The democracy conundrum 1

September 7, 2007

John Gray's comments on the failure and folly of the forcible democratisation of Iraq are only partly well taken ("The end was nigh", August 31). He writes that it has destroyed a highly developed society in the Middle East and cost 600,000 lives. Actually, this was not the result of US intervention but of the resistance to it pursued in the name of a religion that five out of six members of the human race reject as false.

It is awkward that universal democracy is a principle written into the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Democratic rights are for everyone everywhere and at all times. Yet Gray states in his book Black Mass that liberal democracy is impossible in most of the Middle East. There is, he says, no third alternative to Islamic rule (including illiberal democracy) and secular despotism. Furthermore, you cannot impose freedom where the people do not want it.

He also states that the objection to universal democracy is not that some peoples are unfit for it. But this is exactly the conclusion his argument invites. Events in Iraq speak compellingly in favour of a judgment that goes against every instinct in a liberal's body and must therefore be supported with proof: that democracy is not for Muslims, especially Muslim Arabs.

That is not to say that no Muslim can ever be a democrat or that all Muslims ought on principle to be disenfranchised. Gray's argument implies that a society that is culturally Muslim is predisposed to reject liberal democracy and to displace it where Islam becomes dominant.

That is the first temptation his discussion bids us succumb to. The second is to warm to the remarks of conservative commentator Ann Coulter right after 9/11: that the only way to establish liberal democracy in the Middle East is to invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Confronted with that option, most of us would settle for putting the Arabs under a secular despotism led by a strongman who - to paraphrase Franklin D. Roosevelt - might be a sonofabitch as long as he was our sonofabitch. After all, if they do not want freedom then oppressing them cannot be a crime.

But the problem with the secular despotism of Baathist Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was personally depraved and hostile to the US. He was no Kemal Ataturk. Moreover, he was anti-Semitic and committed to the destruction of US ally Israel. Thus, he had to go.

Gray could have made sense of this by distinguishing between pre-millennialist and post-millennialist Christianity. Pre-millennialists are unanimous in their support for Zionism because their vision of the end of time has Jesus returning to reign for 1,000 years from Jerusalem, the capital of a reconstituted Jewish state. Post-millennialists are not.

But you do not have to be pre- or post-millennialist to be a muscular interventionist in the face of resurgent Islam. Medieval Christendom was Augustinian amillennialist when it forcibly expelled the Muslims from Spain and then took the Crusade to the Levant. Waging war in the name of Christ was a practical solution to the strategic problem of how not to be conquered by unbelievers whose religion commanded them on principle to conquer the world.

Michael Petek

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