Forcing Them to Be Free: Bush’s Project for the Muslim World
Liaquat Ali Khan
Managed Democracy: The US Quandary in the Middle East
Democracy and Human Rights: The Limits of US Support
Eligible for Regime Change? The Flimsy US Case against Iran
William O. Beeman
Wilful Ignorance: The United States, Democracy, and the Middle East
Terrorism and Democracy: Illness and Cure?
Bush and the Theory of the Democratic Peace
Omar G. Encarnacion
Spreading Democracy or Undermining It?
Iraq and the Global Democracy Movement
Beyond the ‘War on Terror’: Hegemony, Violence, and the ‘Global Democratic Revolution’
Barry K. Gills
Democracy, the Highest Stage of ‘Civilised’ Statehood
Yannis A. Stivachtis
The Feel of Democracy
Daniel M. Smith
First the Truth, Then the Reconciliation: An American Perspective
Robert S. Capers
Honest Brokers? US Presidents and the Middle East
Bloodshed on the Underground: The Deadly Connection Blair Denies
Volume 8 ● Number 3–4 ● Summer/Autumn 2006—Exporting Democracy
Forcing Them to Be Free: Bush’s Project for the Muslim World
The Bush Vision
The Bush vision stresses the universal appropriateness and applicability of democracy. It offers a worthy principle that even critics of the president cannot question. Bush envisions that all nations, regardless of their cultural, religious, or economic background, will choose democracy if and when they are given the freedom to do so. He rejects the Social Darwinist view, emanating from the colonial era, that democracy can be instituted only at higher levels of economic development. He also rejects the assertion that certain cultures are inherently unsuited to democracy or that democracy is the exclusive prize of rich Western nations. Instead, Bush believes that there are no preconditions for the success of democracy in any nation. “It is the practice of democracy that makes a nation ready for democracy, and every nation can start on this path.”1
The Bush vision repudiates the orientalist theory that originated in the works of Hegel and Marx, a theory that numerous Western scholars have exploited to depict Muslim nations as lethargic and static. The neo-orientalist theory insists that Islam is incompatible with modernity. Bernard Lewis, the godfather of neo-orientalism, invents historical distortions to paint Muslim cultures as irrational, enraged, and envious of Western superiority.2 In rejecting the “cultural condescension” of orientalist propaganda, Bush offers the examples of Japan and India to demonstrate that democracy can thrive in Eastern cultures. Islam, which teaches individual moral accountability, “is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government”, affirms Bush. Citing the examples of Turkey, Senegal, Niger, and other Muslim countries, Bush asserts that “more than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments”.3 The other half is therefore equally capable of, and entitled to, democratic rule.
The Bush vision of universal democracy is no mere metaphysical dream that would never see the light of day. Nor is it mere rhetoric to please unknowing crowds. It is consistent with the emerging consensus of the international community. Prominent human rights covenants proclaim democracy to be a fundamental individual and communitarian right. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights declares that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections”. The covenant prescribes no social, cultural, religious, or economic prerequisites for exercising this right. Every nation is entitled to democratic government as a matter of fundamental right.
The Bush vision is expansive and substantive. It is not confined to introducing minimalist democracy to the Muslim world. Minimalist democracy is essentially procedural. It ensures that governments are chosen through genuine elections on the basis of universal suffrage, and that governments are removable after serving a defined tenure. Minimalist democracy does not guarantee social, economic, and cultural democracy. By contrast, maximalist democracy appraises the quality of democracy. Procedurally, it entails vigorous political competition among diverse political forces. Substantively, it demands the implementation of social, economic, and cultural rights. It also commands that the individual be free, and that women and minorities be treated fairly. In sum, maximalist democracy empowers the people so that they can live decent and dignified lives.
While maximalist democracy can be overly ambitious, even utopian in its demands, mere procedural democracy that periodically churns out ruling cabals which do little to improve life of the community is inherently inadequate. Looking beyond procedural democracy, though recognising its indispensability, the Bush vision introduces substantive democracy, which does more than elect a government. The substantive democracy that Bush sponsors is often couched in the language of liberty and freedom.
