Democracy & the Middle East: Beyond Elections

[Editor's note: Since the time of this writing just preceding elections in Iraq, the world has witnessed the transformative power of freedom. Of course it remains to be seen what will happen long-term. Iraqis not only danced for joy in the streets, but more tellingly, those in-country risked terrorist attacks during voting and reprisals afterwards—providing what even many opponents of the war agree is a brave example of gratitude and which, for many, justifies the costs of the war. Virtually instantaneously, the purple finger raised either in a "V" for victory of as "number one" became an internationally recognized symbol. The graphic above shows an example of the indelible ink used to fingerprint voters and prevent multiple votes, but which also marked those who exercised this newfound freedom as potential targets for anyone who would want to lash out against what terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi called "this evil principle of democracy." Now, for the original feature:]

"I'm excited about it," President George W. Bush said with a wide grin to interviewer Barbara Walters last week in a televised special on his presidency. The question? How did he feel about the very real possibility that three separate Middle Eastern nations will, from all appearances, conduct successful, free democratic elections on his watch. Two already have: Afghanistan in 2004 and the Palestinian territories just a few weeks ago.

Bush's inaugural speech highlighted the ideals of democracy and its expansion as a state policy of the U.S. and apparently resonated in at least one Middle Eastern nation. According to the organization American Values' daily FAX report (Jan. 25), "Iranian dissident Web sites are reporting that millions of Iranians called in sick on [the day of the inauguration] in order to watch the President's speech by satellite. In the coffehouses of Tehran, young Iranians were encouraged by President Bush's call for democracy, were flashing the 'V' sign, and raising their fists in opposition to radical Islam."

Iraq's first independent elections in nearly 50 years are slated for January 30—tomorrow—"in a ballot seen as a major step toward fulfilling U.S. goals of building a democracy here," according to the Associated Press (The Dallas Morning News, January 15, 2005). Farid Ayar, of Iraq's Independent Election Commision, expects up to half of the nation's 15 million eligible voters to participate—not bad if it pans out for a brand new "democracy" with so much insurgency-bred violence. Already, thousands of expatriate Iraqis are casting their votes in the U.S., Western Europe and Australia.

Will democracy catch on for the long run in the Middle East? Israel's experiment, underwritten in no small part by the U.S., has proven durable, if not completely secure. Afghanistan's venture into representative government seems almost forgotten, at least to Americans. On the local level at least, reports of large warlord-governed areas persist. The Palestinians have just elected Mahmoud Abbas, and the jury is out on him and his government. A noticable drop in Palestinian-Israeli violence is a good sign. Now, it's Iraq's turn, after several years of global hand-wringing about the nation's readiness, once freed of Saddam Hussein's tyranny, to take on self-rule.

Questions like these arise:

We scrape the surface of these and related issues, like the future of global civilizations, primarily by pointing you to good books on the topics. Our collection of resources on these topics continues to grow and we pray that our collective understanding will grow, as well.


—Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University

Featured Articles and Reviews

Books in Review: Islam & Democracy
Reviewed by Joshua Muravchik
Review of Islam and Democracy by John L. Esposito and John O. Voll. Reviewed by Joshua Muravchik. Are Muslims capable of democratic rule? Muravchik calls out Esposito and Voll on what he characterizes as their "apologetic exercises in cultural relativism" and excuse-making for despotic regimes that use "democracy" as cover for autocratic government and Islamism. Much has been revealed since the release of Islam and Democracy along this line by the downfall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the current milieu in Iraq.
Much of the rhetoric of recent months surrounding the Iraq War, its former regime, the move toward democratic rule and the upcoming elections is fostered by academics like Esposito. This critique provides a glimpse into the worldview-level differences of such thought and more conservative notions of democracy.

Internationalisms (Public Square)—NEW
Richard John Neuhaus
Excerpted from influential conservative Neuhaus' First Things column on foreign policy regarding the U.S. role in world politics and the Middle East. He offers definitions of realistic success in Iraq and a proposed "interntionalism of circumstance." Neuhaus writes, "Talk about establishing democracy in Iraq and then in the greater Middle East can be delusory. Maybe a hundred years from now, but that is beyond the control of today’s decision makers. Equally wrongheaded is the equation of democracy with holding elections. As we discovered in Algeria in 1992 and may yet discover in Afghanistan and Iraq, popular elections can end up putting the fanatics in power.... Democracy will require deep and difficult transformations not just in politics but, much more importantly, in culture, morality, and religion. That almost certainly will not happen in the foreseeable future.... We cannot bestow democracy, but we can befriend those who aspire to democracy."

Rule of Man
Mindy Belz
Democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East will take more than simply ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein's regime from Iraq—though that's a good start. Says one former diplomat, hastily held free elections—"sorry to say"—will bring only more despots to power. Building democracies in a part of the world plundered by dictators requires time and patience.

Books in Review: The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad)—NEW
William Ruger
Book review of Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. Ruger credits Zakaria for writing an "important book," stating that "Zakaria wisely corrects the false but widely held notion that the expansion of democracy always ensures more just outcomes." He also agrees with the author's cautions regarding democracy by imposition, ostensibly the philosophy of current U.S. foreign policy. However, he critiques Zakaria's simplistic faith in institutions and the "rule of the elite" within his arguments promoting less democracy, a more republican style of governing and incremental realization of those goals through encouraging the liberalization of (foreign) governments.

Conflict of Religions
Professor Gene Edward Veith
Veith contrasts Islamic culture and worldview with that of the United States with its Judeo-Christian moorings, especially as they relate to the "war on terror." He concludes, "We have noble goals of liberating the Iraqi people and replacing tyranny with democracy. This is devoutly to be wished. But American freedom and democracy were built on the foundations of Christian convictions and a biblical worldview.... Can a democratic republic be built without foundations? Can a free society be built from a religious system based on external controls?" It will require more.

American Democracy

Faith & Freedom: The Philadelphia Miracle (Chapter 21)
Benjamin Hart
What would transpire in Philadelphia between the spring and fall of 1787 was the construction of the most successful frame of government ever devised in the history of man in terms of ensuring the liberty of the people and perpetuating their prosperity.

The End of Democracy?
First Things
The U.S. Constitution protects our most basic freedoms and is the envy of others in the world who love liberty. This collection contains First Things' controversial End of Democracy series and some responses to it.

World Politics: History & Future

Six Months in Paris that Changed the World
Rusty Wright
Decisions have consequences. Our own lives and world history confirm that. The 1919 post-World War I Paris Peace Conference made decisions that echo in today’s headlines. Fascinating stories about Iraq, Israel, Palestine and China prompt us to consider the impact of our own daily choices.

The Clash of Civilizations
Kerby Anderson
Samuel Huntington's bestselling book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order has stirred a great deal of controversy. He argues that world history will be marked by conflicts between three principal ideologies: Western universalism, Muslim militancy, and Chinese assertion. This article assesses his worldview and provides implications for Christians.