this week I would like to briefly talk about the Middle East and the issues we are facing there today.
As a society based on values of liberty, we tend to think of our system as the best system and we also have trouble understanding why others may not think so. People raised and educated in democratic systems usually share the unshakable belief of its superiority to all other systems. The point of this article is not to diminish or praise a certain way of life, but to point out the, maybe, unsurmountable obstacles in promoting our kind of democracy around the globe.
Human beings are extremely diverse and as such have multitude of roots. The democracy we know today has roots in the Ancient Greece. We sometimes call Greece the cradle of democracy. The world of the Middle East is, however, far more complex and despite taking on much of the Greek knowledge after the fall of the Roman Empire, not all of it was accepted as viable. Islam that probably is the most defining factor of the Middle East today is widely misinterpreted in the West and incredibly diverse within itself. For simplicity, I will mention only one example of such misinterpretation. The word “sharia” usually conjures very bad connotations in western minds, but it does not have to be so. Sharia is literally “the way of life” and it is derived from Quran, life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The misinterpretation lies within ‘fiqh’ which is jurisprudence responsible for interpretation of sharia. While some brutal regimes interpret it in a truly awful manner, it is not fair to say that sharia itself is evil. For many, ideal sharia (way of life) is what we have in the West, but Middle Eastern politics often prefers other interpretations.
The fundamental concept of our democracy is the separation of the church and state. To modify it for our purposes we could say that no modern democracy can exist if faith of any kind is involved in the political process. For great many Muslims the idea that God should have no part in direction of the country is simply ridiculous and there is little value in such secular life without God. As much as we can see their mistake in thinking that, they see our mistake in thinking the very same thing. One of the reasons why the USA was so surprised that no new government emerged in Iraq after the old one was deposed is that the Iraqi people simply don’t value what we value and have had no previous experience with democracy as we see it.
The Arab spring has clearly shown us what happens when we try to plant our ideas of democracy onto such different roots. One outcome is a despotic faith-based regime that destroys anything that is not deemed worthy or we create a new dictator who is worse than the previous one as it happened in Egypt. You could point to the example of Tunisia, but there I would claim that ‘exception confirms the rule’ and the system there is still very shaky. We must face the fact that we simply have no idea what an Islamic democracy should look like and regrettably the people in the Middle East have a very little idea about it themselves. The outlook is very grim, but we are not entirely out of options. We must finally put an end to the Cold War politics of propping up unworthy regimes, just to prevent possible greater evil. We must ask why we support Saudi Arabia more than we support Jordan ? Is it money or oil ? Is it because the Saudis have more influence ? The Saudi regime stands on legs of Wahhabi clergy who are one of the most radical sects of Islam while the King of Jordan has actually gone to considerable lengths to unite the world of Islam as shown by the Amman Message project from 2006.
Just to show that the problem is not just in the Middle East, we should also remind ourselves of our ‘success’ in Asia. Our unilateral dissemination of democracy has resulted in very undemocratic regimes and dictators that exist to this day. One example for all would be South Korea. It was built on foundations of an anti-communist dictator with full US support and since then it has gone through number of military dictatorships and while they currently have a woman president (which certainly is an achievement) we should not forget that she is the daughter of Korea’s greatest 70s dictator and has previously used the secret services to prop up her election campaign among other very undemocratic practices.
It is time to stop sacrificing human rights and universal values for short-term gain. It is time to acknowledge that forcing our ‘righteous’ system on everybody else is not the right path. Just to be clear, this is not an advocacy of despotic dictatorships and ideologies or call for abandonment of the struggle for a fair world, but a call for greater co-operation with the actual people who have to live in the actual countries we meddle in in order to create the future that they want to live in, not the future we dream about. Kale is surely healthy, but you can’t force it down everyone’s throat.