Friday, April 8, 2011

Beware of Democracy?

This week's Wall Street Journal offers an excellent, if troubling, interview with Bernard Lewis, arguably one of the Western World's foremost experts on the Middle East.  Lewis argues against moving too quickly to elections in the Arab world.  While the protest movement is encouraging, he cautions:
Elections, he argues, should be the culmination—not the beginning—of a gradual political process. Thus "to lay the stress all the time on elections, parliamentary Western-style elections, is a dangerous delusion."
He advocates not the bringing about of a Western style democracy but a more open, tolerant society that incorporates Arab and Muslim traditions.

Bernard Lewis has been studying the Middle East for over sixty years.  We would do well to heed his words.  He offers a number of sobering observations:
First, Tunisia has real potential for democracy, largely because of the role of women there. "Tunisia, as far as I know, is the only Muslim country that has compulsory education for girls from the beginning right through. And in which women are to be found in all the professions," says Mr. Lewis.

"My own feeling is that the greatest defect of Islam and the main reason they fell behind the West is the treatment of women," he says. He makes the powerful point that repressive homes pave the way for repressive governments. "Think of a child that grows up in a Muslim household where the mother has no rights, where she is downtrodden and subservient. That's preparation for a life of despotism and subservience. It prepares the way for an authoritarian society," he says.

Egypt is a more complicated case, Mr. Lewis says. Already the young, liberal protesters who led the revolution in Tahrir Square are being pushed aside by the military-Muslim Brotherhood complex. Hasty elections, which could come as soon as September, might sweep the Muslim Brotherhood into power. That would be "a very dangerous situation," he warns. "We should have no illusions about the Muslim Brotherhood, who they are and what they want."

And yet Western commentators seem determined to harbor such illusions. Take their treatment of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi. The highly popular, charismatic cleric has said that Hitler "managed to put [the Jews] in their place" and that the Holocaust "was divine punishment for them."

Yet following a sermon Sheikh Qaradawi delivered to more than a million in Cairo following Mubarak's ouster, New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick wrote that the cleric "struck themes of democracy and pluralism, long hallmarks of his writing and preaching." Mr. Kirkpatrick added: "Scholars who have studied his work say Sheik Qaradawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic, multiparty, civil democracy."
Professor Lewis has been here before. As the Iranian revolution was beginning in the late 1970s, the name of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was starting to appear in the Western press. "I was at Princeton and I must confess I never heard of Khomeini. Who had? So I did what one normally does in this world of mine: I went to the university library and looked up Khomeini and, sure enough, it was there."

'It" was a short book called "Islamic Government"—now known as Khomeini's Mein Kampf—available in Persian and Arabic. Mr. Lewis checked out both copies and began reading. "It became perfectly clear who he was and what his aims were. And that all of this talk at the time about [him] being a step forward and a move toward greater freedom was absolute nonsense," recalls Mr. Lewis.

"I tried to bring this to the attention of people here. The New York Times wouldn't touch it. They said 'We don't think this would interest our readers.'

And in other troubling news today's Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported:
The Palestinian Authority has just honored the terrorist mastermind responsible for the Passover Massacre, a terrorist atrocity which claimed the lives of 30 innocent Israeli citizens attending the Seder, the traditional Passover meal, at Netanya's Park Hotel on March 27, 2002.

The Palestinian Authority has chosen a bizarre and troubling way to mark the upcoming Jewish festival of Passover. Despite an often voiced Palestinian commitment to end the glorification of terrorists and incitement to violence, on March 28 Issa Karake, the Palestinian Authority Minister of Prisoners' Affairs, visited the family of Hamas suicide-bomb mastermind Abbas Al-Sayed, awarding them with an official, festive plaque, in celebration of the anniversary of the massacre.
Will democracy bring to power our enemies or friends?  I believe in democracy.  I am afraid however that I cannot always trust it.

Addendum: I failed to note that the author of this interview is Bari Weiss who is an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal.  Her thoughts and opinions are apparently interspersed throughout the interview.

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