Columnists

Democracy bloodied

Well, that one didn’t take long did it?

The great Arab spring, the awakening of democracy and pluralism in the Middle East, hugs and kisses all round, and even perhaps a goodwill tour from some dreadful CBC comedy team.

No, it’s all a fantasy. A liberal, western, relativist fantasy. Christians murdered and churches destroyed in Egypt, Syrian tanks crushing children, and rape and ritual slaughter in Libya.

I remember one of the first times I reported from the region, during a particularly gruesome period in Lebanese history. One group of Lebanese were dragging wounded members of another group of Lebanese out of their hospital beds and butchering them in the streets.

They were both Arabs, both were Muslim, both were Shiite Muslims, both hated Israel and both wanted revolution.

The only difference was one group leans toward Iran, the other leans toward Syria. This was sufficient to justify the throat-cutting and disembowelling of vulnerable, injured men with something resembling hysterical glee.

It has always amazed me how frequently the Arab street becomes red with blood, and how eager people are to display severed limbs and mangled body parts to the media, as if they were trophies of victory or symbols of suffering.

The Israel-Palestine issue is complex, and both sides deserve peace and security, but only an anti-Israel bigot could fail to notice the targeting of Israeli children, and the deliberate attacks on the elderly and those who cannot fight back.

As Canadians we’re not supposed to conclude anything from all this. All cultures are the same, we are told, and no belief system is superior to another.

Problem is, we can utter that nonsense here, but we’d be killed for saying it in many of the places dominated by the culture and religion we claim is the qualitative and moral equal of ours. Rather a bitter irony there.

Perhaps the Arab Muslim world can develop a democratic, tolerant and non-theocratic system, and if so I’ll be the first to congratulate them.

But when a quasi democracy does occur, it tends to lead to the election of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While both win enough votes to form governments, we and they have to realize that democracy is about much, much more than simple majority rule. It involves respect for the defeated, acceptance of opposition, and encouragement of a multi-layered and sometimes anti-establishment society.

None of this is permitted in Gaza or Lebanon, and we’ve now seen that the mob in Egypt is not going to allow it either. Christians who pre-date Islam, and who were the majority in Egypt long before Muslim cavalry stormed into the heartlands of the early church, are once again being targeted. They are loyal and proud Egyptians, but as non-Muslims they are not accepted in a world where mosque and state are not merely joined, but where membership of the former is a prerequisite for equality in the latter.

The next few months will tell us a great deal about how the Arab world will develop. The law of diminishing dictators could well give way to the rule of ever-increasing fundamentalists. As someone once said, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen

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