Democracy lies in the eyes of the beholder

Expanding on the idea of democracy being “in the eye of the beholder” as opposed to a stagnant, theoretical concept on the page, is this article by Bouthaina Shaaban writing for the online political newsletter counterpunch.org.  Ms. Shaaban, the political and media advisor to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, writes of the experiences of Arabs with democracy, and highlights the discord between the theoretical concept of democracy and the practical that citizens of Muslim nations actually have with democracy on a day that the United Nations has set aside to celebrate it.

Here she cuttingly contrasts the democratic ideals upheld by Western nations, particularly in the lead-up and aftermath of the Iraq War, and the results that have befallen on Arab nations as a result of it, such as a rise to 20% illiteracy, destruction of culture and identity, and loss of a million lives.  She writes, “American talk about ‘democracy’ is completely divorced from issues such as provision of water, electricity, schools, work, security and dignity.  So, what is this democracy, and what are its objectives if it does not aim at improving people’s lives?”

She then compares this form of indentured democratization to the self-chosen style of democracy currently prevailing in Turkey, calling it “an expression of the esence of Islamic democracy based on the power of ideas and logic, not on coup d’etats encouraged by the West.”

But in this way I believe that Ms. Shaaban is overlooking one crucial aspect: Turkish people already had the level of freedom afforded themselves to be able to choose their own form of democracy.  Turkey’s political history is vastly different from that of Iran, or Iraq, or Syria, and the constitutional rights afforded to the Turkish people to enable them to voice dissent and freely vote, for example, are ones that have been fought over for the last seven decades.  A citizen can only choose democracy if the right to choose has been afforded them, and while it is clear that the forced, “Western-style” democracy is one that will inevitably fail without constant political and military interventions, taking this seed of democracy and creating an Islamic Democracy that could succeed can only be done through the political will of the people, and not the political force of the government. 

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