Friday, February 02, 2007

"Democracy" and Other Blunt Objects

Andrew Sullivan engages in a bit of oversimplification today:
"But here's the thing: the same neocons who persuaded me that Arab culture was simply impossible when it came to the Palestinians were the same ones who reassured me that Iraq would become a democracy easily, that sectarian divisions were not that deep, that not all Arab societies are politically dysfunctional, and so on. So which is it? Are the Arabs just desperate for democracy? Or are they doomed never to experience or even want it? I wish they'd make up their minds."
Oh dear. Here we have the problem of using two fairly blunt terms in a nuanced situation. What is the situation here with "the Arabs" and "democracy" in the Middle East? Too often we in the West have used the word "democracy" when we've really wanted to say "pro-Western" or something to that effect. Democratic elections in the Middle East hold, in many places, the possibility of electing profoundly anti-Western leaders.

Hamas won free and open elections in the occupied territories, the Muslim Brotherhood would probably do the same in Egypt if Western-puppet and dictator, Hosni Mubarak would let them run. The West has a very paradoxical view of democracy among Arab states. Many of them have authoritarian leaders that are either sympathetic to the West or at least not openly hostile. In the short term, that would be lost in a number of countries if the people were given the opportunity to vote in wide open elections.

The reality is that many Arab states may well suffer from a great deal of political dysfunction (for a variety of complex historical reasons involving colonialism and cold-war remnants).That does not mean, however, that the masses in these places do not desire self-determination.