May 1, 2005

A New World

This Karl Zinsmeister analysis on the progress toward democracy in the Middle East has been out for several weeks at The American Enterprise magazine site, but I just got around to reading it in the print edition and thought it was worth sharing. Among my favorite passages was this one:

The forbearance that Iraq's Shiites have demonstrated over the last year strikes me as heroically impressive. Despite scores of horrible provocations--terrorists blasting weddings, shrines, beloved leaders, all in the hope of inciting a backlash that might spark an Iraqi civil war--the Shia have refused to retaliate or match tit for tat (as the longstanding Arab tradition of vengeance calls for). Clearly, a critical mass of Iraqis are ready to experiment with political tolerance and pluralism for the first time ever.

While a replay of the Khomeini nightmare seems dubious, we should keep our expectations modest when it comes to the newly emerging politics of the Arab world. In particular, we need to give Iraq's Shiites room to be Shiites. Many of the people the Iraqis choose as their leaders will not look or sound like Western politicians. The constitution they will draft this year is not likely to be one that Americans would want to live under. Some new Iraqi laws will make us squeamish. All this we must accept.

Introducing democracy does not mean that other people must remake themselves in our image. Beyond respecting basic human dignities, Iraqis should have the right to shape their society as they see best--including basing it on traditional Islamic precepts if they choose. We in the West must not anathematize Islamic law; our goal should instead be to housebreak Islamic fundamentalism, to link it to democratic due process so that the potential for tyrannizing and bellicosity is tamed out of it.

The first Islamic democracies are not likely to be places where we would be tempted to take our kids for vacation. Even the friendliest ones will sometimes be rhetorically quite anti-American. Then again, so is France. We don't need affection from Middle Easterners; we need only peace.

Read it all, along with lots of other good stuff at the TAE Online site.

Posted by dan at May 1, 2005 1:16 AM