The estimable Bernard Lewis is interviewed in the Wall Street Journal, saying that we must not expect Muslims to adopt our ideas of "democracy" and "freedom". Yet, as the Journal interviewer notes, people in Damascus nonetheless shout for "freedom".
Prof. Lewis suggests that we would be better off allowing Muslim states to develop within their own traditions of justice. It sounds right, but....
Meanwhile, in Vietnam, noted legal scholar Ca Huy Ha Vu has been sentenced to prison for asserting that the Vietnamese are entitled to freedom, too. Vietnam, of course, is not Muslim. But it is part of the world, and the people there are people. And they seem to want freedom.
It is a Western conceit, I suppose, that we think the whole world would benefit from our experience in the development of free institutions. But maybe it is is a Western conceit of another kind that other cultures are not capable of appreciating the same longings that give rise to such institutions.
Is it possible that freedom and constitutional democracy, like some version of the free market, are universal aspirations, but that it takes exposure, education and assistance to realize them fully? It surely is true that some observers of the Middle East are deluded into thinking all "rebels" are liberal, in the Western tradition. Just as false, however, would be a contention that no significant number are liberal. Surely our job, then. is to find those who are liberal, and help them.