There has been all kinds of blather from the left and right that Arab countries cannot sustain democracy. This is smug, lazy, and even racist or at least “culturalist,” thinking. George Will pooh-pooh’ed it in the Washington Post last month:
- Bush and Blair and many people called neoconservatives believe that moral objectives in politics are universally applicable imperatives. If so, then either national cultures do not significantly differ, or they do not matter or they are infinitely malleable under the touch of enlightened reformers. But all three propositions are false and antithetical to all that conservatism teaches about the importance of cultural inertia and historical circumstances.
….Does Blair believe that our attachment to freedom is not the product of complex and protracted acculturation by institutions and social mores that have evolved over centuries that prepared the social ground for seeds of democracy? When Blair says freedom as we understand it and democracy and the rule of law as we administer them are “the universal values of the human spirit,” he is not speaking as America’s Founders spoke of “self-evident” truths. They meant truths obvious to all minds unclouded by superstition and other ignorance.
Well certainly, the reason there is not one democracy of the 22 Arab states (and only two rated “free” democracies by Freedom House, of the 25 predominantly Muslim countries) is that a sufficient number of people are still convinced (and it is in their autocratic ruler’s interests to maintain the belief, even in “secular” Baathist Iraq) that Allah will save them from the ravages of secular democracy and preserve their authoritarian Islamic governmental systems.
This is exactly why victory in Iraq and the fostering of a democratic system there is of critical importance for the region: Saddam invoked Allah in his efforts to rally his people against the American-led invasion regardless of his “actual” beliefs. Allah was rather starkly shown to not give a shit about defending the Iraqi system, nor the clearly Islamist Taliban government in Afghanistan, nor al Quaeda in any direct confrontation with Western democracies. The more people realize that Allah will not save them “against” democracy, the more quickly democracy can take hold in the region, religion and government can be separated, and the safer we will be.