Bush asserts that liberty is “the design of nature” and “the direction of history” and that freedom is not an American phenomenon but “the right and the capacity of all mankind”. Citing “a recent report by Arab scholars”, Bush agrees that Muslim nations suffer from a “freedom deficit”, a deficit that undermines human development and causes political and economic stagnation. This freedom deficit in Muslim nations is seen in the marginalisation of Muslim women, ill-treatment of religious minorities, ruthless suppression of dissent, human rights abuses, and non-recognition of the individual. According to Bush, “every person has the ability and the right to be free.”4
Clash of Connotations
In articulating substantive democracy couched in freedom, however, Bush makes a cultural mistake. He presumes that “freedom” and “liberty” have a universally positive meaning for all nations and cultures. That is not so. “Freedom” and “liberty” mean one thing in America, quite another in Muslim countries. “Freedom” and “liberty” are positive concepts for Americans. For most Muslims, these words imply moral corruption and social irresponsibility. That the same words and phrases ring differently in different communities has been observed in other contexts as well. American criminologists know, for example, that white Americans hear the phrase “law and order” as police efforts to prevent crime, whereas African Americans associate the same phrase with police brutality and arbitrary stops and searches.
When the words “freedom” and “liberty” appear in political contexts, they carry a positive meaning in the Muslim world. Muslims would be delighted to receive a political liberty that assures periodic genuine elections, a free press, and the rule of law. But when the words “freedom” and “liberty” are used to sponsor individualism, they gather negative connotations and sound alarming to most Muslims.
Individual freedom is a foundational concept of American culture. It represents self-expression and self-development. America as we know it would cease to exist without individual freedom. In Muslim societies, however, individual freedom has horrendous connotations. It is associated with sexual promiscuity, disrespect for parents, selfishness, breaking away from social mores, disregard for religion, and the pursuit of irresponsible lifestyles. Western-style individual freedom runs counter to the essence of Islam. It would be erroneous to conclude, however, that the notion of personal freedom is absent from Islamic consciousness.
As Tariq Ramadan points out, the Islamic concept of personal liberty is internal. It is to free the soul in the body, and not to free the body from the soul.5 Although Islam urges Muslims to participate in worldly life and to work for the betterment of family and community, Islamic liberty shuns enchantment with material goods. Muslims seek self-liberation in the realm of what the Qur’an describes as enlightened spirituality, one that illuminates right and wrong to guide behaviour, and that purifies the self (Sura 91:7–10). Muslims are alarmed by the Western notion of liberty that might lure their sons and daughters to seek self-liberation through art, music, theatre, sexuality, wealth, and power.
Instead of freedom, the word that catches Muslims’ hearts and souls is independence. For the past several centuries, Muslim communities have been colonised, exploited, subjugated, invaded, and occupied, mostly by Western nations. The word “independence” offers redemption from the past. It offers self-rule, autonomy, and sovereignty. It rejects occupation, colonialism, alien domination, and foreign interference. In the Muslim world, independence is the antithesis of freedom. The two words evoke different emotional and intellectual reactions. The word “independence” is celebratory: it connotes that the community is free from external control. The word “freedom” is rebellious: it implies that the individual is challenging the Islamic way of life. Muslims do not like the rhetoric of individual freedom, which they understand as rebellion against community, family, and responsibility.
Individual responsibility, not freedom, constitutes the ethos of Muslim cultures. When Muslims hear that America wishes to export individual freedoms and liberties to their communities, they become apprehensive and defensive. They infer that America is waging a cultural war to undermine their cultural and religious values. They associate American freedoms and liberties with alcoholism, abortion, pornography, high divorce rates, runaway children, and nursing homes where elders are abandoned to rot and die. This, of course, is a caricature of the American way of life—a way of life that can be profoundly humane, other-regarding, and spiritual. Focusing on negative and hearsay versions of American culture, Muslims fear that American moral corruption, disguised as freedoms and liberties, will infiltrate and infest their puritanical societies.
