Arab Spring

Ar(a)b[or]
A barren tree, once full of life
Stands leafless, brown ice in gloom
A barren tree, once full of strife
Stands not a spark, not a flower in bloom
A barren tree, once full of promise
Stands in sorrow, a promise but for tomorrow
As for today, not a leaf dares there stay

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Democracy or Terror

Now that we have been riding this democracy wave for sometime the least we can do is to acknowledge it when it stares us right in the face. This democracy wave comes ashore, not in the form of our good friend Musharraf, but in the flow of journalists, judges, lawyers and human rights advocates getting clubbed by his stooges in the streets of Islamabad, Karachi and Rawalpindi.

It is the moment of truth and we must put our money where our collective mouth is, which has been decisively in democracy and for good reason. Beside the obviously expedient use of democracy to advance our interests like this administration’s justification of the Iraq war, we really do believe in the moderating effect of democracy and its unstoppable tide through history.

Unstoppable because empowered people everywhere will wish to control their own destiny rather than have it be decided by a general who, needless to say, has his own interests at heart. It is imperative that when a country finally reaches this state of self-determination, we are standing with it and not holding the millstones that were once tied tightly around its neck. It is for this reason that our support in the tune of billions of dollars to Despot Musharraf is at once morally bankrupt and strategically reckless.

However, even if our fast-paced nation cannot fathom such longterm politicking, we can rest assured that is also dangerous in the very near future. The Musharraf basket is a tattered one indeed and our whole alliance with such a strategic country should not rest on the fortune and fate of one widely unpopular man. Supporting the strong civil society in Pakistan, on the other hand, will ensure us a place at the table with the inevitably approaching new Pakistani government.

Today’s Pakistan provides important insight into many other Muslim countries, which is where democracy’s moderating effect comes into view. Musharraf’s Pakistan has been an incubator of extremism and radicalization, mostly from the northwest region of the country. Musharraf’s army cannot defeat half the country but a consensus government in Islamabad can surely coerce them into order and peace. Musharraf’s Achilles’ heel is his illegitimacy; he cannot ask for law and order and jail the lawyers and judges.

As in Turkey, democracy will act as a moderating force in Pakistan, which is good for us and for our NATO allies in Afghanistan. The Turkish Islamists succeeded in winning the elections but they quickly learned to talk less about religion and more about economics and so they won the elections again and Turkey is better for it. In their reign, Turkey has become less xenophobic, less nationalist, less militaristic and more tolerant. In Iran, on the other hand, the Islamists have alienated their constituents by talking too much religion and too little food on the table.

Pakistan now has a chance to be another Turkey in the Middle East. Its vibrant media and strong judiciary have shown themselves capable of confronting a dictator and they will be the standard bearers of Pakistan’s democracy and its protectors against corruption and militarism. Moderate Islamists and secularists are our best bets against extremists from Morocco and Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Our choices are clear: either we support democracy and its moderates or stand with the dictators, helping them tend to their incubators of radicalization and terror.

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