CTheory: The Arab Spring: The Contradictions of Obama’s Charismatic Liberalism

~Arthur Kroker~
The tripartite character of Obama’s charismatic liberalism — his remixing of the potentially potent themes of salvation, security, and freedom into a compelling vision of global politics — is what both differentiates Obama’s liberalism from received interpretations of liberal theory as well as from conservative estimates of religion and politics.

Suddenly the Arab Spring is upon us. Courageous citizens of autocratic societies — Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen — take to the streets in active dissent against the politics of tyranny and in defense of that most seemingly elusive of all political regimes, the right of individuals to assemble without fear of reprisals, to speak without danger of imprisonment, to dissent without the terror of violence, to vote for a future that is distinguishable from the past. While the spring of 1989 marked the eclipse of Soviet domination of Eastern and Central Europe, the spring of 2011 marks the beginning of a resurgent Arab politics formulated from the hard historical matter of poverty, unemployment, oppression, and inequality. While contemporary western governments have closed their collective eyes to popular Arab demands for social justice in favor of the bunker archeology of the “War on Terrorism,” the irrepressible human demands, the Arab demands, for real solutions to mass poverty, innovative strategies for employment, political redress against the politics of oppression, and the most basic rights to equality will not be silenced. While western culture has celebrated the technological futurism of network society, another global network has silently, irresistibly formed, a network of bodies that, from the cynical perspective of empire politics, do not count — a network of Egyptian bodies, Afghan bodies, Iraqi bodies, Iranian bodies making that most fundamental of all human demands, the right to full democratic inclusion. For the centers of real power, for the masters of the abstract geo-strategic logic of empire, for the logic of the West, the uprising that is the Arab Spring creates an immediate credibility crisis. This is nowhere more evident than in the halls of power in Washington where the Arab Spring instantly exposes the major fault lines in American liberalism generally, and in the charismatic liberalism of Barrack Obama specifically. In this most promising of political upsurges, in this most immediate of political crises, which side of the American liberal story will prevail: its grisly illiberal side marked in the past as in the present by unwavering American support for oppressive regimes in Algeria and Egypt as core military satraps of the US National Security Strategy as mapped out by the Pentagon’s AFRICOM as well as convenient designations for the forsaken bodies of rendition; or its genuinely liberal side represented in all its idealism, complexity and charisma by Obama’s recent speech in Cairo.

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