No Doubt About It: Muslims Can Handle Freedom
by Isaiah Z. Sterrett
29 April 2004
No one claims democratizing the Middle-East will be easy. But it is absolutely possible.
Last week I wrote
a column in which I argued that liberals have started addressing conservatives
as “neoconservatives” because the word “conservative”—without the divisive
prefix of “neo”—no longer frightens the American public. By labeling
the Bush Administration “neoconservative,” rather than merely conservative,
liberals are trying to undo all of the positive steps conservatives have
taken to improve our image.
In other words, liberals are trying to discredit conservatives by calling
us names. (I guess you know it was a slow news week when you’re writing
stories about decades-old problems.)
In response to my article, I received some rather interesting mail.
One message was especially striking. It was written by a “paleoconservative,”
the wing of conservatism with which Pat Buchanan identifies himself.
Paleoconservatives, to paraphrase the note, believe that freedom must be
rooted in a society’s culture. Islamic cultures, he said, don’t have
the ability to experience freedom, or any form of government, for that matter,
other than oppressive theocracy.
Put a bit less prettily, the writer’s basic thesis was: we Americans
may understand freedom, but not those darn Muslims!
People who think like this don’t deserve to have the word “conservative”
anywhere near them—with or without some inane prefix. Indeed, people
like this are generally known as “racist.”
Moreover, the notion that a non-free country can’t become free is completely
unsupported by history. Japan is perhaps the best example of such a
transformation. Thanks to the United States, in just a few decades,
the Japanese citizenry went from living under an unelected Emperor, to enjoying
one of the most prosperous, respected, and stable democracies in the world.
The Russians have a similar story. For nearly a century they were the
symbol of brutal despotism—the utter antithesis of American autonomy.
Thy banned The Bible. Blue jeans had to be smuggled in. Millions
of people had to wait in hours-long lines for chickens and toilet paper.
Today, they are a democracy.
And then there’s the United States of America. We, too, were once ruled
by an oppressive government, and we, too, struggled for many years to achieve
freedom. But today, as Colin Powell triumphantly reminded Dominique
de Villipin at the U.N., we are the oldest democracy on Earth. (Take
that, you cheese-sniffing mollycoddle!)
Just this week, South Africans inaugurated their president, Thabo Mbeki,
to a second term, and celebrated a decade as a multiracial democracy.
"Despite the fact that we are a mere 10 years removed from the period of
racist dictatorship,” Mbeki said, “it is today impossible to imagine a South
Africa that is not a democratic South Africa."
As the San Jose Mercury-News reported, “The presidents of Zimbabwe,
Congo and Nigeria, the kings of Lesotho and Swaziland, and the vice presidents
of India and Iran were among representatives from some 100 countries at the
And as for Muslims, what about Israel? True, most of the population is Jewish
(approximately 78%), but 15% of Israelis are (mostly Sunni) Muslims.
The right-wing, vehemently anti-terror, pro-American leader of Israel, Ariel
Sharon, was democratically elected. Obviously Israeli Muslims have
been pretty successful with democracy.
No one claims democratizing the Middle-East will be easy. It will be
a long, hard, struggle. Much blood will be shed. International
support will be tremendously important. Strong leadership will be crucial.
Iraq is where all of this begins. We didn’t go to war because of weapons
stockpiles, though that was obviously part of the reason, nor did we go in
because of United Nations mandates. We went to war because President
Bush had the foresight and wisdom to understand that the Mid-East needed
vast, sweeping change.
Tough-talk and a couple of cruise missiles wasn’t going to get the job done.
Democracy in the Arab world is the only way terrorism will ever be stopped.
And it is absolutely possible.
Z. Sterrett, a resident of Aptos, California, is a Lifetime Member of the
California Junior Scholarship Federation and a Sustaining Member of the Republican
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