal of their moral fiber.
I worry that we are going to get to a place where the United States is full of irreconcilable differences. I don’t think it has to be that way, but we do need a change in our national conversation. Somehow we need to educate ourselves so that we slow down, think first, and stop engaging in outrage as our favorite sport.
I am not the first to think this. Jon Stewart tried to get people to calm down, but it was seen as a collection of laugh lines. I guess that is why we are here today.