Thursday, July 27, 2006

Answering Andy McCarthy on democracy and terrorism 

They're back to talking about democracy, democratization, and terrorism over at the The Corner. (See my "realist case" for the democratization strategy, which includes links to the earlier discussion a couple of weeks ago.) Last night, Andy McCarthy asked whether the apparent difficulty in changing Arab culture did not also suggest that democratization was doomed to fail (editorial notes added here):

Something is bothering me about our exchanges today.

What is the logic that would give the Muslim world and its leaders a pass by saying, essentially, that you can’t expect them to evolve beyond rampant, irrational anti-Semitism but which nevertheless holds that we should bet the ranch on their evolution to something we would recognize as a democratic culture (e.g., freedom to choose any religion or none, freedom to convert away from Islam, equality between men/women and Muslims/non-Muslims, right of free people to make laws that diverge from Islamic law/doctrine, separation of church/mosque and state, etc.)?

Mind you, I don’t think anyone's come close to establishing that democracy actually reduces the incidence of terrorism. [It doesn't, but that's not the reason why it is essential to the war on the Islamic jihadis. - ed.] But even if we accept that proposition for argument’s sake, what is the process of mind that would make one open to one kind of cultural change and not the other? Or, turned the other way round, if they can't get beyond the hatred, why do we assume they get to functioning democracy?

This is a good and important question, and Andy's implication that Arabs cannot get behind either democratization or a tolerance of Jews may well prove to be true as a practical matter. However, I hope he is wrong. There are several points that might be made in response.

First, Andy sets the bar rather high. Secularization or perfect religious freedom as developed in almost 400 years of American social and legal evolution need not accompany democratization, especially in largely homogeneous countries. I believe democracy can succeed in a society that few Americans would want to inhabit. Democracy does not suddenly turn a country or a culture secular, tolerant, or otherwise pleasant. Look at India, which has struggled with all of this in the presence of a vibrant democracy for two generations. So why is democracy good? Because it legitimizes the government in the eyes of the people. Right now, we have illegitimate governments that are understood as such governing people who turn to a fusion of Islam, fascism, and an unreconstructed hatred of the "other" for legitimacy. They are in desperate need of an alternative mechanism for legitimizing their governments. New democracies will not be immediately more tolerant, but they will be legitimate (at least if they win their founding civil wars, which may have to be fought first).

Second, while religious freedom is not an essential feature of democratic government, particularly in places where virtually everybody is nominally Muslim, reasonably free political speech is. If we are to measure the success of democratization in the region, the right metric should be freedom of the speech, press and internet access. Freedom of speech will, over time, open up the public discussion in the region in ways that undermine the credibility of the official story and the assumptions of the older generation. Yes, it will make it hard for externally "friendly" regimes such as the House of Saud to control their own people, but we will also see the development of a genuine civil society that will include challenges to the old regional propaganda, including the paranoid anti-Semitism. Democracy -- best measured by freedom of speech, press and keyboard rather than the perfect counting of ballots or rising secularization -- is the solvent that will eventually change the "rampant, irrational anti-Semtism" that dominates public discussion today.

I agree that this will not happen quickly. If India and other developing world democracies are any indication, it will take a generation or two or three. It must happen eventually, though, or we are doomed. We (and they) are better off if we start sooner rather than later.


By Anonymous Dan, at Thu Jul 27, 09:52:00 AM:

Quote: “Secularization or perfect religious freedom as developed in almost 400 years of American social and legal evolution need not accompany democratization”

Quote: “Second, while religious freedom is not an essential feature of democratic government, particularly in places where virtually everybody is nominally Muslim, reasonably free political speech is.”

I disagree with your basic premise(s). First, America from the beginning offered a very generous amount of religious freedom from the start. Of course the Bill of Rights guaranteed it and that was 1789. Now you may come back with numerous examples and try to make a case that this was not true, but on the whole, the land of America was founded on the principle.

