Saturday, February 11, 2006

The quest for Justice

"Beneath the rage in the Mideast" in Sunday's New York Times is a great piece of insightful journalism. Michael Slackman gets to the heart of the problem when he cites the lack of justice, accountability and even rudimentary control over their lives as the primary reason that has the Muslim world ablaze. These conditions are in great measure responsible for the sustained rise of Islamists.

Western governments, due to a complex web of geopolitical and economic reasons, are simply unable and unwilling to do the right thing consistently. When they step in selectively for reasons that often seem dictated by their own immediate interests, they fail to win over anybody. In addition, thugocracies in the Muslim world channel the internal anger at the 'infidels' amplifying grievances real and imagined. That many of these unpopular, incompetent and oppressive regimes have leaders who are ostensibly "moderates" and allies in the western eyes only serves to discredit the very ideas that the West needs to promote (rule of law, tolerance etc.). Musharraf, Hosni Mubarak, the kingdoms of the middle east are the worst possible emissaries of western values when they themselves have cynically held on to power by hook or crook and have delivered nothing to their populations by way of institutions.

For the West to eventually win, what is simple-mindedly called, the "war on terror", its not just the promotion of freedom and democracy that is important; the West has to be seen as a friend of common Muslims not their corrupt dictators.

Excerpts from Michael Slackman's article:

"It has reached to the point where Egyptians do not feel entitled to anything, and all they want is justice," said Ibrahim Aslan, a leading Egyptian writer. "Across history, in literature, Egyptian peasants asked for justice, not for freedom or democracy. Just justice. Social justice."

Islamists promise not just piety, but an end to corruption and misrule. That challenge helps explain the eagerness of established governments to pursuethe conflict over the Danish cartoons — to increase their own credibility on religious issues and resist the Islamists' rising popularity.

The sinking of the ferry is a case study of this dynamic. More than 1,000 people drowned. By Friday, more than 600 bodies had not been recovered. At least 1,000 people continued to stand vigil on the streets outside a hospital along the Red Sea. It had taken more than seven hours to launch a rescue operation. Worried relatives had been greeted at the banks of the Red Sea by riot police who beat them back. For days, people sat on the street, under the sun, waiting for any information. And the state-run media tried to turn the whole matter into a public relations victory for President Hosni Mubarak."

Ayaz Amir in Dawn under the heading "Denmark: Wrong Target" makes a similar argument. The first half of his column reflects a confused view on the issues of free speech but the second half makes some pertinent points about the wretchedness of the status quo in the Islamic world and why the U.S. ultimately cannot afford to be serious about its "freedom and democracy" rhetoric. It costs too much in the short and medium term.


"Why is there such a gulf between rulers and ruled in the Muslim world? Because both exist on different planes, rulers for the most part acting as US stooges, the masses yearning for some form of redemption. No wonder, when given the chance, the masses strike a blow against the status quo, voting for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or for Hamas in the Palestinian occupied territories.

Nothing is more fragile or more rotten in the world of Islam than the status quo. The Americans should never press their luck with democracy in the Muslim world because if democracy arrives — something on which I am not betting — American influence will go out of the door. The necessary condition for American hegemony over Muslim oil is Muslim autocracy. One serves the other."

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