David Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel, has an excellent introspective blog post up today reflecting on how the recent events reshaping the Middle East seems to debunk the “great man theory” – the idea that "one man of great vision and talent can pull his nation out of its natural orbit and set it on a new and very different course."
Examining the roles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, and former Egyptian President Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat, Brog suggests that unless a nation's underlying culture also changes, such influential figures' historical impact will be seriously limited:
Historians have long debated the role that any one individual can play in changing the course of history. Some support the “great man theory” – the idea that one man of great vision and talent can pull his nation out of its natural orbit and set it on a new and very different course. Others argue that culture is destiny. Yes, a leader can step forward and make a bold gesture. But unless he brings his people along with him, the culture will ultimately wipe out that leader’s initiatives as certainly as the ocean envelopes and erases a sand castle.
Tragically, news from the Middle East this month has done much to debunk the great man theory. We are witnessing historic challenges to the legacies of two great men. And in the process, Israel finds itself thrust backwards in time to a more dangerous era. For Israel, September has been a most cruel month. And it’s not even half-way over.
Egypt’s former President, Anwar Sadat, is often cited as an example of the great man theory in action. Back in 1977, Sadat decided to end Egypt’s state of war with Israel. In a gesture of history-changing proportions, he boarded a plane, flew to Jerusalem, and proposed peace directly to Israel’s Parliament. When Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords in 1979, Egypt went from Israel’s most threatening enemy to its first Arab friend. And while the peace that emerged was far colder than the Israelis had hoped, it was still peace. Until recent weeks, Israel’s border with Egypt had been a perfectly quiet one.
But while Sadat and his successor, Hosni Mubarak, changed history, they never changed Egypt’s underlying culture. While they made and maintained the cold peace, they allowed their media and schools to continue to teach hatred of Israel and Jews. And now this culture is devouring their legacy. The culture – in the form of a Jihadist assassin — killed Sadat. And now the culture – in the form of a violent mob — has destroyed the greatest physical manifestation of Sadat’s peace: Israel’s Embassy in Cairo. Can the document long survive when its symbols are so defiled?