Monday, December 27, 2004

  • Monday, December 27, 2004
  • Elder of Ziyon
I admire Sharansky and his theories quite a bit, but this is a good counterpoint. I would add as well the concern, which is addressed somewhat below, of what happens when a democratic state chooses a theological dictatorship to rule it? - EoZ

From 1948 to 1950, an Egyptian teacher and freelance writer named Sayeed Qutb, an admirer of the United States and the West, went to America to study educational curricula. What he saw there horrified him, and after his return to Egypt, he became a leader of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb was appalled at what he considered sexual license in America, even in those relatively innocent days of the mid-20th century.

One does not have to be a psychological genius to conjecture that much of what Qutb felt during his sojourn was fear. The degree of sexual freedom and equality that he observed, the sight of women going around in Western attire, working on jobs, interacting with men, profoundly disconcerted him and threatened his belief system, his notion of the proper place of things.

All this is relevant to a message that Minister Natan Sharansky has been propounding in his new book The Case for Democracy (New York, Public Affairs, 2004, with Ron Dermer), in articles and interviews, in meetings with influential figures, including President George Bush, and so on. Sharansky's message centers on a distinction between "fear societies" - dictatorships - and "free societies" - democracies. Sharansky's insistence that all societies, given the choice, will choose "freedom" over "fear" is the basis of his optimistic encouragement of the Bush administration's ambition to spread democracy to the Arab world.

Not surprisingly, Sharansky's paradigm of a fear society is the Soviet Union, whose dictatorship he heroically defied until being allowed to leave his Siberian prison cell for Israel in 1986. Yet his paradigm, as an instance of the transition from fear to freedom, is obviously problematic. Sharansky himself acknowledges this in his book:

"In fact, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the setbacks on the road to democracy today - some of which are very troubling - leave many doubtful that democracy there will stand the test of time. ...But... compared to a Soviet Union in which millions worked for the KGB, millions were in prison, tens of millions lost their lives, and hundreds of millions lived in fear, present day Russia is a bastion of freedom. We must also remember that Russian democracy is in its infancy."

After a few more paragraphs in this vein, however, Sharansky reluctantly admits that this case remains open: "If the example of Russia leaves readers unconvinced, then Japan's transition to democracy should quell any doubts...."

In fact, Freedom House's new ranking of Russia as "not free" for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union strengthens doubts rather than quells them. Freedom House points to increased Kremlin control over television and other media, restrictions on local government, and elections that are neither free nor fair. Even granting that the situation remains much better than in the dark days of the Soviet Union, today's Russia is a weak reed on which to base Sharansky's optimism.

To be sure, democracy has made great strides over the past century and has spread to places and cultures once deemed impenetrable by it. Still, a glance at the world warrants a "half-empty, half-full" caution more than it does a strident optimism. Russia is no longer free and China, while making progress toward economic liberalism, remains a dictatorship and a severe human rights abuser. Democracy has made only scant inroads in Africa and has a fragile hold in an Indonesia threatened by Islamic radicalism. Mark Falcoff ("Latin American Crack-up?" Commentary, July-August 2004) has written about Latin America:

"[The] long season of democratic renewal has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Latin American citizens. In a recent region-wide survey, nearly 55 percent responded that they would support a return to dictatorship if doing so would solve their personal economic problems.... There has been a strong reaction against market-based democratic reforms.... Along with nostalgia for strongmen decked out in epaulettes and brandishing swords, the dream of a nationalist-corporatist state... has likewise begun to reappear.... [T]he wretched performance of the elected leadership in much of the region has tarnished the whole notion of democratic governance."

And a recent poll found that 50 percent of Iraq's Shi'ites - currently viewed as the pro-American camp in that country - say they favor theocracy rather than democracy as their country's eventual form of government. This clouds the optimists' picture even further.

Perhaps what distorts Sharansky's perspective is his focus on only a certain kind of fear - the fear of political persecution felt by people living in totalitarian societies. But there are other kinds of human fear. There is fear of the new, fear of threats to traditional values, fear of the undermining of centuries-old social structures - indeed, fear of freedom.

Even if Sayeed Qutb's metamorphosis into the leader of an anti-Western terror organization is an extreme case, it, too, is paradigmatic. The mid-20th century America to which Qutb reacted with such horror was quaintly conservative compared to today's American and Western world, with its decadent pop culture, sky-high divorce rates, and so on. To believe that this world can convert the Muslim Arab Middle East to freedom and pluralism takes, indeed, a strong dose of optimism.