Muslim fears about individual liberation are deepened when they see Western artists assaulting the integrity of religion with impunity. In the United States, writers and artists may ridicule prophets, holy books, religious rituals, holy men and women, without any fear of punishment. Paintings, novels, and works of art, however, are jealously protected on pain of criminal law. Anyone who alters the text of the Bible or sullies the character of Jesus or Mohammad meets no punishment. The same individual will face criminal penalties, however, if he, for example, smears Picasso’s paintings. Even when the denigration of religious books and the defamation of prophets cause anguish in Muslim communities, the assault is said to have the protection of free speech. For many Muslims, these are perverse preferences of liberty.
The contrast is vivid. Americans are unwilling to sacrifice artistic freedom to please what they call “organised religion”. Muslim societies choose otherwise. They regard freedom of speech as less absolute and “religious feeling as entitled to governmental protection”.6 These contrasting values are even more pronounced when American secularism is compared with political Islam.
Bush and Political Islam
While President Bush insists upon bringing controversial freedoms and liberties to the Muslim world, his commitment to free and full competition among diverse political forces, including political Islam, is unsteady. Maximalist democracy may promote conceptions of freedom that frighten Muslims, but it also abhors the banning of political parties or the restriction of political platforms. In the Muslim world, maximalist democracy requires that both secular and Islamic parties be allowed to organise, to compete in general elections, and to form the government upon winning. Maximalist democracy would also require that America refrain from ostracising or undermining political Islam.
At present, a few Muslim nations practise maximalist democracy. Despite military coups, Pakistan and Bangladesh have hung on to maximalist democracy. They allow parties of diverse ideological stripe—Islamic, secular, and communist—to compete freely with one another in general elections. Iraq’s constitution, drafted under American occupation, has adopted maximalist democracy as well. The constitution permits religious and secular parties alike to participate in the political process. Iraq’s maximalist democracy, however, is the inevitable outcome of complex forces that occupation and insurgency have unleashed. After deliberately playing upon Sunni and Shi’ite separateness, the United States had no option but to allow religious parties to compete for power. The Iraqi example, therefore, furnishes little proof that the United States is committed to maximalist democracy.
It appears, though, that the Bush administration, despite its fierce rhetoric against Muslim extremists, is willing to accommodate political Islam. In Afghanistan, the United States made no effort to ban religious candidates from running in parliamentary elections. The Taliban were disqualified for their alleged support of terrorism, not for their religious orientation. The Bush administration did not oppose even Hamas, a militant Islamic party designated as a terrorist organisation under US law, from contesting parliamentary elections in Gaza and the West Bank. Bush policymakers may have concluded that allowing Islamic parties to compete in elections moderates political Islam—a goal that the United States will certainly pursue.
Turkey and Iran
Despite its strategic accommodation of political Islam, the United States shows little commitment to maximalist democracy as a matter of principle, for any such commitment may harm US geopolitical interests. Consider the US attitude towards Turkey and Iran, two Muslim nations that repudiate maximalist democracy from opposite standpoints.
The Turkish constitution embodies irrevocable secularism. And the Turkish army is opposed to political Islam. Political parties that seek to change the republic’s secular character are banned under the constitution. Turkish democracy is open only to secular parties. In recent years, Islamic parties have made some headway, as evidenced by the ascension to the prime ministership of Recep Tayipp Erdogan, a pro-Islamic politician. They must still publicly declare their commitment to constitutional secularism. The United States is unlikely to pressure Turkey to change its secular constitution to make room for a maximalist democracy in which Islamic parties may contest elections on the basis of their religious, rather than secular, political platforms. No US administration has even criticised Turkey for instituting a secular monopoly, let alone pressured it on this question.
