Second, every Arab ruler, from colonels to monarchs, now knows something new: fear. The political theory they have offered since Nasser -- nationalism without freedom -- has produced backward economies, corrupt elites and angry citizens. Leaders are waking to find themselves in a besieged palace or boarding a plane for exile. Even in the absence of a working democracy, this is a form of accountability. It is a good thing for a government to fear the governed.
With exquisite timing, some conservatives have chosen this moment to expand their critique of Islam, discerning (like Glenn Beck) the first signs of the coming global caliphate. Is Islam compatible with democracy? "It is not," says Andrew McCarthy, "it never has been, and it never will be." Violence and coercion, he argues, are essential to Islam. The intensity of this view seems to increase as evidence for it is contradicted.
Never mind that practitioners of every religion with roots in ancient and medieval cultural practice must confront and marginalize disturbing aspects of their own traditions. Never mind that Islam takes vastly different theological forms in Saudi Arabia, Albania, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Never mind that since 9/11, America has found Muslim allies willing to die at our side in the fight against Islamic radicalism. Just to demonstrate some connection to reality, perhaps conservatives should delay their criticisms of Islam's irredeemable violence until after the inspiring, courageous, mainly peaceful protests of Muslims in the Middle East draw to a close.
For some conservatives, liberty is only found in their private stock, aged in Anglo-Saxon cellars, to be sipped and savored at their leisure. But much of the world, it turns out, is thirsty and cares little about the vintage. Perhaps it is natural for a revolutionary power to grow old and cautious, producing thinkers who prefer stability to idealism. But it is sad. Americans such as Lincoln, FDR and Reagan did not believe in the existence of permanent tyranny because they did not accept the possibility of permanent servitude. Eventually the mind and soul of man revolt. As some are perpetually surprised to witness.