As an Israeli, I am uneasy about the message that one of my cabinet ministers, the admirable, influential Sharansky, is spreading both on the popular level and at the highest altitudes of power. His sanguine outlook embraces the whole Middle East, including Iraq and the Palestinian Authority, even at a time when realities on the ground in both places seem to rebuff optimism. Last November 25, in a Jerusalem Post op-ed, Sharansky posited four conditions that the Palestinians must meet to prove that they are democratizing: dismantling the refugee camps; ending anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incitement; expanding economic opportunities; and fighting terror. If Sharansky was the one administering the test, I would trust him to do so responsibly. The trouble is that more general messages like the one Sharansky is purveying can encourage eager, impatient politicians into hasty, unwise moves that lead to further disaster.



Hasbys!

EoZTV Podcast

Podcast URL

Subscribe in podnovaSubscribe with FeedlyAdd to netvibes
addtomyyahoo4Subscribe with SubToMe

follow me

search eoz

Loading...

Recent posts from other blogs

comments

Speaking

Follow by Email

Contact

elder -at- elderofziyon dot com

translate

E-Book

For $18 donation








Sample Text

EoZ's Most Popular Posts Ever

Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون
This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 11 years and over 23,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.

Donate!

Monthly subscription:
Payment options

One time donation:

Tweets

Compliments

The Jerusalem Report:"A seemingly indefatigable one-man operation, armed only with a computer, chutzpa and stamina."

Algemeiner: "Fiercely intelligent and erudite"

Omri: "Elder is one of the best established and most respected members of the jblogosphere..."
Atheist Jew:"Elder of Ziyon probably had the greatest impression on me..."
Soccer Dad: "He undertakes the important task of making sure that his readers learn from history."
AbbaGav: "A truly exceptional blog..."
Judeopundit: "[A] venerable blog-pioneer and beloved patriarchal figure...his blog is indispensable."
Oleh Musings: "The most comprehensive Zionist blog I have seen."
Carl in Jerusalem: "...probably the most under-recognized blog in the JBlogsphere as far as I am concerned."
Aussie Dave: "King of the auto-translation."
The Israel Situation:The Elder manages to write so many great, investigative posts that I am often looking to him for important news on the PalArab (his term for Palestinian Arab) side of things."
Tikun Olam: "Either you are carelessly ignorant or a willful liar and distorter of the truth. Either way, it makes you one mean SOB."
Mondoweiss commenter: "For virulent pro-Zionism (and plain straightforward lies of course) there is nothing much to beat it."
Didi Remez: "Leading wingnut"

Interesting Blogs

Categories

Abbas liar Academic fraud administrivia al-Qaeda algeria American Jews Amnesty analysis anti-semitism apartheid arab refugees Arafat archaeology art ASHREI B'tselem bahrain bbc BDS BDSFail Bedouin Beitunia book review breaking the silence Cardozo Chanukah Christians conspiracy theories Cyprus Daphne Anson Davis report double standards Egypt Elder gets results ElderToons Electronic Intifada EoZNews eoztv Erekat EU Fake Civilians 2014 Fatah featured fisking flotilla free gaza freedom of press palestinian style future martyr gaza Gaza Platform George Galloway gideon levy gilad shalit gisha Goldstone Report Good news Grapel Guardian gunness hamas Hamas war crimes hasbara Hasby 2014 Hasby 2016 Hebron helen thomas hezbollah history Hizballah Holocaust denial honor killing HRW Human Rights Humanitarian crisis humor Hypocrisy ICRC Ilan Pappe impossible peace incitement international law intransigence iran Iraq Islamism Israel Loves America Israeli culture Israeli high-tech J Street jabalya jeremy bowen Jerusalem jewish fiction Jewish Voice for Peace jihad jimmy carter John Kerry jokes jonathan cook Jordan Juan Cole Judea-Samaria Kairos Karl Vick ken roth khalid amayreh Khaybar Lebanon leftists Linkdump lumish mahmoud zahar Malaysia max blumenthal McGraw-Hill media bias Methodist Miftah Mohammed Assaf Mondoweiss moonbats music Muslim Brotherhood Natural gas Nazi NGO NIF norpac NYT Occupation offbeat oxfam PA corruption PalArab lies Palestine Papers pallywood pchr PCUSA Peter Beinart poll Poster Preoccupied Prisoners propaganda Proud to be Zionist purimshpiel Qaradawi Qassam calendar Rafah Ray Hanania real liberals reference Richard Falk rogel alpher roger cohen roger waters Saudi Arabia saudi vice self-death self-death palestinians sex crimes SFSU shechita sheikh tamimi SodaStream South Africa Speech stamps Syria Tarabin Temple Mount Terrorism This is Zionism Thomas Friedman Tunisia Turkey UK UN unesco unhrc United Arab Emirates Unity unrwa UNRWA hate unrwa reports UNRWA-USA Vic Rosenthal Washington wikileaks work accident X-washing Yemen zahran zionist attack zoo Zvi

Blog Archive

subscribe via email