Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Democracy No Cure: Just Look at the Mideast

There is a theory in political science to the effect that one democracy will never go to war against another democracy. Any conflict that arises between them will be resolved through dialog and mutual understanding. However, the recent confrontational reactions by Israel and the West, especially the U.S., to the democratically elected Hamas government in Palestine has produced some doubt as to the truth of this theory.

At the same time, contrary to the reactionary responses of the Israeli and U.S. governments in cutting of foreign funds to the Palestinian Authority, the less democratically elected governments in the Arab world have decided to support the Palestinian case by finding ways to provide the necessary funds needed to run the new democratically elected Palestinian government.

Israel and the U.S. have long been known as champions of democracy. The governments of these countries and their governance practices are in accordance with the principles of democracy. However, their responses to the results of the democratic process in Palestine have given rise to doubts about their real commitment to democracy.

Immediately after the announcement that Hamas, long branded a terrorist group by the West and Israel, had won a landslide victory in the elections, the Israeli government refused to accept the result and decided to sever relations with the Palestinian Authority, ruling out any negotiations with Hamas. At the same time, the U.S. demanded that the Hamas leadership renounce violence and threatened severe consequences if they failed to oblige.

These threats came to fruition this week when the Israeli Cabinet, under the leadership of acting PM Ehud Olmert, decided to withhold the payment of the customs duties it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, worth around US$50 million a month, and to prevent residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip from crossing into Israel for work.

The US, Israel, Iran and the Palestinian Authority are all practicing democratic principles. The governments in these countries are elected through democratic processes and receive a mandate from their peoples. So, in line with the theory referred to above, there should be no problems between the three countries. The democratic principles adhered to by these countries should become a bond that links them together to work for the benefit of humankind instead of fighting against each other.

There are three important reasons why these democracies are not eager to work together as powerful forces for improving the lot of all humankind.

The first and foremost reason for conflict between these democracies are the electors in each country.

Second is a desperate attempt by the West, especially the U.S., to assert its domination in this unipolar world.

The third reason is the absence of any secular, credible or egalitarian alternative to which the people can turn.

The neo conservative-dominated U.S. government under President Bush is determined to push its agenda of world domination at any cost.

In Iran, amid the failure of the relatively moderate Islamic government of Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to the podium of power as an Islamic hard-liner. Similarly, Hamas is a militant Islamic movement that does not recognize the existence of Israel and is determined to bring about the destruction of the Jewish state.

The differences in the composition of the electors in each of these democracies have led to conflict between them.

The fact that the US is desperate to assert its domination in a more and more unipolar world adds further oil to the fire. On the pretext of saving humanity from terrorism, the U.S. government under President George W. Bush is desperate to control international politics. The defiance shown by Iran is only a natural reaction from an oppressed community.

Coming to the third reason, in the absence of any secular, credible and egalitarian alternative in society, people turn to whatever options are available. In the U.S., it is neo-conservatism. In Israel, the Jewish hard-liners are getting the biggest boost, while in Iran and Palestine, Islam has been chosen as the most appropriate alternative for fixing the ills of society.

With the propaganda of the "Clash of Civilizations" continuing to dominate the foreign policy of the global powers, it is only natural to expect retaliation from oppressed groups.

The writer is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.

Published in The Jakarta Post, 8 March 2006.
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