If Bush’s men are still prating about “democracy,” this tells us three things about them. One, they are ignoring what “democracy” means in the places where elections took place. Among the “Palestinian” Arabs this meant that the Slow Jihadists (Fatah) were replaced by the Fast Jihadists (Hamas). In Lebanon, “democracy” appears to have been interpreted to mean those “Cedar Revolution” demonstrations in Beirut, but those “Cedar Revolution” demonstrations (with those pretty Christian girls snapped sitting on the shoulders of Christian boys) were nothing compared to the Hizballah demonstrations. And if the Shi’a now constitute 40% of the Lebanese population, and are allotted far less than that by the power-sharing arrangements established long ago (those arrangements are based on a 1932 census), then real “democracy” in Lebanon — of which Bush’s man Dan Barrett and Rice and Bush prate — would only mean a rise in Hizballah’s power, and would certainly be the end of the Christians of Lebanon.
As for “democracy” elsewhere, where is it, or what would happen if it came? In Syria, it would be the end of the Alawites. The Sunnis would massacre them overnight in their villages, and the Christians — the Orthodox, the Maronites, and the Armenians — would no longer enjoy the protection of the Alawite regime (my god, the Syrian government shuts at Christmas, and Good Friday processions are allowed in public, and the Muslims do not dare touch them). If you want “democracy” in Syria, you are asking for an end to that protection of Christians.
The second way in which “democracy” has been misunderstood by the Bush Administration has been in its ignoring of the nature of Islam. Yet that is the main subject, and virtually the only subject, that is of significance when one discusses the Middle East. It is completely absent from both the decision-making of the Bush Administration and from the banal and often stupid suggestions of the Iraq Study Group. Islam teaches its adherents that the uncreated and immutable word of God, the Qur’an, as further glossed by the Sunnah (that is the Hadith and the Sira, which together provide a guide, through the recorded words and acts of Muhammad, of what this or that Qur’anic passage must mean), is the source of all authority. Islam means “submission,” and it is the duty of Muslims to “submit” to the word of God — not to question themselves, not to exercise their own powers of ratiocination or, still worse, their own moral judgment. Morality is not part of it. If Allah commands, that is it. For Allah Knows Best.
Islam is a complete system that comprises not merely, not even mainly, what we in the West think of as religion, with rituals of worship and some posited anthropomorphic Creator of the Universe. It also extends into and covers every other area of life, including the political. Indeed, Islam owes its origin to the desire and felt need of conquering Arabs, who had already begun to seize the lands of non-Arab Christians and Jews who were civilizationally far more advanced, more settled, and richer than they. They needed to create or to exploit a belief-system concocted partly of bits and pieces of Christian and Judaic stories and major figures. These were appropriated in distorted fashion to become part of Islam, as well as pagan Arab lore from the time of the Jahaliyya (Ignorance), such as the “djinn.” Islam, in other words, was created both to justify, and promote, conquest by the Arabs. It helped to have a belief-system that looked, superficially, as if it might be, as they insisted, the “true version” of something that those they conquered had a lesser, distorted edition of — not so much a rough draft, as Jewish and Christian texts that were themselves debased versions, versions gone awry, of the True Text of Islam, which those nice conquering Arabs were offering them as part of the package of conquest.
In the belief-system of Islam, political as well as all other legitimacy is located in the Word of Allah, in the uncreated and immutable Text. It is not to be located in the expressed will of mere mortals, who after all have one duty: to submit to Allah. When Bush saw the elections in Iraq as some kind of wonderful confirmation of “democracy,” he did not understand — and no one around him understood– that the election took place, as it did, because the Shi’a were happy to do as their leaders told them. Al-Sistani gave the word from on high and other Shi’a clerics followed suit: go ahead, vote. Why? Because the Shi’a were sure to win, constituting as they did 60-65% of the population. That was the only reason. And they marched off and voted just as told, en bloc, and then held their purple thumbs up for all the world, as if they had been New Englanders going off to vote for Town Meeting. All nonsense, but who wanted to sourly and truthfully explain what was going on back in January 2005, when a New Day Was Dawning in the Middle East?
The third way in which the word “democracy” has been misused by the Bush Administration is in its shallow conception of what this means. It is clear, for example, from all the analogizing by Rice and Bush between what went on in Iraq and our own Revolution and the Framers of the Constitution, including those hideous comparisons between the Muslims of Iraq in their “constitutional” undertakings and the brilliant, unsurpassable collection of men who met in Philadelphia, that neither Bush nor Rice has an understanding of either the ideological currents that led up to and created the men who met in Philadelphia, nor of the nature of what they achieved, nor of much else about American history.
We are now ruled, apparently, by people who do not know about Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, about Montesquieu’s “The Spirit of the Laws,” about what Jefferson or James Madison or James Wilson read or what they wrote or thought about. The dumbing down has also been a dumbing up. The people who rule us are not like those who once did, whom one could expect to have known American history and the history of the development of the idea of freedom, a subject about which those who presume to instruct and protect us should be expected to know all about. They should know what it is they are supposed to protect. “The Idea of Freedom in Human History” is not exactly an abstruse topic. See Herbert Butterfield, see Herbert Muller. But apparently Bush, the Andover and Yale cut-up, never had much time for book-learning, and Rice was too busy being the dutiful striving graduate student in Kremlinology to learn about American history. Yet American history and the history of the Western political and cultural tradition and achievements should be a requirement for participation in government at the upper levels. If there is no understanding of what it is you are supposed to be protecting and cherishing, and if you have so little historical sense or understanding of what the Framers achieved that you dare to compare those semi-primitives in Iraq with the Framers of Philadelphia, then you do not deserve power, or proximity to power. You deserve mockery, and banishment from power.