The insurgents have done their best to stir hatred and foment civil war. They have spread fear with barbaric acts of violence. But they have not succeeded, and should not succeed, in their primary goal: derailing the election and squelching Iraq’s chance at democracy.
Why do the terrorists fear democracy? In a remarkable statement recently, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army and two other insurgent groups dropped all the self-serving double-talk and self-righteous excuses for slaughtering innocents. They spelled out their fear and hatred–and ignorance–of democracy. They made clear that their campaign is not simply to thwart American interests–it is to thwart the Iraqi people.
“Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit,” the statement said. “This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God–Muslims’ doctrine.”
There is no point in arguing theology with fanatics who find in holy books the rationale to kill by the thousands. No amount of reasoning will change their twisted minds, no logic will sway them from their warped beliefs about what they believe their religion demands. Suffice to say that Islam and democracy can flourish, side by side, as neighboring Turkey demonstrates.
At personal risk, millions will likely turn out at the end of January. The world will once again witness the power of democracy, a power that cannot be extinguished by violence. Democracy has taken root in Afghanistan. It’s flowering in Ukraine. And it will soon be embraced by millions of Iraqis. They will defy all-too-vivid death threats to do what they see fit: They will vote. ~The Chicago Tribune, Jan. 5, 2005
No one need sympathise with anything this group, Ansar al-Sunnah, has done to recognise that the Tribune‘s flailing, ideological response was inadequate to analyse the goals of the insurgents and almost completely failed in its express purpose of explaining why “terrorists fear democracy.” Terrorists in general may or may not oppose democracy–some Irish republican terrorists were willing to have their own representative government when independence was offered to them, and Tamil terrorism has ostensibly been waged for Tamil independence from the Sinhalese majority of Sri Lanka. Democracy and political violence are not at all opposed in principle, and often coincide, as the revolutions of the late eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries should have made abundantly clear. Only ideologues of revolution could fail to see the indiscriminate violence of their own making.
Salafist Muslims, on the other hand, do oppose democracy in principle, which is true whether they are using terrorist tactics or not. What is important about the Ansar al-Sunnah statement is not that it is a window onto the mind of the insurgents, however useful that might theoretically be, but that their message is cast in terms that would appeal to Salafist Muslims and those convinced by the arguments of men such as Sayyid Qutb, the prominent Egyptian Islamist of the early and mid-twentieth century. I suspect this encompasses a far broader spectrum of Iraqis and Muslims in general than the numbers of the insurgents alone would indicate.
In recent months we have been treated to more and more of this ideological bilge that uses the God-words freedom and democracy with abandon and sets up as their antonym the always vague and elusive ‘terrorism’. Elsewhere in this “remarkable” manifesto, which Western papers have seen fit to largely ignore, this group apparently also says, “We believe democracy is an atheist call that idolizes human beings.” Apparently, if we can trust JihadWatch, this is a quote from Sayyid Qutb himself. Were this a statement from a marginal or discredited figure on the edges of the Islamic world, one could probably ignore it if one so chose, but it comes from one of the most prominent Sunni Islamist figures in the modern world. That demands a more sophisticated and serious response than the Tribune offered, which consisted of muttering curses and reassuring ourselves that democracy will win (as if violence has not very often defeated democracy, often from the inside out).
To say that these insurgents “fear” democracy is like saying that Americans “fear” Iraqi insurgents: each side has supreme confidence that the beliefs and strengths of the enemy are miniscule and ephemeral and that the virtues of their own convictions will overcome the other. Anyone deeply committed to a religion or ideology does not fear the existence of infidelity or error itself, as these things have only as much power over someone as he gives to them, but likely regards the existence of these things as a moral affront and sees in their eradication or defeat a serious duty. To fear something is to believe that it has real power, and I wager that the Islamist insurgents do not and cannot believe, if they are at all serious, that democracy or “the people” has any power whatever.
If these insurgents believe democracy is apostasy, then their concern is to prevent that apostasy from spreading (whether or not this concern is ‘genuine’ or ‘cynical’ is beside the point at the moment), just as our government imagines that it is combating ‘terrorism’ in Iraq to stop that terrorism from going elsewhere. To translate this into the limited vision of the democratists, for their edification, the Islamist opposition to democracy is like the democratists’ opposition to Putin, neo-authoritarianism and Yanukovych in the Ukraine: for the democratists, allowing the Ukraine to remain in Putin’s orbit would be the Ukraine’s virtual apostasy from the community of democratic nations, as these people wrongly define it. Against that danger, nothing so meager as an actual election or legal winner should get in the way. The insurgents, however, can be fairly sure that democracy will fail, because it does almost always require a compromise of a traditionalist’s religious principles, and any new Iraqi regime will need all sections of the country to be reconciled to it. (That the ‘tradition’ to which Salafists look is bereft of wisdom will not change their conviction to hold to it.)
