A Wake Up Call For Whom?
|The reaction of Western Media to Hamas' electoral victory ranging from outrage to expressions of shocked disbelief have been both instructive and darkly amusing. Surprisingly perhaps one of the few people who came close to a realistic reaction was President George W. Bush:|
He went on to acknowledge that
"When you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls," Mr. Bush said. "If they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know."
The president said the election was "a wake-up call to the leadership" of Palestinians and that it is clear they want good government services, education and health care and an end to corruption. "And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories," he said. (Source: Office of the Press Secretary January 26, 2006)
That Bush drew a correct if simplistic conclusion is undeniable– would that the answers to all such momentous issues were so clear and definite. For this result is not a wake-up call for the Palestinians rather it is a a wake-up call for the West and its unremitting and uncomprehending hostility to all Islamic activism. What exactly were the Palestinians voting for? Efficent and clean government? Assuredly. But they were voting for rather more than that. The Palestinians were saying very clearly that they wanted an end to Israeli colonies, to incursions and road blocks, to being denied clean drinking water, to assasinations, to collective punishments, to being treated as helots. Their aspirations are those of human beings everywhere to freedom, human dignity, and respect. The Western habit of ignoring those fundamental aspirations is at best blind and at worst wilfully ignorant.
When in 2000 the Israeli electorate voted the Likud party into power few observers thought that that was an expression of frustration with Labour's handling of the Israeli economy most commentators said (correctly) that it was a backlash against a Labour party whom Likud characterised as both “soft” on terrorism and overly committed to a “failed” Oslo/Camp David peace process.
However let me return Bush's comments, Bush went on to note that:
These statements are more than somewhat disingenuous and are sure to come as a considerable surprise to the Shia and Kurdish coalitions who between them won more than two thirds of the vote in the last Iraqi election. The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) who have a mutually sustaining relationship with the Badr Brigade - a fully armed and trained militia . Moqtada Sadr’s group has its own militia, the Mahdi Army, while the Kurdish Alliance (see 2nd page of article) who are less than sanguine at the thought of Iraq breaking up have their own fighters, the Pesh Merga - All of these groups are outside of the US tax payer funded "Light and Friendly" central Iraqi army's control. To say nothing of the various Sunni Militias. It's easy enough to agree with the president’s statement, so long as one ignores what is happening in Iraq under US supervision.
It is entirely correct for to insist Bush that Hamas accept Israel's right to exist peacefully alongside a Palestinian state. He and most Westerners should stop deluding themselves that the current climate automatically means that forstering democracy in Arab countries will lead to peace with Israel. That is a comforting Western illusion produced by the same lack of understanding of Arab popular sentiments, the real grievances of the Arab populace, and the disastrous results for the majority of the Middle East's inhabitants of Western interventions and policies in the area.
Democracy is a worthy system of government when it works well certainly it is the "least bad" of the competing alternatives. But like all human activity it carries its own risks, rewards, burdens and consequences. It is not a panancea - it is however an essential part of the cure for the West's terrible track record of consistently acting for short-term gain in the Middle East without regard for the consequences.
Juan Cole has a guest editorial by Gilbert Achar up on this topic here's a sample.
"Any attempt by the U.S. and the European Union to starve the Palestinians into submission by interrupting the economic aid that they grant them would be disastrous for both humanitarian and political reasons and should be opposed most vigorously.
update: fixed linkrot in some clusty links. Fixed typo.