Monday, January 31, 2005

The Iraq Election

I don't mean to be a wet blanket--yesterday's election in Iraq is really nothing but wonderful news. The turnout and relatively low level of violence marks a real victory for the people of Iraq, for the American, British, and other coalition military people who have midwifed the rebirth of a nation, and for President Bush and his administration which has persevered, often in the face of harsh criticism and even sometimes of contradictory evidence.

Here's the wet blanket part: Over the weekend, a number of happy television analysts decried the foolishness of those who worry that certain cultures may not be 100 percent compatible with democracy. This election, they contended, is proof of democracy's universal appeal.

But what concerns me isn't that an Arab Muslim country can't hold democratic elections--it's that their democratically expressed choices may not, over time, tend to advance the causes of freedom and liberty. I would point to Susan Glasser's important February 2003 article in the Washington Post about Kuwait's semi-abortive attempt at democracy. As I summed up the Glasser article at the time:
Kuwait is among the wealthiest and most liberal Middle Eastern states, with a free press and what Glasser calls a "thriving civil society." When the United States liberated Kuwait in 1991, the ruling family promised to revive the National Assembly and give women the right to vote.

Twelve years later, women still can't vote and the parliament has limited influence over the emir--but this last might be a good thing, since the elected parliament is dominated by Islamic fundamentalists with sympathies for Yasser Arafat and Osama bin Laden. And, as Abdul Razak Shuyji, one of the Islamic fundamentalist leaders, observes, "Whenever there is true democracy, the Islamists will prevail."

Important, if true. In "liberal" Kuwait, women cannot go to college with men and are not welcome in the political salons. Only Muslims can be citizens (even non-Muslims born there are denied citizenship). The democratically elected Islamic fundamentalists would like to deepen this segregation and put more distance between Kuwait and the West. Saud Nasir Sabah, the Kuwaiti oil minister, says that the fundamentalists "do not welcome any further U.S. or Western investment in the country."

We should all rejoice in the success of the new Iraq's first Election Day. But on the issue of whether or not Islam, as practiced in the Middle East, is compatible with democracy, the jury is still out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is Turkey in the Middle East? I know Turk are not Arabs, but as to the "issue of whether or not Islam, as practiced in the Middle East, is compatible with democracy," the Turks might have something instructive to say.

Heck, the party in power now is even an ISLAMIST party. But never mind. Guess we'll have to liberate the whole place before we can find out...