Ironically, though, the United States is quick to vilify Iran for repudiating maximalist democracy. This is because Iran is a democratic theocracy. Its constitution establishes a “fusion state” under which all civil, penal, financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political, and other laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria. This principle applies absolutely to every aspect of law. As such, no political party that challenges the fusion of state and Islam is allowed to participate in the electoral process. The Council of Guardians screens candidates for their commitment to the fusion principle. Maximalist democracy would require that Iran change its constitution and allow secular parties to contest elections. Even though the fusion provisions of Iran’s constitution are theoretically amendable, the ruling clerics would not allow maximalist democracy to challenge the Islamic Republic’s theocratic monopoly.
When the Bush administration praises Turkey but condemns Iran, its commitment to maximalist democracy seems arbitrary, even anti-Islamic. In praising Turkey, the Bush administration contends that Turkey has successfully combined Islam and democracy. This admiration of Turkey suggests the United States favours secular democracy, which allows the people freely to practice their faith, but refuses to accommodate political Islam. In condemning Iran, US officials leave no doubt that it fails to meet the standards of maximalist democracy, even though it has successfully held periodic presidential and parliamentary elections. “The regime in Teheran must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people,” says Bush, “or lose its last claim to legitimacy.”7
From these conflicting reactions to political monopolies in Turkey and Iran, one might conclude that the United States favours secular democracy but opposes political Islam. This conclusion, however, does not explain US policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, where the United States has allowed political Islam to participate in the democratic process.
The United States might prefer Muslim nations to adopt secular liberal democracy, but it accepts the dictates of pragmatism. It is prepared to allow Islamic parties to compete electorally with secular forces, particularly in nations where political Islam has slim chance of major victory. This pragmatism, however, does not champion political Islam. When a Muslim nation excludes Islamic parties from the political process, the United States is unlikely to protest, although it may pay lip service to the human rights of the excluded Muslim groups. For example, the United States may criticise Egypt and Algeria for mistreating the members of Islamic parties, but it is unlikely to press for maximalist democracy.
Diversity and Inclusion
In my book A Theory of Universal Democracy (2003), I have argued that Francis Fukuyama’s secular liberal democracy cannot be the “end of history”, simply because we are not at the end of human intelligence. Diverse nations have every right to construct new conceptions of democracy which respond to their religious, economic, and social needs. While secular liberal democracy has served many nations well, it cannot be universalised. No view of democracy should seek to force Muslim nations to oust their religious traditions from the parameters of law and state. Muslims have every right to institute a fusion state that combines rather than separates law and Islam. In exercising this right, however, Muslim nations must protect the fundamental liberties of religious minorities. An Islamic system is most acceptable when it embraces maximalist democracy, allowing secular parties to challenge the official ideology—something that Iran does not permit.
Even one God, Islam’s ultimate source of instruction, is generously maximalist. God allows Satan to compete fully and freely in God’s universe and challenge His conception of virtue and the good life. Muslim nations should institute maximalist democracy to launch a free competition between secular and religious forces. Whether the United States will consistently support an all-inclusive democracy is an unsure bet.
Democracy or Conformity?
The Bush vision of democracy has been criticised for its lack of universal application. While coercion is used to shape democracy in unfriendly states, US money is pumped out to stabilise friendly dictatorships. Critics argue that the Bush administration tolerates and even rewards undemocratic governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, but punishes or threatens to punish regimes in Iran, Syria, and Sudan. The United States has also struck up a new friendship with Muammar Gaddafi, the dictator of Libya. But it has refused to deal with the democratically elected Hamas government in Palestine. This duality suggests that democracy per se is not the primary goal of US foreign policy. Geopolitical interests and national security considerations determine whether and where the United States demands a shift to democracy. In pursuit of its multifaceted foreign policy, the United States may accept compliant dictatorships and reject defiant democracies. If compliance in the service of US interests is the ultimate goal of US foreign policy, the democracy initiative loses its normative content. It is then reduced to a utilitarian tool that the United States uses to remove the independence of Muslim nations to act freely in international affairs.