Of course, the “primary goal” of any insurgency is to overthrow or otherwise remove the existing power in a country, in this case the American occupation. The anti-democratic statements of the Islamists, which are perfectly understandable and reasonable in themselves, do reflect the sort of Iraq they would want to create: an apparently Salafist order inspired by teachings of Muslim religious scholars such as Sayyid Qutb. There is no middle ground between such a vision and democracy as anyone in the West defines it.
The example of Turkey is not heartening, as it took a full seventy years from the establishment of the republic before a mostly free election could result in the election of a government the majority truly desired, and even that government was soon thrown out on account of its Islamism. Only by minimising its Islamism in public and in its rhetoric has Mr. Erdogan’s party been allowed by the army and the constitutional court to remain in power–this is hardly the ideal situation to hold up as proof of a successful synthesis of Islam and democracy. Turkey’s secular republic has succeeded in becoming more democratic to the extent that it has because its republican reforms very deliberately circumscribed the role of Islam in public and political life. The two are inherently incompatible–one must give way for the other to advance, and what the democratists at the Tribune must fear is that more and more of the Muslims they want to use as guinea pigs are realising the basic contradictions. Other Islamic countries that have entirely elected governments, such as Mali or Bangladesh, do not possess a population inspired by the Salafist revival that has been affecting Jordan and western Iraq over the past ten years, but are home to relatively much more moderate strands of Islam that their Salafist counterparts would probably regard as deviant. Again, if democratisation were to be successful, this widespread sort of Sunni Islam would have to vanish from Iraq, but instead it is only growing stronger and becoming more prominent in the insurgency.
The fact is that many Sunnis in Iraq have been influenced by the revival of this tradition, and this tradition includes uncompromising rejection of a democratic regime. This is not a vindication for the warmongers, who pit us in a battle between forces of democracy and anti-democracy (which is an irrelevant matter), but yet another proof that the democratisation of Iraq cannot take hold. No country with such a substantial dissident faction, committed to the proposition that the new regime is absolutely illegitimate, can function as a democratic polity. Whether they have recourse to violence or not (and it seems they will continue to do so), they will disrupt and undermine any new state and cause its collapse within a decade or two. Our sons are dying and killing for nothing lasting, and it is this truth that the jingoes fear more than anything.
This editorial does make one wonder what sort of people and what sort of society is so fundamentally hostile to a statement that “the rule of the people” is contrary to belief in God. Of course, Islam labours under the burden that its political and religious visions are one and the same, which makes the sorts of distinctions between the two possible in Western thought unavailable to Muslims. But at some level this critique of democracy is not so very different from the Counter-Enlightenment critique that came out of France in the eighteenth century and the counter-revolutionary writings of the nineteenth century French Right, and for a Christian religious traditionalist it is difficult to see how this critique is wrong.
Democracy, especially in its modern manifestations, is a kind of idolatry of human will and becomes an idol in its own right, and moderns gladly set aside Divine prescriptions if and when they conflict with the needs of the democracy. It is the empowerment of passions, rebelliousness, willfulness, egotism, the spirit of faction and libido dominandi. Its creation is heralded by bloodshed, and its expansion is measured in the devastation and moral degeneration of an entire social order. It is the abandonment of restraint and the replacement of a true Sovereign over the affairs of men with a collective sovereign that cannot both govern and be governed. Who can actually desire such a thing?
The Salafists would, of course, replace this gross error with an error of their own, so there is no support for their other ideas intended in any of this. But what is strange is that Americans, particularly those who play at being conservatives or even those who take their Christianity fairly seriously, would embrace so eagerly a doctrine as basically subversive and un-Christian as democracy. Some democratists have long since given up the pretense that they are any kind of real conservative and prefer to embrace revolutionary and subversive rhetoric, but they are only showing the true face of the sort of people who support such a regime.
The Tribune‘s prophetic “democracy will conquer” tirade towards the end of the editorial only makes the thoughtful reader cringe and wonder how it is that the erstwhile irrational fanatics in Iraq are capable of explaining and defining their position with greater precision (relatively speaking) than the supposedly modern and intelligent editors of a major American newspaper. Needless to say, the invocation of Ukraine in this editorial can only serve to deepen the thoughtful reader’s suspicions that the Tribune editors are hacks and partisan stooges rather than serious observers of world events.
The editorial did not read as a sober analysis, but the sort of frothing-at-the-mouth rallying cry that one might expect from a political commissar rather than a serious editorial board (granted, the Tribune‘s editors have been endangering their status as one of those for some time now). Sadly, when it comes to matters related to Iraq or terrorism, this has become the standard sort of response of the pro-war journalists and pundits to any view or group with which they disagree.