How to Change a Constitution
Last night I watched the Daily Show, and King Abdullah of Jordan was the guest (watch the episode here). In addition to being incredibly well spoken (Deerfield and Oxford educated) the King presented some ideas that were totally new to me. I found myself thinking about his assessment that the constitutional monarchies of the Middle East are doing better than the republics. His point was that a monarchy can rewrite the constitution to help transitions, while in a republic they must first toss out a government, rebuild a new one one, and then get to work re-writing the constitution. Then hold real elections. There are so many opportunities for failure in this process.
In Thomas Friedman’s NYTimes op-ed “Backlash to the Backlash” he quotes Muslim journalists in the Middle East addressing the hypocritical nature of anti-Western anger. In essence, Friedman suggests that a progressive take on Islam and cultural self-reflection is the way forward. As the images of homemade “RIP Chris Stevens” signs streamed out of Benghazi the day after his murder, I found myself contemplating the role of moderates during turmoil. Moderates are pretty quiet until they have to speak or act. Many may be scared of the direction of the Arab Spring if the extremists lead change, while also afraid to stick their own neck out (totally reasonable).
What is to keep extremists from taking complete control? What keeps the Tea Party from a majority steak in the USA? (this is not a direct comparison, relax dear reader). Well, in the USA we have a mechanism composed of free speech, satire, and reasonable alternatives that allows for the expression and eventual (metaphorical) disarming of explosive extremist groups. I believe the Arab world is in the process of building these mechanisms. It comes from a mix of some democratic ideas, and a real belief that the people are responsible for the direction of a nation or culture. In ten years, I hope to see moderate political parties in power, including people with the intellect to balance economic situation.
To quote my favorite band from high school, Bloc Party: “If it can be touched, then it can be turned“. This is what the Arab world is realizing. The people have control over something. That ‘something’ varies greatly from nation to nation, but there is a handhold to rise from in every country despite very real obstacles. If the people can access the inner workings of government and see what’s happening, then the people can make change.
I don’t believe that technology can cause a popular revolution. Twitter did not cause the Arab spring. But the feeling that others are listening, that the distance between the top and the bottom can be jumped with a tweet is one of the most important products of technological connectedness. The reason Twitter caught on in the USA is exactly that same feeling; a lakers fan can have a direct connection to Kobe, and Steve Nash. Accessibility is the motor driving stardom. This same motor can propel more significant change, like the rise of accountability and transparency in government.
These are my quick thoughts in response to a conversation with a friend, not well researched, and certainly not “well informed.” Perhaps it’s naive to think that improvement is inevitable, particularity with nuclear Iran looming and no real solution for the Israeli-Palistine fracas. But why not hope, and take this opportunity to reflect on the role of moderates to make change all over the world.