To pursue its geopolitical interests, preferably by creating compliant democracies, the United States is prepared to use coercive instruments, including armed force. The spread of liberty, says Bush, “is the calling of our country”. He therefore wants to put American power “at the service of principle”. The Bush vision of spreading democracy by using American power sounds altruistic since US soldiers will die in the democratisation initiative, as they have in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, the peoples of the world distrust US intentions. They are unlikely to invite American soldiers to pioneer democracy with coercive instruments.
One cannot quarrel with the proposition that if a people have been denied democracy, the fault lies with their ruling elites. Barriers to democracy come from dictatorial elites who decline to give up power or refuse to allow electoral democracy because their hold on power would no longer be assured. These stubborn elites leave no option but their forcible removal. And when the people cannot muster internal resources to launch a democracy movement, external help becomes inevitable.
This is the context in which the Bush vision of forced democratisation gathers moral and logistical credibility. It recognises that the people often lack the resources to change dictatorial forms of government and need American help. Bush defends the use of force in moral/populist terms. Force is considered necessary to move or remove governments that oppose the democratic process. Tyrannies must be removed, but less authoritarian governments may be moved towards the democratic process through lesser force such as diplomatic pressure or economic sanctions.
It is one thing to promote peacefully the virtue of democracy, quite another to implant it with the instruments of coercion. Muslims regard US paternalism as vindictive and cruel. Contrary to the wishes of the world, the United States has imposed comprehensive economic sanctions on Cuba to dismantle Castro’s communist regime and bring democracy to the island. US economic sanctions against Zimbabwe include opposition to loans and assistance that international financial institutions, including multilateral banks, may offer the country. The United States also opposes the rescheduling, restructuring, or elimination of Zimbabwe’s international debts. These sanctions are aimed at overthrowing Robert Mugabe’s government, which has retained power through allegedly fraudulent elections. The United States has levied similar economic sanctions to undermine governments in numerous Muslim nations, including Sudan and Iran. Muslims still remember the destruction of the Iraqi economy though prolonged economic sanctions.
The instruments of US coercion are not limited to economic sanctions. The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 reveals that the US government has no qualms about funding armed groups to promote democracy in the Muslim world. The Iraq Liberation Act embodied an open policy to remove Saddam Hussein from power and to promote the emergence of a democratic government. The US president could not use the American armed forces to carry out the act. But the act authorised the president to use the stocks and services of the US Department of Defence in providing “military education and training” for Iraqi opposition groups. That the US Congress would openly endorse the training of foreign armed groups to change governments is unsettling. It is also contrary to the principles of territorial integrity and political independence.
By monumentalising the attacks of 11 September 2001, the Bush administration has added invasion and occupation to the arsenal of democratisation. The United States invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban government and destroy the al-Qaeda movement, which was purportedly involved in the terrorist attacks. The invasion, however, received new respectability when it paved the way for presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan. Likewise, the US occupation of Iraq was undertaken to find Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction. But when no such weapons were found, the occupation turned “benevolent” in its stated purpose of instituting multiparty democracy. These examples of forced democratisation were used to back the claim that a democratic Muslim world would be less supportive of terrorism. In dealing with Syria and Iran, declared “terrorist states” under US law, the Bush administration might follow a similar course and use coercive instruments to replace their political systems with electoral democracy.
Rejection and Resistance
But doing goodness at gunpoint often backfires. When one people forcibly transforms another, the backlash is severer. The world has not forgotten the predatory theory of colonisation that empowered Europeans to occupy the lands and resources of other peoples, and to declare local cultures, languages, traditions, and beliefs inferior—impediments to progress. Moreover, the colonised peoples were forced to adopt French, Dutch, and English ideals and sensibilities. While many colonised nations embraced the exported cultures, most Muslim nations refused to abandon their Islamic heritage. Political Islam is determined to reverse the lingering effects of colonialism on Muslim communities.
