This article was commissioned by the Danish newspaper Politiken and appeared on Sunday, April 6, 2003.
O Democracy, o new messianic prayer currently running on the lips of the multitudes invoked as some merciful deity to hasten the coming of some long-desired deliverance. O how quickly do words and notions, made holy and sacred, turn against their inventors. O how ironic and oft-recurring is the dream that turns into a nightmare, especially when you are an Arab.
“Would you like some democracy with your pizza, sir?”
And so the Americans are coming to bring us, we the unfortunate children of Araby, our long-awaited salvation in the form of democracy. Silly me. I who thought that inherent in the very notion of democracy is the assertion that it is the fruit of toil and sacrifice, that it is a thing we earn and build ourselves in response to some internal yearning, not something delivered upon request.
Had the Americans come to support some Iraqi uprising for freedom and democracy, had they indeed supported just such an uprising when it did take place back in 1991, they would have had some much-needed credibility. Their presence and help might have been appreciated even. But, the way things look today, the imperial logic behind their adventurism is all too visible and daunting to be ignored. It will, therefore, inspire resistance, no matter how futile it will appear at first.
It should be a waste of someone’s precious breath to try to explain how impossible it is for a foreign invader to impose democracy upon an un-cooperating or even defeated people. But people often need to be reminded of the obvious. So there it is plainly put: Democracy cannot be imposed by a foreign invader.
In fact, we can safely assure that democracy and war are rather incompatible, which is why armies, even in the most democratic of countries, are neither organized nor managed in a democratic manner.
“Will you stop dissecting me while I am still alive?”
The French and the British had experimented with us not a few decades ago, and the results were ambivalent to say the least. Neither the intentions nor the subjects of the experiment were as pure as they should or were expected to be – which should not be too surprising really, considering that neither subject nor dabbler were a god. Our humanity continues and will continue to spell the doom of even the noblest of our experiments. There is no reason to think that experiments based on greed will fare any better.
Still, and as we have seen in the aftermath of the Anglo-French experimentation, ambivalence is clearly not conducive to stability. But, since ambivalence is the best the Americans can offer, considering the basic impurity of their intentions and the civil apathy of the Iraqi people, even an American success in the invasion of Iraq will not likely lead to the establishment of a just and democratic society. As such, the very idea of inspiring democratic changes in the rest of the Arab World will have to be dismissed as nothing more than a pipe-dream.
The Thousand and One Year of Silence and Irrelevance
Iraq, and the same could be said of all Arab countries, is not a Germany or Japan. It does not have a recent history of creative thinking on issues such as good governance, the relationship between people and government, civil society, public initiative and right of privacy. In fact, these issues have not been discussed in Iraq, and the Arab World, for close to a thousand years, and this is no exaggeration. As such, the intellectual and cultural tools needed to build the foundation for democracy are absent, and their creation in modes and language that could be appreciated by the Iraqi people will take decades, like all enterprises seeking to influence and alter human thought.
This means that the Americans will have nothing to work with, with regard to democracy-building, when they finish their conquest of Iraq. The best they could do is to install another puppet regime, just like they did in Afghanistan, a regime whose authority will not go far beyond the borders of Baghdad, and will, in fact, have no control over the northern and southern parts of the country, thus creating a de facto division of Iraq laying the foundations for more turbulence in the near future.
Now, some would say that creating such a situation corresponds more closely to the real intentions of the Americans in this war. Be that as it may, the net result is the further destabilization of one of the World’s most volatile region, a development that is unlikely to lead to democratization.
Saint Bush of the Bleeding Wound
But now that the Americans have actually declared and are actively waging their “little war,” it is incumbent upon us to rethink some of our anti-war stands. For an American defeat, or a too costly victory, the kind that can make undertaking similar ventures in the future unthinkable, could have very negative repercussions on all democracy and human right activities in the region.
For, by insisting that democratization of the region is one of the main goals behind the current campaign, the Americans have succeeded in usurping the “cause of democratization” both in governmental discourse, which can easily now denounce democracy advocates as agents of America, and public consciousness, which has traditionally been much more sympathetic to fundamentalist Islam and has always looked down with suspicion on democracy advocates as agents of Westernization.
Whichever way one looks at it then, the legacy of the Bush Administration in the region seems bound to be very undemocratic. Neither victory nor their defeat will be conducive to democracy. This being the case, the humanists amongst us, as is usual in these situations, will have to settle for the lesser of the two evils, however they would define them.
A Freudian Slip
In Arabic, the word for nuclear, nawawi, and the word for semen, manawi, are, as we can see, quite close. A few days before the war, an elderly Iraqi woman of an obviously rural background was interviewed by one of the Arabic satellite channels, she said: “those Americans, they want to bombard us with their manawi.” I tend to agree with the Freudian implications of this statement, which gives a whole new understanding to the term Americanization, not to mention pre-emption.