Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A reminder

Every now and then, though not recently, what with the growing and necessary obsession with a referendum here and an equally strong obsession with the remaking of this little corner of the blogosphere, we feel that there needs to be a reminder as to what we are really fighting for.

It is not simply an exit from the European Union though that would not come amiss; it is not even a restoration of ancient notions of liberty though that, too, would be nice even if it meant possibly the abandonment of modern mass democracy; it is not just a victory over the dark forces of terrorism, though that is absolutely essential for without it we would not even exist.

We are fighting for all those things and for a much more general concept of liberty. It is on that basis that we acknowledge who our real allies are even though, from time to time, we need to form temporary alliances with countries and systems we are not too keen on. Remember what Churchill said about Soviet Russia and his readiness to say a few kindly words about the Devil if Hitler invaded Hell.

We face an almost permanent problem as far as the Middle East goes because of the number of people whose opposition to Israel no matter where, no matter when, no matter how is almost pathological.

Yes, yes, yes, it is all anti-Zionism not anything more sinister. Sez you. At the risk of repeating myself, let me quickly run through the arguments.

There is no particular reason why any Israeli government, any Israeli politician, any Israeli political decision should not be criticized. Heck, the Israelis do it all the time. Three Israelis = five different parties. We all know that.

Of course, criticizing Arab governments may be a little more difficult, especially for people who live under those governments. One can all too easily find oneself in a very unpleasant prison, being beaten up (at best) by some very nasty people.

But if we move on to opposition to Israel under any and all circumstances we start running into difficulties. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a young ex-army officer who was clearly heading for the Foreign Office and who expounded about the wickedness of the Israeli fence or various retaliatory actions.

I asked him whether he did not think that Israel had the right to defend itself. He pursed his lips, thought for a moment and said with a great deal of self-satisfaction: “well, ish”. As far as this young man was concerned the only democracy in the Middle East had no real right to defend itself and one’s natural place was on the side of its tyrannical enemies. I am sure he is rising fast in the FCO.

OK, I am coming to a point. On the American Enterprise Institute website there is an interesting piece by Joshua Muravchik, who is, apparently, writing a book on Arab democrats. (Yes, he deals with the obvious joke.)

He gives some figures, which might be of interest. Basing his figures on those of Freedom House’s calculations of “free”, “not free” and “partly free” (hint: there is more to freedom than just elections), Muravchik says:
Out of 171 non-Arab states in the world, the number of democracies is 123, or 72 percent. Of the 22 Arab states, the number of democracies is zero.
In fact, there are a few “partly free” ones, like Jordan, which does have rudimentary democratic institutions.

He then discusses why this might be so, discarding both poverty and Islam as completely satisfactory arguments. Many poor countries are developing towards democracy and there are majority Islamic countries that have free elections and other appurtenances of freedom. (Though I personally would not include Nigeria amongst those.)
What, then, is the missing variable? For this I have no data but only a speculation based on observation and reinforced by conversations with many Arab friends. I believe that the 60-year Arab obsession with Israel (which is, by the way, the only Middle Eastern country that Freedom House considers "free") is the key factor--perhaps the most important one--blocking the political development of Arab states. It explains why the Middle East, of all the regions of the world, has remained largely untouched by the global trend of democratization.

We can see this in the bold assertions of Arab dictators who say that they cannot liberalize now because their countries must be strong in the face of the Zionist enemy. But we can also see it among reformers. In 2005, a new protest movement called the Egyptian Movement for Change, or Kifaya, emerged in Egypt. Kifaya means "enough." But aside from demanding an end to Mubarak's rule, what was Kifaya's program? First and foremost, it sought to reverse Egypt's largely constructive relationships with Israel and the United States.

Democratization has occurred where people have poured their energies into fighting for democracy, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Think of Walesa, Havel, Mandela, Yeltsin. For that matter, think of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King.

The political energies of the Arab world, however, have been siphoned into the endless quest for redress of the great humiliation of Jewish sovereignty in the heart of the Arab region. This obsession has cost the Jews a lot. It has cost the Arabs even more.
In other words, those Westerners who, misguidedly, encourage this obsession are not simply not part of any kind of solution. They are a major part of the problem.