Friday, January 21, 2011

Better Sixty Years Of Tyranny

Tunisia | Riots | Middle East | US | Democracy: "But one thing is clear from the “Tunisian example”: People in the Middle East have given up any hope that the United States can be a force for democratic change. As the uprising spread in Tunisia, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama stayed largely silent until the day Ben Ali fled. That was when Obama issued a statement condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters and applauding “the courage and dignity” of Tunisians. By then, it was too late: The U.S.-backed dictator was gone, and the Arab world chalked up another example of how Washington favors stability over democracy.

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This analysis is flawed.

It is not only the US government that prefers stability over democracy: so do the Arabs, and other non-western people. Democracy is a (western) historical accident. "The forum polity – democracies and republics – owes its origin to two major accidents in human history: accidents that were unique to the western world, and which, indeed, created western civilisation in contrast to the others, which were all palace polities." These are my words, and the two unique events were the two Dark Ages: the one in Greece around 1100 BC to 750 BC, and the one in Western Europe. These events removed government for prolonged periods of time, ensuring a love of 'freedom', or suspicion and questioning of government.

The Tunisians revolted because they had been infected by ideas coming from the West. Otherwise, they would have endured their lot, and, therefore, no repression would have been necessary. It is interesting and important to note that during the long military rule of General Ershad there was no desire except among a handful of westernised Bangladeshi intellectuals to remove the dictator, and finally it was the donors that removed him. He did not need to repress at all because there was no one to repress: there was no opposition to his rule.

Even Imam Khomeini had to face criticism from the clergy during the height of his struggle against the Shah. "A certain akhund wrote to me a few years ago to ask me: "Why do you oppose the government? Do you not know that God gives authority to whomever He wishes?" writes the great Imam. Plainly the akhund was echoing Al-Ghazzali's dictum that one must never overthrow a ruler 'no matter how mad or bad'.
"Sixty years of tyranny are better than an hour of civil strife,"maintained al-Ghazzali.

In the Introduction to Sa'adi's Golestan, we find the poet referring to the king as "zel Allah tala fe arze": the shadow of Allah on earth". This implies complete obedience, and remember, Sa'adi had just lived through the Mongol onslaught and chaos. Imam Khomenie says, "Yes, the Islamic ruler is the shadow of God, but...."

"But now we find one of the `ulama (may God grant him mercy) saying: "If the Imam of the Age (pbuh) considers it to be the appropriate time then he will come. I cannot claim to be more concerned for Islam than he is and he is well aware of the present situation. Thus, he is the one who must make the first move to remedy our affairs and not I!" This is plainly a reference to the Shia belief in the return of the Mahdi. Not until he returns, bringing peace and justice, should one rise up against the authorities. "There are people among us who tell us we must swallow whatever poison the "holders of authority" wish to force down our throats, simply because they are the "authorities". We mustn't say a word against these tyrannical "authorities"".

He rebuts these arguments with his own, and I leave it to the reader to judge their effectiveness. All I am pointing out right now is that there is a considerable consensus among Muslim scholars that we should not rise against our rulers. Indeed, we must not even speak out against them: this leaves democracy out completely as a possibility.

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