2003 January 21 Tuesday
Democracy Requires A Supporting Set Of Beliefs

Fawaz A. Gerges says there can't be democracy without democrats.

Anti-Americanism in the Arab world has become a tool used by all political factions handicapping its politics and slowing any move toward democracy.

Clearly there is a general misunderstanding of the potential US role in furthering democracy among Arabs and Muslims as well as of the required conditions for it. On the one hand, Muslim liberals believe that the US possesses a magic wand that can easily open Muslim eyes to democratic paradise. On the other hand, Islamists and leftists more or less subscribe to a conspiracy theory holding Washington mainly responsible for the absence of democracy in the Arab world. Both positions indirectly imply that Arabs and Muslims aren't to blame for the dismal political and economic situation in which they live - that it's the fault of the US.

Neither the US nor any external power can do the work for Arabs and Muslims by exporting a well-tailored democratic model. Democracy can't be offered on a silver platter - nor can it be achieved without democrats.

Many of America's critics on the Left along with many in the Muslim countries hold that there is not democracy in the Muslim countries because America has prevented it from developing. The easiest way to refute that theory is to look at the Muslim countries that do not have a history of alliance with the United States (e.g. Syria, Algeria, Tunisia) or which used to ally with the US and which broke away (e.g. Iran) and ask whether countries with which the US was not involved became any more democratic than the rest. The countries which have not had close relations with America are just as undemocratic as those which have various forms of American involvement. Given that Muslim majority countries have such a wide range of relations (or lack thereof) with the United States and that they all have little or no democracy and little of the political culture that supports a democracy its hard to argue that the United States is the cause of this lack of democracy and lack of freedom.

The tendency to blame America for the lack of democracy in some parts of the world is part of a larger problem with reflexive anti-Americans: they imagine the United States to have more power and more influence than it possesses. The occasional dramatic demonstration of American power combined with a need to find fault with capitalism, democracy, secularism, or any other symbol that America represents leads to an exaggerated sense of what that power causes or prevents.

On the other hand, there are Panglossian democracy advocates who argue that democracy is so appealing and so successful that it is destined to spread and eliminate the cause of wars, political oppression, corruption, and various other political problems. They also overestimate American power while underestimating the influence of local conditions and of cultural characteristics and religious beliefs.

Be sure to read Stanley Kurtz on the reasons why the creation of liberal democracy in Islamic lands is so problematic.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 January 21 07:55 AM  Reconstruction and Reformation


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