Friday, September 16, 2005

Echoes of Totalitarianism

As Europe tries to make its vision of a post-conflict, legalistic world the blueprint for the EU; and attempts to make the US accept that the whole world should work this way, we should remember (via Real Clear Politics) the previous exports of Europe that did take hold in the Middle East and what it means for Iraq and the Arab world:

Can constitutional democracy work here? Bernard Lewis, a premier historian of the Middle East, identifies the West as originator of harsh authoritarianism here, from Napoleon's dictatorship in Egypt in the 19th century, to the arrival of European-style fascism in the 20th century. Lewis insists that prior to European approaches the region produced far less menacing leaders. Lewis sees hope in history because these earlier leaders -- while not democrats -- governed through consultation and consensus among the major stakeholders in society. Looking at the political posters throughout Baghdad left over from the January election, I realize there may be a historical and cultural foundation that accepts democracy.

Those sophisticates who say the Middle East cannot handle democracy because of historical reasons ignore that the history the skeptics argue is indigenous is actually the echo of European political thought. First Napoleon's version of government penetrated the region and then the fascism, communism, and socialism that have been imported from Europe since the 1930s provided the patterns for governing.

We rid Europe of fascism and communism (socialism, sadly is still alive in Europe and in certain areas of our own country), and now we face the echoes of Europe's past exports to the Moslem world.

I don't think democracy in the Arab and Moslem worlds is a pipe dream. Their current systems are not "authentic" local customs at all. So the idea that replacing autocratic rule with democracy in the region is wrong. But eradicating the foul European ideas that have poisoned the region's development since their independence will take a lot of work.