Commenting on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, I recently commented that there are three groups that oppose democracy in the Muslim world: the secular dictators like Musharaff, the Islamic radicals of the Bin Laden stripe, and the cultural left here in America. In response, several people expressed indignation. One challenged me to provide a single example of a leftist who opposed Muslim democracy. Other liberals noted that they favored the idea of democracy but alas it wasn't succeeding in Iraq. Certainly it does seem odd that a left which is always calling for "more democracy" in America would resist democracy in Muslim countries.
Yet it's true, and my book The Enemy at Home provides chapter and verse. For instance, the leftist author Robert Fisk resolutely opposed America's attempt to introduce democracy in Afghanistan. Incredibly Fisk said that the Taliban government should be kept in power because it had nothing to do with 9/11. Leftist Howard Zinn also equated America's displacement of the Taliban and holding of free elections with the 9/11 attacks themselves, as though both were equivalent crimes. Leftist legal scholar Richard Falk called for a "negotiated settlement" with the Taliban in order to protect the country's "sovereign rights."
Leading leftists such as Edward Said, Toni Morison, Jesse Jackson, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jane Fonda and Jim McDermott took out full-page ads condemning the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. Leftist groups organized more than a hundred demonstrations against America’s efforts there. If these people had their way, the U.S. would not have overthrown the Taliban government and Afghanistan would not have had free elections.
Immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, leftist philanthropist George Soros warned that "I would consider Iraq the last place to choose for a demonstration project" in democracy. Why the Iraqis were ineligible to rule themselves, Soros did not say. When Iraq had its first free election, columnist Bob Herbert said it meant nothing because "a real democracy requires an informed electorate" while the Iraqi people were "woefully uninformed," apparently because they didn't make the choices that Herbert wanted. Leftist columnist Robert Dreyfuss said the Iraqi elections were invalid because "the Sunni community was tricked into voting" and moreover the elected Sunnis "do not represent the resistance." Apparently Dreyfuss thinks car bombers need representation too! Ivan Eland wrote in The American Prospect, "Spreading democracy doesn't reduce terrorism and, if anything, actually makes it worse." How democracy promotes terrorism, Eland neglected to explain.
Notice how the cultural left routinely condemns Bush for "hypocrisy" in using the rhetoric of democracy while the U.S. is allied with secular despots, but very rarely do leftists call for free elections in countries like Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. There was even some cheering on the left when Turkish generals threatened a coup to subvert the elected government from holding free elections a few months ago. So why does the left hate democracy in the Muslim world? The reason is simple. Muslims are socially conservative and generally want a greater role for Islam in their private and public lives. Consequently Muslim democracies are likely to be more conservative socially than they are when secular despots rule them. The left fears Muslim democracy because it is terrified of Muslim values, especially sharia or Muslim holy law. Feminists and gays are not likely to fare very well under Muslim holy law.
When Iraqis rejected secular candidates and voted for a party that pledged to have sharia, at least in some forms of domestic law, the New York TImes howled that democracy could be "consigning Iraqi women to a life of subjugation." Columnist Maureen Dowd warned that "the Iraqi election may actually be making things worse" because "it is going to expand the control of the Shia theocrats." These complaints might have some plausibility if women or Sunnis were not permitted to vote. But women and men both voted for the Dawa party, and so essentially the Times and Dowd were arguing that if Iraqis don't want equal roles for men and women, their democracy is a sham.
Bush's attempt to introduce democracy to Iraq, and to expand the role of democracy in Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan, is a brave and noble experiment. It might fail, and past historical experience is not promising. But if Bush succeeds we could see the beginning of an historical transformation no less significant than the transformation of the old Soviet Union. No wonder the left, not usually given to supplication, is praying very ardently this Christmas season that Bush does not succeed. If democracy fails, in Iraq and elsewhere, there is the added benefit that Democrats will have a better chance to take the White House in 2008.