Democracy Hypocrisy: Hitchens Fears Nexis, Not “Arab Street”

Christopher Hitchens jumps on the Democracy in the Middle East bandwagon this morning with a doggedly unresearched opinion column on Slate entitled, “The Arab Street: A Vanquished Clichƒ©.”

The point of Hitchens’s article is that President Bush’s heroic quest for Democracy in Iraq has eliminated the idea of the “Arab Street,” as it is traditionally understood — that is, an element in the Arab world that is widely and sometimes violently opposed to Western foreign policy.

“The return of politics to Iraq has had many blissful secondary consequences,” writes Hitchens, “one of them apparently minor but nonetheless, I think, important. When was the last time you heard some glib pundit employing the phrase ‘The Arab Street’? I haven’t actually done a Nexis search on this, but my strong impression is that the term has been, without any formal interment, laid to rest.”

You know, it’s important we have writers like Hitchens around to challenge journalistic norms. For instance, who needs a searchable press archive when you’re writing an article about the disappearance of a specific phrase from…the press?

Incidentally, if Hitchens had done a Nexis search, he would have seen the term remains widely in use (and not just by “glib pundits”). More importantly, he might have come across an article in last week’s Gulf News, which recaps a study by the Center for Strategic Studies and the University of Jordan. The title of that study? “Revisiting the Arab Street: Research from Within.”

The report, which, unlike Hitchens’s article, actually involves research and survey data from within the Arab world, concludes Arabs remain broadly and increasingly opposed to virtually all the things Hitchens says they are now for. “It is important to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem,” the report says. “Most specifically, attitudinal data from youth, university students, and national sample populations suggests that there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction…Improving Arab-West relations vitally depends upon changing Western, especially US, foreign policy, particularly as it relates to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war in Iraq.”