Across the Bay

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Democracies: Potential and Absent

(I started this on Sunday, but never had the chance to finish it)

In his op-ed today, Tom Friedman compared the actions of the "silent majorities" in Iraq and Israel against the "tyranny of the minority" exemplified by the settlers and Moqtada as-Sadr.

He pointed that Israelis refused to be taken hostage by the actions of "messianic" settlers by taking to the streets, and compared that to the admittedly smaller scale demonstration by Shiites in southern Iraq against the doomed and dangerous rejectionism of Moqtada's Mahdi Army. He further hope that this would be a preview of things to come in Iraq, rather than a one-time affair.

It's stunning that now Friedman is calling for an empowerment of the people (Shiites, mind you) while at the same time adopting views of CIA officials and Colin Powell. The former wants a withdrawal of US troops, and the latter seeks stability provided by a central government supported by neighboring (Sunni-majority) countries (Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) who would have a say in its affairs, ostensibly to the detriment of Kurds and Shiites (and that wouldn't be the first time Colin Powell contributed to the selling out of Kurds and Shiites in Iraq)! He further believes that the future reforms of the ME lie in the hands of those very same autocratic regimes! Now that's pro-Arab!

Take for instance this quote from an op-ed by Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post:

""It is impossible for Iraq to be ruled by the Shiites," a political adviser to a ruling Arab monarch said recently in a not-for-attribution setting that encouraged unusual candor. "Sunnis make up 85 percent of the population of the Arab world. How could it be democratic" for a national Shiite majority to rule an Arab country? That is the key issue for King Abdullah of Jordan, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and other Sunni autocrats."

I repeat my conviction that the Iraqi Shiites and Kurds will not sit still and see what may be their only chance in this lifetime be pulled from underneath them. The Iraqis are already working the politics of compromise among themselves which is the backbone of consociational democracies.

Furthermore, as Adeed Dawisha pointed out, the US reactions to the Abu Ghraib scandal will indeed have shown a prime example of the rule of laws and institutions in a democracy, for all Iraqis to see.

But there is a point here about Israel that I would like to make. It's really more about the Arabs actually. The paradox and schizophrenia of the Arabs is best illustrated in how they at once call Israel "illegitimate" and attempt to treat it as a non-entity (by using language tricks like "the Zionist entity" etc.) while at the same time urging the Israeli people to hold its leaders accountable. I.e., banking on the functioning of the Israeli democracy, and its accomplishing of something that no Arab people can accomplish in their own states, which is to hold a leader accountable! Such is the extent of the disconnect between rhetoric and reality in the Arab world.

The Iraqis on the other have a chance to break away from this schizophrenia. The confusion of Tom Friedman and his swing towards a DoS/CIA position (the very same people whose ideology of appeasment and containment he opposed in the run up to the war) notwithstanding, the Iraqis themselves are not going to let this one get by so easily, just because the UN, Powell, and Arab despots say so.