Its Democracy, stupid !

This is not a clash of civilisations; it’s an old-fashioned war of freedom against tyranny. I do not believe that Arab or Muslim DNA is mysteriously lacking a democracy chromosome or a freedom gene. Michael Ledeen, The Spectator

US policy towards much of the Islamic world has been driven by a deep suspicion that democracy is antithetic both to its own strategic interests and to the Islamic way of life. Over the years, vested commercial interests and skilful maneouvering by middle eastern autocrats combined with cold war realpolitik has institutionalised this suspicion to almost an article of faith.

For example, the US has consistently refrained from pushing the ruling family in Saudi Arabia or Musharraf in Pakistan too hard because of a fear that the alternative would be far worse. Yet, much of the anger and resentment against the US in the Islamic world stems from its support for these autocratic, non-representative regimes. For their part, these regimes have carefully cultivated religious and political constructs (Wahhabism, Kashmir respectively) to perpetuate their own rule. These ideologies in turn have bred extremists responsible for much of the terrorism in recent years. Now, faced with the changes arising from the post 9/11 world, these regimes are tinkering with their ideological textbooks to put in a variant that while partially placating the United States would continue to justify their hold on power. Like the remnants of the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad turning their attention on American presence on the Arabian peninsula, its only a matter of time before we see a new generation of extremists launching yet another campaign of violence.

The solution is not to continue to pay lip service to democracy while consorting with the various autocrats and dictators holding sway over the Islamic world. Democratic nations of the world, led by the United States should make democratisation of the Islamic world a matter of immediate importance in their foreign policies. Saudi Arabia remains a focal point of the Islamic faith, and the road to democracy in the Islamic world starts in Riyadh. Of course, there is a risk that the democracy will throw religious extremists to the seats of power – but elected religious extremists have always been moderated by the forces of democracy, most recently in Turkey. Democratisation gives voice to the real needs of society and the appropriate allocation of resources. Given a voice, it is likely that the masses in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan would vote for a government that promises them jobs, economic development and self-respect than one which champions the cause of their fellow religionists elsewhere.

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  • Emblematic, perhaps, of the contrary nature of the changes is the theology textbook for 10th graders in Saudi schools.

    Previously, it contained lesson after lesson emphasizing that Muslims should shun those outside the faith — saying, for example, that a good Muslim living among foreigners “must feel, deeply inside, hatred for them, their religion and everything they represent.”

    That passage and indeed the complete chapter were cut from the books introduced this fall. But an entirely new lesson suggests the danger of dividing mosque and state, warning that anyone supporting Western methods of government deserves “excommunication from God’s mercy, from Islam.” Article from the New York Times

  • But seen from Pakistan, a key US ally in this war, one consequence is clear. Despite President Bush’s clarion call for democratizing the Islamic world, military rulers can have a free hand at home as long as they remain partners in the War on Terror. In the long run, this policy may undermine the very attempt to uproot terrorism…

    (Opposition politician) Hashmi’s arrest has highlighted the different manner in which the military treats secular politicians and the alliance of Islamic fundamentalist parties called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The MMA have repeatedly called on the army to topple Musharraf because they consider him to be working for the United States. However, MMA leaders, still remain close to the army and have never been threatened with arrest. In mid-November Pakistan banned the same three Islamic parties that it had banned two years earlier but which had reconstituted themselves under new names. Nonetheless, observers were not impressed. Some Europeans called it “window dressing”, as there were no signs that the military was serious about charging radical leaders, who had long association with Pakistan’s military intelligence, with carrying out acts of terrorism…

    The contradictions in the military’s policies and the harsh line it has taken towards the parliamentary opposition has brought to the surface growing public resentment against the continued dominance of the military. But Musharraf is banking on the fact that the US, pre-occupied with Iraq and wanting greater support from Pakistan in the Middle East, is unlikely to criticize the military’s high-handed policies at home. Even though President Bush has now signaled that the US will no longer tolerate dictatorships in the Muslim world, the military is convinced that such a policy does not apply to Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid on YaleGlobalOnline

  • On 14 February 1945, Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud, the King of Al Mamlakah al Arabiyah as Suudiyah, secretly met Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President of the United States of America. The USS Murphy, the first US warship ever to enter the Port of Jeddah, carried the King to the Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal where the President was waiting onboard the USS Quincy. The USS Quincy became the venue for the King and the President to ink the historic ‘oil-for-security’ deal. Farrukh Saleem in the News/Jang.
  • Washington Post article: A Nation on Edge
  • Survey reveals deep dissatisfaction with Musharraf regime’s performance

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