Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Opinionator: A blog at the NY Times

Yesterday we were told that Mohammad Zahir Shah, the last (so far as we know) king of Afghanistan, died in Kabul, and most obituaries paint him as a well-meaning if ineffectual old man. James S. Robbins at National Review Online sees him as something altogether different — a model, of the Platonic sort:

How many people now captive in Middle Eastern dictatorships would rather be living under the enlightened rule of someone like King Abdullah II of Jordan, or Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the emir of Dubai? Or King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, or Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, emir of Qatar? These countries enjoy relative peace and sometimes dazzling prosperity, Dubai in particular. Their societies are comparatively tolerant, and Western-oriented. Of course not all monarchies are so praiseworthy, but when stacked up against post-Pahlavi Iran or Syria under the Assads, we really have to reconsider the traditional definition of political development. Zahir Shah may not have been the most dynamic king, but a gentle, kindly monarch and his mildly corrupt relatives are better guardians of liberty than nationalistic dictators or stern-eyed mullahs, each with interchangeable secret police and mechanisms of oppression.