Daily archives: March 4, 2011

Western Cant on the Middle East

Consider a few facts:

The Obama administration had two years ago stopped all US funds to human rights defenders and civil society groups in Egypt, stipulating that all aid must go through the Mubarak regime

President Karimov of Uzbekistan killed more peaceful demonstrators in a single day in May 2005 than Colonel Gadaffi has done in the Libyan uprising so far. Yet Karimov in the fast three months had a visit from Hillary Clinton, a new military supply agreement with the United States and new partnership agreement with NATO, an official visit to the EU in Brussels, and new tarriff preferences for slave picked Uzbek cotton entering the EU. Most people in Uzbekistan have not a clue the arab revolutions are happening, such is state control of meida and internet and blocking of airwaves

In 1991, when the allies embarked on the First Gulf War to retake Kuwait from Iraq, John Major and George Bush sr declared that, rather than simply put the absolute Kuwaiti monarchy back on its throne (which it had unheroically run away from), the price of western soldiers being asked to risk their lives was the democratisation of Kuwait. That was immediately forgotten after the war. Ordinary British, US and other taxpayers paid out billions to put one of the richest families in the world back in sole charge of massive oil reserves. The Kuwaiti royal family still has a total monopoly of executive power, with a talking shop parliament and very limited electorate.

I could go on. If you want to go to the absolute font of western hypocrisy, take this from David Cameron:

It is not for me, or for governments outside the region, to pontificate about how each country meets the aspirations of its people. It is not for us to tell you how to do it, or precisely what shape your future should take. There is no single formula for success, and there are many ways to ensure greater, popular participation in Government

This was spoken in Dubai as Cameron travelled the region with a gang of millionaire arms dealers trying to flog weapons to any Emir wanting to buy. In other words, we feel free to insist on democracy in Libya. If we don’t do so in Saudi Arabia, it is not because we are hypocrites, it is because there is no single formula. Democracy would be quite wrong for Uzbekistan and Bahrain, and until two months ago it was quite wrong for Egypt too. It might hurt our allies. But it is absolutely essential yesterday in Libya and Zimbabwe.

Words scarcely suffice to condemn this cant. In Bahrain the majority are struggling for more freedom from their minority rulers, to a deafening silence from the West. In Yemen, a gross dictator hangs on with every kind of US support. In Egypt, the US policy of propping up Mubarak, then their replacement policy of a managed transition to Suleyman, have failed one by one and now we have a military dictatorship which is every day abducting and torturing pro-democracy campaigners. Over fifty Tahrir Square demonstrators have been sentenced to at least three years jail each by military tribunals in the last week, to total western silence. The US aim of securing an entrenched pro-Israeli government continues to be pushed forward by every available means.

That odious charlatan Niall Ferguson, producer for the right wing US market of popular history devoid of original research , informs us that democracy is not something arabs can do. For him to cite the invasion of Iraq, which he supported, as evidence that you cannot succeed with democracy in Arab countries, is sickening on so many levels. That democracy might be better implanted without killing hundreds of thousands of intended recipients, like so much else, does not occur to him.

Ferguson’s ludicrous assertion – inaccurate even for a generalisation – about lack of property rights in the Islamic world making democracy impossible there, needs to be challenged.

Firstly, it is by no means clear that democracy can only exist in a society with entrenched property rights. Ghana, for example, is widely viewed as the model African democracy, yet it is virtually impossible to own land there other than leasehold from the “stool”, or local chieftaincy. The vast majority of Ghanaians are not property owning in the Ferguson sense, but democracy and human rights function very well, thank you.

Secondly, there is a wide variety of property models throughout the Islamic world, and Islam has little or nothing to do with why the model is so different in Turkey, Morocco, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

The notions that arabs and/or muslims are incapable of democracy is of course the staple of neo-conservative thinking. For there to be a “Clash of civilisations”, Islamic civilisation must be portrayed as incompatible with all modernity, as retrograde, autocratic and violent. Again, that is far from the truth.

That Islam and democracy are incompatible (and Turkey therefore presumably a mirage) has been the excuse for the Western backing of Mubarak, Karimov and endless other “hard men”. We really back them because they serve western interests over oil and gas, over Israel, or over Afghanistan. But we pretend that we back them because the only alternative to them is radical Islam.

That false dichotomy was given a seeming substance by our complicity with the torturers of Egypt, Uzbekistan, Tunisia and Morocco. The regime torturers happily made dissidents twisting in unimaginable agony admit that they wanted an al-Qaida state. The regime passed this on to the CIA and MI6, and they and western political leaders happily swallowed this claptrap because it united their interests with those of their client regime in a grubby circle of lying self-justification. I hope that puts Murder in Samarkand in context for you.

As for Gadaffi, we should not make the mistake of presuming he is not bad, because he is hypocritically denounced by those who support other dictators as bad or worse. Gadaffi is bad, and he is barking mad (you can read of my personal experience of him in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo). I hope that the Libyan people manage to oust him and bring democracy, though I fear this curiously low level civil war could drag on for a long while.

But the West should stay out. That the powers which are still trying, in the interests of Israel, to limit the democratic reform in Egypt, which still occupy Afghanistan, and are still propping up their puppet Gulf autocracies, should interfere with air or ground intervention, would be deeply unhelpful and the consequences are unreckonable. I can see an argument for shipping food and medical supplies to Benghazi and Tobruk, but that is the limit of western interference which might be helpful.

The Arab people have shown they are more than capable of seizing their own destiny. This must be for the Libyan people and other Arab states to sort out. For years, Western commentators spoke of “the Arab street” as a coherent public opinion, but as though it were natural that such opinion was at complete odds with the views of autocratic leaders, and the arab voice had no potential for translation to action. That has changed and the Arab voice must reverberate loudly enough to shake down more autocratic leaders – Gadaffi included.

The undeniable fact of the existence of the articulate young protestors of Tunisia, Tahrir Square, Bahrain, Muscat and elsewhere should have killed forever the figleaf behind which Western viciousness sought to skulk, that there are only two Arab political options: dictatorship or theocracy. In fact the Arab peoples are teeming with possibility and vast untapped human potential, waiting to form dynamically into new political and social organisation. We should leave them alone, stop arming their repressors and give them that chance.

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It Looks Wonderful – But Does it Work?

I have a brand new shiny blog but can I fly it? I’ll never get over Macho Grande.

Infinite thanks to Tim Ireland for the extraordinary amount of work involved in getting this blog moved over from Movable Type to WordPress. Not to mention cleaning out over 300,000 pieces of spam. Transferring the 57,000 (yes, really that many) remaining genuine comments on to the Intense Debate plugin has been even more onerous and is still not complete. While that process goes on, comments will have to be delayed by moderation. Volunteer moderators from longstanding and trusted associates and contributors are welcome.

Thanks as ever also to Richard Kastelein and expathos for their fearless hosting.

Many of you will be familiar with WordPress; input is welcome on the format, look and working of the new site and which plugins you would particularly want to see.

Events over the last few months has made this blog’s largely international focus, particularly on human rights and the Islamic world as impacted by Western foreign policy, more relevant than ever. So if I can post this, then enough of the admin and let me get down to the real work.

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