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Outside View: Democracy and Bush's riddle

By Vanessa Yeo
A UPI Outside View commentary
Published 2/28/2004 5:37 AM
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SINGAPORE, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The ease, or perhaps na´vetÚ, with which the Bush administration pitches democracy in the Middle East revolves once again on the imperious premise that only Washington knows what is best for the world. Has the administration any idea that for democracy to take root, certain conditions have to be met?

To take such high-sounding abstract concepts about democracy to one-time desert Arabs is somewhat akin to getting an ape to appreciate a diamond. In any case, if the ape does not swallow that diamond -- though in many cases it would -- getting peoples without democratic traditions is like asking people to organize their lives all over again to suit the image of someone else.

Mind you that's how inscrutable things may actually out to be when something as enigmatic as democracy is pushed down the throats of peoples'.

About the American push for global democracy, the recently imploded Soviet Union and Japan come as examples of nations accepting an alien ideology -- albeit perhaps unwillingly.

Despite the 13 years since its collapse in 1990, Russia (ex-Soviet Union) today is nowhere near the supposed glory it envisaged it would reach, when it began experimenting with glasnost and perestroika.

And the zombie nature of the country hasn't helped either. With scores of principalities pulling at opposite ends, the aftermath of its collapse to this day has been a chaotic mix of mob rule, secessionist warfare and constant talk of coup. And, what was really worse in 1994, was talk of a return to communism, as the only form of ideology suitable for the body politic of the nation.

If democracy is of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," the closest mirror image of that serene state in Russia, existed ironically during the era of Stalin and Khrushchev.

And now coming to Japan, the great wonder story of resilience whose capitulation during World War II was ordered not by invading U.S. troops, but by the emperor. Even before its entry into the war, Japan was already an affluent nation with high levels of literacy.

Its key institutions, like the civil service, established along Western lines were not only the toast of the world but also arguably one of the best.

Helping its democratic credentials was the homogeneous nature of the state; with no significant state religion -- though Shintosim was widely practiced -- to regulate public life.

Moreover, the sufferings arising out of a horrendous war brought on by disastrous, domestic politics served quid pro quo as the reason for the unquestioned acceptance of U.S.-imposed democracy.

It is largely a different kettle of fish in the Middle East, though democracy more or less coasts along in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, although differently from what the Americans would have preferred.

But, what about religion and its ability to rally masses in the Arab world? As after didn't we hear former president Saddam Hussein urge his faithful to rise against the so-called infidels?

So, religion undeniably is too strong a component to ignore when pushing for democracy in the Middle East. As strongly embedded as it stands, casting it away for securalism is sure invitation for trouble.

Secondly, as opposed to Japan bending at its knees or the Soviet Union with cap in hand, honor and pride plays a deep psychic influence in the Arab world.

If democracy is going to result from the very nation that sends its troops into the homes of ordinary Iraqis to search and rifle their belongings, it would leave a wound deep enough to resist and retaliate against the intruder's blueprint for change; be it political or otherwise.

What's more the Bush administration knows unlike Japan or the ex-Soviet Union, Iraq or the Middle East did not threaten America for her to be submitted to such indignity.

Compounding is the lack of a concrete plan for post-war democracy in Iraq except through an opaque governing council. Perhaps, one of the great casualties of the Iraq war stands ironically as the promotion of democracy itself. At least not in a body bag, it is as wounded as it certainly seems - a riddle for George Bush to confront in his historical judgment.

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(Vanessa Yeo is a student in journalism at FIS Education Center in Singapore.)

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