Letters to the Editor – Weekly Issue of March 14, 2011
Readers write in about the Internet's transformation of our physical spaces and US-Arab trust issues as an impediment to American involvement in democratic reforms in the Middle East.
Will Web really change cities?
Bill Davidow's Feb. 28 commentary, "The Internet is about to change our physical world," overstates the power of the Internet to unleash a construction boom and redesign cities.
While nearly everyone in America uses a computer, we are not yet computers ourselves. Mr. Davidow sees Americans' lives completely driven by work and productivity. But this isn't the whole picture.
Increased productivity due to Internet advances may lead to people driving nicer cars, not everyone moving to walking-friendly cities. More working from home may actually lead people to move to more-isolated areas as they no longer need to access offices in population-heavy locations.
This article also ignores the community aspect of working at an office. People form communities in order to spread ideas. While these ideas may be spread over the Internet, they do not hold the same value as they do when discussed face to face.
Take the revolution in Egypt, for example. While protests were formed in part due to Twitter and Facebook, the revolution would not have succeeded if the protesters were not on the streets asserting their beliefs together. There is an integral aspect to interacting in a "real" community that leads to creativity and productivity.
US-Arab trust issues
In his Feb. 28 commentary, "Time is ripe for a single, Arab-wide bill of rights," Grégoire Mallard points to post-World War II Western Europe as a successful American effort to help ensure democracy's return to that region – an effort that should now be applied to helping Arab countries. But there is a key difference between the US relationship with postwar Europe and its relationship with today's Arab world.
Western Europe trusted the United States because the US had just liberated it from one of the worst tyrannies in history. At one time, most of the region's countries had democracies and democratic institutions. They just needed to be restored.
Nations in the Middle East, with few exceptions, have no democratic traditions. Those institutions will have to be built from scratch, which will take time. But that's not the problem. Trust is the problem.
This lack of trust stems from US foreign policy since World War II, when, to defeat the Nazis, FDR allied the US with one of the most brutal dictators in history (Stalin). Unfortunately, that mind-set continued. During the cold war, we allied ourselves with various autocrats simply because they were anticommunist. Today we ally ourselves with autocrats because they are antiterrorist or antiradical Muslim. This type of foreign policy cannot be morally sustained. Eventually it will break down, and no one will trust us.