In today’s war on Islamism, it is particularly important that religious freedom be imposed right from the start. We cannot shed precious blood on the “hope” that Muslims will evolve to be more tolerant. What evidence is there of that in the last 1350 years? Quite the contrary, the opposite has been proved. One can argue that indeed this whole “War on Terror” is actually a war for religious freedom is it not? Aren’t we fighting the Islamists, in essence, to make the statement: “Leave me and my religion alone and we’ll leave you alone?”

Aren’t the Islamists in fact fighting us first and foremost to destroy our religious freedom? This whole war is about religious freedom. Victory conditions therefore must include complete religious freedom or else we are only buying ourselves a temporary truce.

One can argue that the whole KEY to winning this war on terror is to force Muslims to accept religious freedom almost on the level that we in the West accept it. For once they are able to truly do that and pass it from generation to generation, the terrorism will stop.

I believe out of all the rights associated with liberal democracies, religious freedom should indeed be the litmus test for Islamic countries contemplating Democracies. If not, what’s the point? We are, after all, talking about the big elephant in the room: Islam itself. Any Islamic country that takes on Democracy must tackle religious freedom from the get go and/or should be forced from the start.

As far as political freedom of speech, I do not think this is more important than freedom of religion. In fact I would argue if we forced freedom of religion, political freedom naturally would flow much, much easier in the Islamic world. The two are very interconnected in the Islamic world.

And by the way, I also think apostasy from Islam shall be allowed and protected as part of freedom of religion.

Come to think of it, if Muslims come to accept apostasy from Islam as being ok, THEN THAT is when we will have known we have won this war. That should be our guiding goal in this long war.


By Anonymous Dan, at Thu Jul 27, 10:03:00 AM:

One last thought on the theme above. I believe if we consistently pound the theme of freedom of religion in our propaganda in this “war on Terror” we will force Islam and all Muslims to contemplate it. The discussion must be started. 5 years into the war and it has only be touched on as a side issue. It should be front and center and we should hammer the theme in every speech, every campaign and every strategy session.

But because we “skirt” the issue of religious freedom from some twisted sense that will insult Muslim sensibilities (we would) we have this vast, confusing, unguided war against Islamism. And we doom ourselves to fight it forever.

Once we recognize that this war is not primarily about “freedom” in general but PARTICULARLY about “freedom of religion” then we will come to grips with developing sound strategies for defeating the Islamists.

Islam must be reformed or this war will be never-ending as it has been for 1350 years. Their track record renders them incapable of reforming it themselves. We must confront Muslims and demand religious freedom. Until we do that, this whole war is a futile effort.


By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Thu Jul 27, 10:48:00 AM:

TH, have you read Ralph Peters' column in the NY Post this morning (linked at RealClear)? I certainly don't like his Plan B, but we might end up there.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu Jul 27, 07:18:00 PM:

Somewhat off topic, but I really wanted to make this link known to the folks who visit here.


For those who aren't curious to look, it's video footage of a UN medical vehicle picking up and transporting perfectly healthy, armed Palestinian fighters. /Reuters.  

By Blogger orlandoslug, at Fri Jul 28, 07:06:00 AM:

I believe we need to exploit a fundamental flaw in the oldest theocracy experiment, Iran; namely the lack of separation of church and state...

...the educated of that country, as well as the bulk of their shia brethren in Iraq understand the failures and the hypocracy of mullahs who rely on their own secret police to intimidate the masses...

...in a way religious authoritarianism...

...we keep waiting to here from the good, moderate muslims reprimanding the fanatics; however, no sympathizers come forward because of fear...

...also, by nature of the religion, moslems lead a very prescribed life and tend not to question religious authorities...

...we need to do several things...

...perhaps cause revolt against this authoritarianism, shake them up in order for them to perhaps question authority, show charity so they might gain some respect for the infidel, lower the price of oil so that other interactions and economic ties develop...

...ultimately we must make the fanatical rulers position unpopular both within their countries and among the many sympathizers scattered through out the globe, including within the media, so that the reasonable, working class, level headed & moderate muslims are no longer repressed  

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