America is praised for its democracy, for freedom, for the genius of Federalist Papers, for its Constitution, for stability, for economic and military power and for many other well deserved exceptional qualities. Yet less abstract characteristics, what Alexis de Tocqueville called 'habit of mind,' may explain better its uniqueness.
|Holocaust Museum Washington DC|
America has created a vision of nation building without an nationalistic ethos. To be a French, or German, or Russian, or Polish one must carry on his or her shoulders the history, language, culture, sometimes religion, and other attributes, without which one is not considered a full member of the nation. America is different: by some magical process one becomes an American the next day after getting citizenship, and without the immediate burden of culture and history. New Americans may have taken rudimentary citizenship 101 course about George Washington, the Constitution and the Civil War, but they feel American not because of that. Furthermore, usually the new Americans are more patriotic than citizens born there.
When one becomes an American, one is accepted as he or she is. His English may be less than perfect, it doesn't matter. If his sense of humor is unconventional, perhaps perhaps we could learn something new. His clothes are different? So what? Henry Kissinger still retains traces of German accent, but nobody cares. It is hard to imagine French, or Russian Foreign Ministers with less than impeccable French or Russian accents respectively. Did Bashevitz Singer write in Yiddish? Nobody remembers. He is an American Nobel winner, isn't he? He writes about a bygone strange world. It does not matter, we can live it through reading his stories.
What is perhaps more important, America welcomes the ties of new or old Americans with their previous homelands. Those ties become somehow a pillar of American community life. In the past they used to say that a New York politician must visit the three i's: Ireland, Italy and Israel before running for an office. Because of this attitude, after the State of Israel was established, the ties of Jews to the new country seemed natural. In fact they strengthened the status of American Jews as Americans.
Even the language issue of Spanish American is more or less tolerated. Turkish commentator, who recently visited Florida, was wondering how America tolerates Spanish easily while Kurdish in Turkey is almost a sin.
When Arabs become in 'habit of mind' Americans, they reject terror and are open to any discussions which concern the Arab world. CAIR and similar organizations damage Muslims not because of their real or alleged support of human rights but because they make it harder for Muslims to become Americans.
The ability of the people of United States to accept new Americans as equals from day one is, in my mind, the most important quality of the “exceptional” America. Individuals, communities and countries around the world should learn and imitate it not as a tribute to the US, but as first rate service for their own existence.
The hard Left will benefit too from taking a rest from its usual agenda and take a hard look at what their country really is.
The European concept of nation state is quite new. Even in late Middle Age there were no modern nation states. If a Lord of the King of France decided to shift his loyalty to the King of Prussia, all inhabitants of his fief became "Germans" without much ado. The rise of nationalism in the modern age created the concept of nation state, the pioneers of which were Italy and Poland. In this sense Palestinians and almost everybody else are "invented" nations.
The idea of nation state maintained that nation was, or should have been the dominant social structure of the community, more important than any other such structure. The nation was was somehow vaguely defined by ethnicity, language, religion and territory. Since in all countries there were minorities which didn't fit into definition of the "nation," minorities became a key negative factor in defining nationalism. They were the "other," without which nation was, in fact, impossible. They were "not us," and thus a subject of prejudice and hate. There was strong affinity between nationalism and fascism. Most of the new nation states established after the First World War had strong fascistic tendencies.
The Arab states came into being by strokes of pen of imperialist powers, which defined rather arbitrarily borders according to power politics of France, Britain and to lesser extent Germany and Russia, and according to internal politics of the pretending dictators, monarchs and other rulers. Those states didn't reflect the social structures that mattered to people more than the the artificial states: tribes, religious sects and territorial loyalties. The new Arab states had fascist tendencies because other states had them too, and because such tendencies made life easier for the semi-independent rulers. Furthermore, political parties established at the beginning of the last century in the Arab world, be it the religious Muslim Brothers or the secular Ba'ath looked at fascist Germany and Italy as inspiring models.
The ever simplistic orientalist view of the West presumes that Arab states are God created structures and that "free election" will bring democracy and prosperity, following which there will be a happy beach party. Without preexisting democracy free elections are meaningless. In fact the worst totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century, came about by "free election."
Arabs will have to find by themselves the social and territorial structure. In doing that they should rely to their own culture and history and observe critically the world around. Examining the success of the United States may give them some clues as to why Unites Arab States could become the future success of world history.