The historical memory of exploitation thus taints the Bush vision. History shows that even benevolent domination invites fierce resistance. And even the most primitive cultures resist forced civilisation. Edward Said observed that dominant nations manufacture their own theories of world engagement, such as America’s “manifest destiny”, to justify their actions abroad. These theories are intellectual covers for the seeking of power, conquest, treasure, and for self-pride. But the people see through the charade. Rejecting the noble theories of transformation, “lesser” peoples respond by resisting their forcible manipulation.8 Muslim resistance to the Bush vision will arise from a similar evaluation of US motives. The democratisation initiative will unleash an inevitable dynamic of us-versus-them.
The us-versus-them dynamic is ingrained also in Muslim self-pride. Muslims understand America’s pursuit of national interest in world affairs. But they resent America’s reformative paternalism. Muslims believe that America, despite its status as a superpower, has little standing to preach to the Islamic world. Looking at their own history, Muslims see the glorious days of Islamic civilisation as an inimitable phenomenon that spawned dynamic but stable communities across the world, generating wealth, rational spiritualism, culture, law, literature, architecture, and scientific discoveries, at a time when Europe was primitive and the United States did not exist. Islam’s remarkable achievements, spanning several centuries, owed nothing to democracy. Though Muslims now prefer democracy to other forms of government, they do not see American democratic evangelism as the cure of all ills.
Furthermore, Muslims have problems with America’s own democratic past. They value America’s spectacular rise as a superpower, its wealth, creativity, and stable democratic system. But for many Muslims, America’s exuberant democracy has been a nightmare for minority populations in the United States. They view US democracy with the same scepticism as do Native Americans and African Americans. In their sermons to the world, US elites conveniently forget that American democracy is anything but pure; it has been tainted by the theft of land, massacres of native tribes, slavery, and apartheid. If democracy could generate such blatant wrongs, its claim to inherent virtue cannot be authentic. And when a nation with a morally dubious history comes out aggressively to reform another civilisation, particularly one suffused with tremendous self-confidence, tension is bound to mount.
A consensus is emerging in the Muslim world that the United States is waging a cultural war against Islamic traditions and sensibilities. Besides using the rhetoric of “evil” to describe Muslim militants, the Bush administration has launched a massive campaign to undermine what it calls “extremist” Islam. For decades, Washington has used international broadcasts to promote US national interests, undermine foreign governments, shape the opinion of foreign leaders and peoples, and promote liberty in oppressed nations. During the Cold War, US broadcasts, disseminated by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, exposed the ills of communism, with the long-term goal of undermining totalitarian governments in eastern Europe. Sponsors of the Bush vision hope that US propaganda aimed at the Muslim world will similarly inform Muslims about the ills of political Islam and Islamic extremism.
One might argue that the word “propaganda” is an inaccurate term since US law mandates that the government-funded international broadcasting be “accurate, objective, and comprehensive”, presenting “a variety of opinions and voices” that dictatorial governments have denied to their people.9 The argument has some validity. The same law, however, also requires that the broadcasting be “consistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States”. In times of crisis, such as the war on terror, the law further demands that international broadcasting “support” the government’s foreign policy objectives. Thus, the law introduces a tension between defending national policy and serving the journalistic standards of fairness and accuracy. In many instances, it is possible to do both. When the two are irreconcilable, however, the broadcasting networks have no option but to serve US policy interests. When information is filtered to promote a viewpoint or a policy objective, it is propaganda. Monroe E. Price is right to say that international broadcasting is an elegant term for “what was once with pride called propaganda”.10
The United States has a long history of influencing the Muslim world through propaganda, euphemistically called “public diplomacy”. During the Cold War, US governments made movies, cartoons, pamphlets, and billboards, and had editorials written and lectures delivered, to ridicule the Soviet Union, extol the virtues of Western democracies, and accentuate inherent contradictions between communism and puritan Islam. This psychological warfare, however, was only partially successful because the US alignment with Israel frustrated Muslim nations, many of which consequently tilted towards the Soviet Union.
