The Arab Spring, eighteen months on. Has a passion for freedom of speech, separation of religion and State, and the 'free marketplace of ideas' seized the Arab world? Two weeks ago a Coptic Christian living in California, in no way affiliated with any U.S. government entity, published a comically low-quality 13-minute film trailer ridiculing Mohammed and Islam. The Arab world's reaction?
What about the Muslim world generally?
In the Philippines:
In Sri Lanka:
For sheer territorial coverage, no one can beat Pakistanis. They expressed themselves in Karachi,
and in Lahore:
We mustn't forget Sudan:
Or our old friend Afghanistan:
Nor can we leave out those Muslims having taken up residence chez nous:
It is a precarious exercise to try to crawl into the mind of another. In all likelihood, no one has asked you how you feel about millions of your tax dollars being spent turning the people pictured above into 'democrats':
In his annual budget meeting with Congress, President Barack Obama expressed his desire to establish an $800 million support fund for democracies emerging from the Arab Spring. [...] $770 million of the Arab Spring fund would go towards establishing a “Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund” that would “provide incentives for long-term economic, political and trade reforms to countries in transition,” provided that countries wish to actively make reforms.
The Arab Spring Fund would be implemented in conjunction with up to $1 billion in debt swaps for Egypt; $2 billion in regional Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) financing; and billions of dollars in renewed military and development aid to the region.
But if you were asked, you might respond, 'What are the chances that spending my tax dollars in this way would bear fruit?' Hillary Clinton and her Foggy Bottom footsoldiers would assure you, 'Failure is inconceivable.' Would they be right?
We have considered the question before, having looked at Arabs through many lenses: the anecdotes of observers, democracy and freedom indices, as well as their peculiar marriage practices.
Samuel Huntington warned twenty years ago:
'Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in other cultures. Efforts to propagate such ideas produce instead a reaction against "human rights imperialism" and a reaffirmation of indigenous values.'
Because of its origins in the Arabian Peninsula and its claim to Arabic as divine language, 'Islam' is easy to confound with 'Arab.' In fact, Arabs are a minority of the world's Muslims. A reminder as to the members (in green) of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC):
With or without Arabs, many have looked at world index rankings and concluded, 'Islam and democracy don't mix.'
(Muslim in yellow, Arab Muslim in red)
But as Razib Khan reminds us here, all 'Islamists' are not created equal:
Rather, it may be that Turkey is a particularly tolerant society in the Muslim Middle East when it comes to religious freedom, and so not a good model for what might play out in Egypt (and has played out in Iraq). This matters because people regularly speak of “secular Egyptians,” “secular Turks,” “Turkish Islamists,” and “Egyptian Islamists,” as if there’s a common currency in the modifiers.
So how can we know which, if any, Arab Muslim peoples have the right value systems to become little 'Norways on the Nile'? One way is to ask them. From the 2010 Pew survey:
Many, but by no means all, are sold on the idea of 'democracy.'
When the question is asked only of those who believe that 'Islam's role in politics is large':
Those who insist that Arab democracy be as secular as its European model risk serious disappointment.
Some believe democracy is a choice between a modern, humanistic outlook and a fundamentalist one. Where do Arab Muslims stand on the question?
But 'fundamentalism,' as Razib points out, is contextual. An American Christian 'fundamentalist' might prefer to see abortion outlawed or sex ed removed from the classroom. What might a Muslim 'fundamentalist' prefer?
In the U.S. we're probably not that close to a referendum on whether or not to stone adulterers. The U.K., however, may be farther down this road than we:
A poll of more than 1,000 British Muslims, conducted by the Policy Exchange think-tank this year, found that 36 per cent of Muslims aged between 16 and 24 believe those who convert to another faith should be punished by death.
And that's the 'young, tolerant' generation talking.
Dispatches obtained Islamic texts sold in Britain that say the punishment for apostasy is death - according to all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence. One text called for Muslims to cut off the head of those who reject Islam.
... In 2004, Prince Charles asked British Muslim leaders to renounce laws of apostasy and the death sentence for converts in Islamic countries, but no public statement was ever made.
On the subject of Muslims and the West,
One final point which the current Western democratic model takes for granted is equal rights for women. Muslims speak:
We are struck by two Middle Eastern countries which seem to depart from the norm, one of which is not Arab (Turkey), and one of which was the only Arab country to be majority-Christian at independence (Lebanon). Whether it be the World Democracy Index, the Freedom House Index, the Human Development Index, or others, these two states seem to stand out in a region that is a sea of authoritarianism, familism, and religionism. What are the X factors here? Ethnicity? Culture? Prosperity? Our State Dept. democracy rain-makers would do well to delve into the question of what sets these two apart.
Opinion surveys are one source of information on Arab Muslim thought. A second source is the self-reported values survey, such as the excellent mid-1990s GLOBE project study led by Robert House at the U. of Pennsylvania. Here are some values that may affect democracy's functioning in a given society:
'In-group collectivism' measures the degree of collectivist feeling directed at one's own group (family, clan, tribe).
'Societal collectivism' measures the degree of collectivist feeling directed at the larger society.
'Uncertainty avoidance' measures how highly one values an orderly, predictable, and rules-based society.
'Performance orientation' measures how much we believe rewards should come to us based on merit vs. other reasons (nepotism, etc).
'Future orientation' measures our desire and ability to plan for the future.
'Gender egalitarianism' measures our perception of women's rights in our society.
What are Muslims telling us? On our long journey through the world of Arab Muslims here at Those Who Can See, we have been reminded again and again of Huntington's 'civilisational fault lines':
We are unable to say if the current batch of dollars will go further in 'Arab democracy promotion' than any of the millions spent thus far. We don't know how loudly Defense is crying and how broadly State is smiling at the current situation on the ground in North Africa.
We can only advise the many pundits who preach to us daily from the editorial pages that their blank-slatist dreams are just that. Here on planet Earth, four young men by the names of Jon, Genaro, Josh, and Sapuro came home last week in body bags trying to square the circle of Afghan 'democracy.'
It is easy to dispense blood and treasure on unattainable goals when that blood and treasure are not your own. Our policy request to the Department of State is to turn away from the Francis Fukuyamas of the world; listen to the Samuel Huntingtons. Our ideological seed will take root where the ground is fertile. But it would be fatal to underestimate the vast stretches of ground which are anything but.
Previously: The Voice of the People II: Arab Democracy,