Sunday, February 6, 2011
Egypt and Democracy and Religion.. Oh My!
Earlier this week, Glenn Beck was "educating" his listeners about the situation in Egypt and why it is all freedom-loving Americans should be terrified. For a marginally more tolerable rendition of this asinine drivel, you can view a discussion of it on Chris Matthews here. Essentially, Beck is "planting his flag" in the camp of UFO-landing, lunar landing hoaxing, government mind controlling conspiracy nuts. He believes a strategic avoidance of bombing in the region of Ancient Babylon will seat a great evil: an Islamic Caliphate.
The upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt has certainly altered a common perception of the situations in Islamic dictatorships. The people's desire for a fair and legitimate government is enough to bring about change by itself. The democratic spirit that is spreading throughout the nation like wildfire is unique as it is born out of an internal desire to change the status quo. These people are instigating their own revolution and fighting for a cause that is truly their own.
Beck's concerns are so very ludicrous on virtually every level of analysis, that addressing them specifically seems like an outright waste of time. Needless to say, there is a spreading fear throughout the American right regarding the outcome of the Egyptian revolution/crisis/event: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood are responsible for producing Ayman al-Zawahiri as well as the writings of Sayyid Qutb which are hostile towards the West. As a significant force in Egypt, the fear is the possibility of a Brotherhood-operated government and what that could mean for the West.
As noted in The Economist, the Brotherhood must be allowed to compete for the right to govern. Exclusion of the Brotherhood in democratic elections undermines the very concept of democracy itself. The likelihood of the Brotherhood actually swinging a majority vote is a long shot at best, making the possible ramifications of their exclusion must greater than those of their inclusion. Finally, also mentioned in The Economist, Islamists are permitted to participate in democratic elections in Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia and this has yet to lead to the ominous Caliphate Mr. Beck implies.
The fundamental problem which I see with the perspective fearmongering conservatives like Glenn Beck are perpetuating is a basic flaw in democratic and regional understanding. First, the concept of democracy is not something that can be forced upon a nation. The commitment and passion required to sustain a functional democracy is nigh impossible without a personal relationship between its people and the government itself. There is a very real difference in the mindset of the populace between fighting for a voice in the government and being handed electoral privileges by outsiders after the bullets stop flying.
The Middle East is an interesting region. Throughout history, it has been passed around from empire to empire countless times. With such a frequent shift in governments and boundaries, the concept of nationality amongst the people is not an identity they hold as strongly as that of their religion. With Sharia Law the basis for most law in Islamic countries, the concepts of religion and government are rather intrinsically tied. The desire for Americans to minimize the influence of religion on potential Middle Eastern democracies is not only an inappropriate transplantation of American ideals, but demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the Middle East and its history.