12 februari 2006

Real Democracy is based on elections AND satire (The Flemish Beerdrinker)

Ruel Marc Gerecht observes that the United States is trying to win over the hearts and minds of the Muslims these days. So generally the American press remains quiet over those Danish cartoons - althougt there are exceptions - while the U.S. government says that freedom of speech cannot be understood as the right to insult or show disrepect towards religion. And former president Clinton, being in Qatar, has called the cartoons "totally outragous". Gerecht, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-thank, however writes that this appeasement not only is futile but also dangerous. It’s a delusion:

It is possible that Muslims living outside the Middle East will have a substantial role to play in revivifying Islamic civilization--in shedding some light on the convulsive path that one may still hope will lead from dysfunctional dictatorship through bin Ladenism to more peacefully self-critical, democratic societies. If Westerners appease Muslims who countenance violent intimidation, we are doing a terrible injustice to the liberal and progressive Muslims among us, who really would like to live in lands where people can say about the Prophet Muhammad what they have said about Jesus, Mary, and Moses.We are in effect selling out moderate Islam to those regimes who now take advantage over the row about those cartoons.

Gerecht could have highlighted more the role of Saudi-Arabia in my view, but there are of course the usual suspects Syria and Iran:

Damascus and Tehran, more closely allied than ever before, are under pressure from the West for their terrorist and nuclear ambitions, respectively. Both have responded by inciting demonstrations in Lebanon and Syria. It is a bizarre spectacle to observe the heretical Shiite-Alawite Baathist regime in Damascus--which has in the past been on the cutting edge of anti-Islamic pan-Arab nationalist propaganda and slaughtering thousands in the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood--now defend the Prophet Muhammad from Danish despoliation. Tehran has probably also been behind the demonstrations in Iraq. And the government-controlled media throughout the region, especially in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have not been helpful. As the French scholar Olivier Roy acutely noted in Le Monde, Europe is now in the cross hairs of many Middle Eastern governments for its more activist role in the region since the invasion of Iraq. The French, British, and Germans have taken the lead in trying to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. France has sided with the United States against Syria in Lebanon. Most of Europe under the umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is now in Afghanistan, increasingly in combat roles against Taliban insurgents and the holy warriors of al Qaeda. And however timidly, Europe has joined the United States in calling for more open political systems in the Muslim Middle East. Democracy is an ugly word to most of the region’s rulers. With official encouragement, anti-Europeanism is bound to rise throughout the area. Muslim autocrats, in conjunction with European and Middle Eastern Muslim militants, are likely to interfere increasingly in Europe’s internal affairs to create fear and a more hesitant European community.

In short Denmark is not being punished for the publishing of insulting cartoons by the media. It’s the target because it’s a European country and Europe is in the view of muslim radicals becoming too much involved in fighting terrorism and bringing democracy in the Middle-East. Not only anti-americanism, but also anti-Europeanism is on the rise. Denmark is just singled out as an unlucky symbol. What do to? Not giving in is obviously the answer. We are right. Democracy is the answer for the Arab and Muslim world. Ruel Gerecht says why:

Correctly understood, anti-Americanism (or anti-Westernism in general, IJ) when it accompanies the loosening of political controls in the Middle East is a sign that the status quo that gave us bin Ladenism and 9/11--the perverse marriage of autocracy and Islamic extremism--is coming apart. Under dictatorship, Muslims cannot evolve politically. They will not be able to confront the "baggage" that all Middle Eastern Muslims have with the West, especially the United States, and come to a livable consensus on how they are going to absorb Western ideas, influence, and money. Even in Iran, where the bankruptcy of a virulently anti-American clerical dictatorship has done wonders for the democratic ethic and the prestige of the United States, a functioning democracy is probably the only way the Iranian people will find a sustainable, peaceful modus vivendi with their complicated love-hate for America. It is democracy, not dictatorship, that can best take Muslims through the difficult religious reformation that is well under way among both Shiites and Sunnis. Like Christendom before it, the Muslim Middle East will have to work out its relation to modernity. The faster democracy arrives, the sooner the debates about God and man can begin in earnest. It will probably be for both Muslims and Westerners a nerve-racking experience. But we have no choice, since continuing autocracy will only make the militants’ message stronger and judgment day, as in Iran, a possibly bloody revolutionary event. The electoral victory of Hamas should not give us pause. It should give us hope and encourage us to push for real elections where our national interest stands to gain the most--in Egypt and Iran. We should also not neglect to defend vigorously Christian, Muslim, or Jewish satirists, be they clever, banal, or ugly, wherever they may be found. Both elections and satire are basic to the evolution of the Muslim world.

The best description of democracy I read in years: the right to vote, and the right to make fun of ... (fill in the blanks yourself). But we have a difficult task ahead: not only do we have to convince muslims of this (they really should show more sense of humor), but many of our own leaders aswell.

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