The West Should Support Democracy in the Arab World

Two arguments are regularly raised against the promotion of democracy in the Arab world: first, that Arabs are culturally or constitutionally incapable of, or uninterested in, self-rule; second, that democracy will briskly devolve into Islamist tyranny. Elliott Abrams contends that the naysayers are wrong on both counts:

[I]t is very hard to argue that Arabs . . . would prefer living in states where the police are free to grab you from your home, beat you, and jail you—or would prefer living in states where a dictator steals a vast fortune, makes his son his successor, and silences anyone who complains about it. And indeed, repeated and respectable surveys do show that Arabs want democracy. . . . But will Arab democracies be “illiberal democracies,” where majority rule will be the means of imposing constraints on freedom? They will, in two areas: religion and sexual matters, to a degree. . . . Beyond these areas, [however], it is reasonable to expect Arab democracies to meet the standard Western definitions of what democracy means. . . .

The [successful transition to democracy in] Tunisia does suggest that democracy is possible, and it has been achieved in other Muslim states around the world, from Senegal to Indonesia. The very great obstacles to achieving democracy tell us that the struggle will be long and arduous. . . .

[Furthermore], the argument that dictators are the best bulwark against Islamist victories is also wrong. This is because Islamism, whether armed or unarmed, is a set of ideas about how the state should be governed, how God wants society to be ordered, and how people should conduct themselves in public life. Every Muslim country will have to debate whether those ideas are in fact sensible and true to the Quran, or are heretical, inhuman, and unworkable. [But] policemen and soldiers can never win that debate. They can jail or shoot Islamists, but they can never defeat them and win the debate because they themselves have no ideas. What ideas, after all, did [the ousted Tunisian dictator] Ben Ali or [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarak have to offer young citizens? They stood for family rule in fake republics, for immense theft of public funds, and for repression of freedom. It is no wonder that they could not defeat Islamism.

For that to be achieved, better and more persuasive ideas must be proffered—and that requires politics, and debate, and freedom of thought and speech. The last two decades in Turkey provide an object lesson. [There military] coups and the banning of Islamist parties did nothing to undermine support for the Islamist cause. Indeed, one can argue that the coups undermined support for [secular] parties; they certainly provided no intellectual or spiritual arguments against the Islamists.

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More about: Arab democracy, Arab Spring, Arab World, Islamism, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror