"Life has changed for the worse," said Bushra
Mahmoud, a mother of three, sitting in the waiting room of the Princess Salon
"There is a creeping zealousness among men and women that is really frightening.
You sit on the bus and have abuse heaped on you by the fanatics because you
are not wearing the hijab [Islamic head covering]. These things never
used to happen."
This anecdote is from a front-page
story in The Washington Times, which goes on to relate:
"Intimidation of women for religious reasons has become more common in the
past year, and those who do not cover themselves are often the targets of kidnappers.
Salons have been bombed. …
"The elections in January that the White House welcomed as the start
of an era of democracy in the Middle East have helped to entrench the strictures
imposed on women."
The repressive reality for Iraqi women should give us pause. What does
freedom mean over there? What will the Middle East look like if our crusade
for democracy succeeds in dumping over all the kings and autocrats from Morocco
to the Gulf?
The U.S. invasion undeniably liberated the Iraqis from a tyrant. But for
Iraqi women, especially in the Shia south, it has meant an end to freedoms they
used to enjoy. For the scores of thousands of Christians who have fled in terror
after the bombing of their churches and murder of their co-religionists, it
has meant the loss of homes and exile. Most have fled to Syria, apparently a
more secure and tolerant country for Christians than liberated Iraq.
For Iraqi Arabs in northern cities coveted by the Kurds, like Kirkuk, it
means persecution and expulsion.
Looking ahead, what will "democracy" mean for the larger Middle East?
The limited freedom of the press they now enjoy has spawned al-Jazeera,
the network with the widest distribution. But it is as anti-America as Fox News
is pro-war. In Egypt, freedom of the press has produced a recent TV series based
on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
If President Hosni Mubarak should stand down and let all parties compete,
how would the Christian Copts fare during an election where the Muslim Brotherhood,
the oldest Islamist party, is free to campaign on its principles? If one of
the major issues were, "Should Egypt break relations with Israel?" how would
the voting go?
Ultimately, Western democracy is based on the principle encapsulated in
the old Wallace campaign slogan, "Trust the People!" But our own liberals really
do not trust the people all that much, which is why they are desperate to preserve
the power and present orientation of the Supreme Court, the least democratic
branch of our government.
And it is delicious to observe these democracy-lovers grimly fix bayonets
to defend the club
old Strom used to use to pound the life out of civil rights bills. But truth
be told, conservatives, too, believe there are human rights that are not to
be subject to the whims or discretion of any majority.
In the Arab and Islamic world, however, hundreds of millions reject our
values. They favor beheading adulterers and pornographers. Believing there is
but one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet, many approve of executing missionaries
from infidel faiths, like Christianity, who are discovered in their midst subverting
As for cutting off Salman Rushdie's head for his blasphemous book, The
Satanic Verses, the volunteers would line up from Mecca to Medina.
What will one-man, one-vote produce – over there? In 1992, Algeria voted
for an Islamist regime, until the army intervened, igniting a civil war in which
100,000 have died. Our NATO ally Turkey has voted in a moderate Islamic regime
that denied us use of our Turkish bases for invading Iraq. The Gazans just voted
70 percent for Hamas. The Palestinians would have voted for Marwan Barghouti,
now serving five life terms for murder in Israel, had he not taken his name
off the ballot. Look for Hezbollah to double or triple its strength in the Lebanese
In the Middle East, the struggle is between moderates who look West and
Islamists and radicals who reject the West. In every survey, Osama beats Bush
hands down on trust and admiration. In Pakistan, the most popular name for newborn
boys is Osama. Not a lot of "George W's." In every nation where royalty rules
– Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Gulf states, Kuwait – the regime
is more pro-American than the people. Why destabilize these regimes?
Why should the United States invest blood and treasure effecting regime
change that could bring to power an anti-American populist – as happened when
the kings and emperors fell in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Ethiopia? Making
the Middle East democratic may mean an end to monarchy. But it may also mean
our expulsion from the region and a final Arab confrontation with Israel. Is
that a goal for which we should shed American blood?
If Bush is holding
hands with the Saudi crown prince, perhaps it is because he now understands
who the alternative is.
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