Foreign Affairs

What is ‘Democracy’?

"If I must die, I will die," Abdul Rahman told a human rights worker.

Facing execution for converting to Christianity, Rahman had just been moved from a jail in Kabul, where his life was in imminent peril, to the notorious Policharki prison outside Kabul, where 2000 are incarcerated, including 350 Taliban.

Rahman is a man of faith and courage, the stuff of which Christian martyrs have ever been made. And, thanks to U.S. intervention, he is a free man, though he will live, if he remains in Afghanistan, in constant danger of being assassinated or lynched.

The ordeal of Abdul Rahman, whose death was demanded by the imams of Afghanistan, causes one to ask: What is this new democracy President Bush celebrates? Is it really something for which we ought to be sending young Americans to fight and die?

If the Afghan people are comfortable with Rahman being beheaded, what does that tell us of their tolerance of Christianity and of the depth of their commitment to freedom of religion?

"We have but one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet," devout Muslims proclaim and believe. As for infidels who enter the Dar al-Islam to preach heresy and convert Muslims, they deserve death, as do any Muslims who apostatize to Christianity. As for those who mock the Prophet, like Salman Rushdie, author of "Satanic Verses," or European journalists who publish blasphemous cartoons of Mohammed, a fatwa for the lot of them.

Christianity does not seem to be faring much better in that other new democracy, Iraq. Under Saddam, Christians practiced their faith in peace and security. But, three years after liberation, their churches are being bombed, and Christian families are being threatened with massacres. They are fleeing to Syria, the new Christian sanctuary.

Our neoconservatives are, of course, anxious to "liberate" and "democratize" Syria, too. If they succeed, God help the Christians there. No one else will.

If democracy means anything, it means rule by the people, i.e., rule by the majority. We Americans add that liberal democracy also means the minority has rights no majority may violate: freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of religion.

How many Muslim nations accept freedom of the press if it includes the right to call for regime change? How many Muslim nations protect the right to contradict Islam in the public square? How many Muslim regimes allow opponents to protest publicly and demonstrate against them?

Evangelical Christians have preached and proselytized in the Catholic countries of South America for decades. How many ever have done so in the Middle East? In many of these countries, to exercise what we regard as a First Amendment right is an invitation to a public stoning.

Where, from Morocco to Pakistan, do women enjoy the same rights as men in marriage and divorce? In Berlin, lately, three Turk brothers were charged in the "honor killing" of a sister living "a Western lifestyle." In the Turkish community, the brothers had numerous defenders.

As President Bush campaigns for democracy across the Middle East, he might reconsider the consequences of a one-person, one-vote election in, say, Jordan, ruled by King Abdullah, a friend and a benevolent ruler who shares Western values.

According to a 2005 study by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 100 percent of Jordanians have an unfavorable opinion of Jews, 98 percent regard Judaism as the "world’s most violent religion," 60 percent have "confidence in Osama bin Laden to do the right thing regarding world affairs," while 21 percent view the United States of America in a favorable light.

With such attitudes pandemic in Jordan, but also in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, a question arises:

Though President Bush says democracies do not go to war with one another, would free elections in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco be more or less likely to produce a confrontation with Israel and a demand that the United States get out of the region?

What did the spate of elections in 2005 produce? The Muslim Brotherhood swept 60 percent of the races it contested in Egypt; Hamas won an astonishing victory on the West Bank; Hezbollah and the Amal Militia triumphed in southern Lebanon; the Shia of Ayatollah Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr emerged as the big winners in Iraq; and Ahmadinejad, who thinks Israel should be wiped off the map, won the presidency of Iran.

Is this kind of "democracy" worth fighting and dying for? And if this is what the Islamic world would do with greater freedom, why not let these folks, as did we, win it for themselves?

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