Friday, March 30, 2007

problems with language; or, the war against ideas, part 2

Evelyn DeMorgan, "The Field of the Slain" (1916)

One wonders how much of the foreign policy failure of the United States in the Middle East is itself a failure of language. Do the Americans even understand what it is they are working for? The Crusade-for-Democracy has been and will continue to be a dismal failure because democracy is not really what America and the Europeans want to see in the middle east, even though they do not seem to realize it. Democracy, where it has been achieved has been an embarassment, and a wave of middle eastern democratization would only increase the problem. Palestine, in free elections, elected Hamas; elections in Lebanon have seen the increased political influence of Hizbillah; the broadening of elections in Egypt (Masr) demonstrated the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, while extending elections in Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Pakistan would weaken if not topple those who would be allies and partners of liberal governments.

Democracy is not the solution and is often a problem. It was a form of government spurned up until very recently because of how dangerous it was to hand over power to the mob. Democracy is always, taken on its own, mob rule. The failure, then, is the inability of the United States, among others, to recognize and articulate that it does not want democratization but liberalization in the Middle East: something that is not tied, initially in any case, to a particular form of choosing one's rulers. Monarchies, dictatorships, oligarchies, etc. are all capable of being liberal, and it was only the liberal revolutions in France in and the United States that made democracy something more than the tyranny of the mob (and that only after a great deal of bloodshed at the hand of the mob in France). Liberalism, a word that Bush is seemingly incapable of speaking, is the commitment to the universal rule of law, the tradition of human and civil rights, a belief in universal human dignity, negative freedom (i.e., freedom from constraint) and the abstract equity of all before the law. These are the things that protect the socially vulnerable from the violence of tyrants, even when that tyrant is the demos (the mob/the people) itself.

Perhaps this failure is rooted in the American political situation. There has never been a flourishing right or left in the United States. Neither fascism nor Marxism were ever very successful on American soil, and so the term liberalism lost its distinguishing character relative to those other two movements against which it was so starkly defined on the European continent in the middle 20th century. And now 'liberal' is a curse in the mouth of social and economic conservatives, even though neither side, ironically enough, realizes that they are both liberal.

But whatever the case, the goal of the United States ought to be the broadening of liberal reforms in those countries with whom it is friendly in the middle east: the least and last of which would be "democratic" elections. High on the list must be freedom of speech and its relative, freedom of the press (something which is itself under increasing pressure in the United States): the ability of the government and thus also the public to tolerate speech with which it does not agree; the ability to show that violence is not the only way to handle disagreement. This would allow political parties to organize, to form their own voice and to learn how to operate in the public square. The places where we ought to be pushing for liberalization are Saudi Arabia (slowly), Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt (where the United States has exhibited failure on a massive scale in recent days) and encourage its further extension in Lebanon (which is at a critical moment), Qatar, and the UAE (especially Dubai), and Bahrain.

Instead, current American policy is alienating those whom it has the greatest ability to actually reach, and disrupting and further degrading the lives of those over whom it has the least influence. Democracy, without liberalization, is tyranny, and America is helping to bring that new tyranny to the Middle East at gun point.



Sulayman said...

Excellent points!

Matilda said...

Interesting to know.