Democracy is not like making an omelet
May 3, 2003
Wars work like narcotics; they produce illusions. This is true for
those who engage in wars and for those who become victims of war propaganda.
For war leaders, this means that they often have to fool themselves
before they can fool others.
Instructed by his mentor Aristotle, Alexander was under the illusion
that he is uniting Greek and Persian civilizations. Napoleon believed
that he is spreading the French democratic ideas of liberty, equality,
and fraternity. In his war projects, Hitler wanted to ensure the rule
of the Aryan master race.
Saddam Hussein was on a mission to unite the Arab nation against
the Persians, Jews, and Americans. Ayatollah Khomeini wanted to unite
the Islamic world against all domestic and foreign infidels. Sharon
is hoping to force the Palestinians into submission. The suicide bombers
are trying to cow a militarily stronger Israel into submission.
The war in Iraq is no less prone to illusions. The proclaimed aim
is to bring democracy to Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. But
building democracy is not like making an omelet. You cannot build
a democratic regime by breaking a few heads.
Historically, the United States was a world pioneer in democratic
formation. Yet, it took the United States a few decades before it
recognized the rights of people without property to vote. It took
144 years before women gained their right to vote. It was not until
the Voting Rights Act of 1964 that African-Americans in the Southern
states began to enjoy voting privileges. Yet, in the presidential
elections of 2000, many African-Americans in Florida were effectively
denied that right.
Iraq is a complex country with three distinctly different ethnic
groups dominating the south, central, and northern parts of the country.
When in 1918, the British inherited Iraq from the Ottoman Empire as
a mandate, they decided to put the three parts into a unitary state.
The imperial logic was to divide and rule. However, to obtain indirect
rule in the British style, they also privileged the Sunni Arabs (20%
of the population) against the Kurds (20%) and Shi'ites (60%). Saddam
Hussein more or less represented this Sunni minority in a secular
Baathist regime. Now that he is gone, it is not surprising that the
majority demands its democratic rights of representation.
As an occupying power, the United States faces three distinctly different
options, including (1) to find another potentate like Saddam Hussein
to rule Iraq with an iron hand, (2) to build genuine majority rule
against its own short-term interests, or (3) to withdraw and let a
more benign force to undertake the task of establishing peace and
security in a deeply divided, multicultural society.
The task will be difficult, costly, and time consuming. If wisdom
prevails in Washington, this task will be left to the United Nations.
But present UN cannot undertake it unless it is granted a Peace Police
Force and funding to reconstruct the physical and social infrastructure
of an unhappy country. The task of building democracy must be left
to the Iraqi people who have more knowledge of their own country than
Majid Tehranian is Professor, School of Communications, University
of Hawaii at Manoa, and Director of the Toda
Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research in Honolulu,
Hawaii. His latest book is Bridging
a Gulf: Peace in West Asia (London, I. B. Tauris, 2003).
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By Majid Tehranian
Book of the day
a Gulf: Peace in West Asia