Since 9/11, the US government has embarked upon a new media assault to undermine its old ally, puritan Islam, now considered an evil enemy and the source of terrorism. The propaganda aimed at Muslim nations also promotes secular liberal values by emphasising individual freedoms. To execute these aims, the US government has funded two separate radio networks. Radio Sawa, launched in 2002, broadcasts non-stop Arabic and English pop music, news, and editorials to generate support for US policies and culture, and specifically to win the hearts and minds of young Arabs. The United States also launched in 2002 a Persian-language radio station, Radio Farda, to reach young Iranians. In an inaugural broadcast on the radio, President Bush pledged continued support for the Iranians’ “quest for freedom, prosperity, honest and effective government, judicial due process, and the rule of law”.
The US propaganda is not merely political. It is also civilisational. The Bush administration and numerous terrorism experts openly define puritan Islam as “an ideology of theocratic terror”. Muslims committed to puritan Islam are portrayed as abusers of human rights who whip women and murder the innocent. “Behind their language of religion,” Bush charges, “is the ambition for absolute political power.”11 Supporting US policy objectives, propaganda radio attacks the political credibility of what it calls Islamists.
US cultural propaganda attacks Islamic conservatism. Pop music is served up to lure young Muslims to a modern conception of life that sees prayers, fasting, and other religious rituals as barriers to enjoyment. The United States hopes that a steady supply of entertainment will weaken puritan Islam and pave the way for secular liberal democracy.
Liberty at Gunpoint
The US entertainment offensive to transform Muslim nations through non-stop pop music trivialises both Islam and modernity. It may have already backfired. In presidential elections in 2005, Iranians chose an anti-Western candidate who backed the restarting of his country’s nuclear-enrichment programme and who allegedly professed a desire to see Israel “wiped off the map”. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, despite a ban on its openly contesting political elections, has won a significant number of seats. Pakistan’s military president, Pervez Musharraf, is losing ground in his support for US hunt operations for al-Qaeda leaders. In Palestine, the electoral victory of Hamas discredits the Bush administration’s claims that the US democratisation drive will give the Middle East a benign reorientation, with peaceful, pro‑Western governments replacing hostile ones; moreover, the US refusal to deal with an elected “terrorist” party blots Bush’s credentials as a champion of democracy.
Speaking to more than two million pilgrims during the 2006 Hajj congregation, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh, minced no words:
Oh, Muslim nation, there is a war against our creed, against our culture under the pretext of fighting terrorism. We should stand firm and united in protecting our religion. Islam’s enemies want to empty our religion of its contents and its meaning. But the soldiers of God will be victorious.12
Muslims aspire to democracy, to accountable and representative government, but they will never accept democracy from the barrel of a gun. If President Bush attempts to “force them to be free”, Muslims will resist, with untold consequences for regional and global peace and stability.
2. See, for example, Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage”, Atlantic Monthly, September 1990.
3. Bush, remarks at National Endowment for Democracy, 6 November 2003.
5. Tariq Ramadan, Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 119–22.
6. David M. Smolin, “Exporting the First Amendment? Evangelism, Proselytism, and the International Religious Freedom Act”, Cumberland Law Review 31 (2000–1), p. 693.
7. Bush, remarks at National Endowment for Democracy, 6 November 2003.
8. Edward Said, “The Clash of Definitions”, in The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, ed. Emran Qureshi and Michael Sells (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), pp. 73–4.
9. United States Code, Title 22: Foreign Relations and Intercourse; Chapter 71: United States International Broadcasting; Sec. 6202: Standards and Principles; (a) Broadcasting Standards (1998).
10. Monroe E. Price, Media and Sovereignty (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002), p. 200.
11. Bush, remarks at National Endowment for Democracy, 6 November 2003.
12. Salah Nasrawi, “Saudi Cleric: ‘There Is a War against Our Creed’ ”, Chicago Sun-Times, 10 January 2006.