Thursday, August 12, 2004
Democracy and the Arab world
There's an excellent piece entitled, "A Marine's Role in the End of History", on the American Thinker by Nathan Hale. discusses, in a personal way, the role of an fighting a war brought on by OBL's perversion of religion and the place in history that awaits a single marine with whom he's acquainted. I read it twice-- it's that thoughtful.
By the way, check out The Commons. Lots of good ideas, thoughts and they even have their own Nathan Hale and a slew of other good minds.
With growing regularity, Arab media and intellectuals are taking the position that democracy isn't a fit for the Arab and Muslim world. We are told that we in the west simply don't understand the Arab mindset and that our values are incompatible with theirs-- hence the resistance to our efforts in the region-- that somehow, democracy would be an 'imposition' on Arabs. Of course, Saddam was an evil, they all piously concur, but it is an evil of a different sort to attempt to instill democratic values in an Arab country.
These Arab anti war, anti American voices all seem to share the same three arguments. On the face of it, there are merits to the arguments. In reality of course, the assertions are patently immature and serve only an anti Ameriacn agenda. Here are the arguments and answers.
Americans and western democracies value personal liberties, while Arabs sacrifice individual freedoms in favor of the collective identity of their religious, family, tribal, ethnic or national groupings.
Personal liberties are a by-product of the collective freedoms enjoyed by Americans and other democratic countries. It is precisely because of that fact that elections are held on a regular basis and there is an orderly transfer of power, that personal liberties are held sacred. The values and liberties of the state are not lost on the individual. They are the foundation of his/her freedoms. It is the tribal loyalties that serve as the foundation of autocratic regimes the world over and it is tribal loyalties that guarantee the exclusion of liberties to those of unacceptable or untrusted groups. It is tribal loyalties that allow for the subjugation of one group by another, without fear of accountability.
The next argument is that Americans seperate church and state, while Arab societies are structured so that even their public lives are predicated on the basis of unchanging explicit religious values and dictates.
That is the example of America. However, there are countries where religion is a leading, if not integral role in democracy. Indonesia and Malaysia are examples of Islamic-influenced countries, while Poland, Ireland and much of Eastern Europe are examples of distinctly Catholic societies. India is unmistakably Hindu. Why can democracy work in those countries and not in the Arab world? There is nothing about Islam, either cultural or religious, that is anathema to the ideals of a free society. Islamists will say they are graced with the 'answer' and justification for beliefs that we in the west find abhorrent. They say it is their faith that precludes democracy. In point of fact, faith, even in Islam, takes into account free will- and thus faith is not defined as a passive and non adaptive acceptance of serene understanding. Faith is having the humility to choose to accept God, despite the doubts, struggles and unknowns. A part of faith is the adaptation to the world we live in and a comittment to making it a better place for all, not just a few and not just to serve a political agenda. Islamists know this-- but it doesn't serve their political agenda.
Lastly, They argue that the legacy of US support for autocratic and dictatorial Arab regimes has only served US interests - 'and the sudden American desire for reform of Arab regimes when this is seen to be the way to stop terror from the Middle East', as one Arab writer said. Most Arabs view American relations with Arab regimes as no more than politically transparent and self serving. Hypocrisy, they say- blatant hypocracy. The argument concludes that Americans foreign policy in the Middle East serves only US national interests.
It is true. The US has and continues to support regimes that are less than ideal. What critics of the US fail to note is that there are no alternatives. The US (and the rest of the Western democracies) would be delighted to support credible alternatives. The problem is there aren't any. There doesn't seem to be the will. Before the Iraq war, millions took to the street in support of former president Saddam Hussein. What conclusions should Americans draw? After the wall came down in Eastern Europe, the groundswell demand for freedom was electrifying. There is no such reaction in the Arab world. In fact, it is just the opposite. An opportunity presents itself for at least one Arab country, rid of a despicable, evil dictator to assert the highest ideals and yet throughout the region, the liberators are reviled and "foreign fighters" are sabotaging every effort to improve the lives of Iraqis and beheading even relief workers.
All the while, everything that's wrong is America's fault. Given the realities in the region, why shouldn't the US conduct its foreign policy in a way conducive to our national interests? There is no reason that the US should be exempt from what is the responsibility of every nation-- to behave in the best interests of its citizens.
Many Arabs and Muslims have been indoctrinated and manipulated to fear that their fundamental values and culture are a target of US (and Israeli) policies. The reality is that democracies don't care what religion you are or how you celebrate your heritage. Freedoms exist in democracies that can't even be imagined in most Muslim or Arab countries. Western democracies don't challenge Arab values and culture. Those challenges come from within. What America really wants is to bridge the gap between Arabs and the Western world through the system of shared values democracy and freedom bring.
It is shared values and not shared interests that define democracies. France, Germany, et al, do not share our politics du jour. Be that as it may, despite bitter infighting and harsh rhetoric, does anyone really believe that we would go to war over our differences? Of course not. Democracies don't wage war against each other. It's that simple. Our interests at the moment may differ, but our values, i.e., liberty, freedom, etc. our shared. In the end, we're all on the same page.
Now, what was it that the Arab world has a problem with as it relates to democracy?