Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Thomas Friedman - Hustling Democracy

Thomas Friedman warns us in a recent column (IHT – July 15-16, 2007) that “what we are seeing in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq is an effort by Islamist parties to use elections to pursue their long-term aim of Islamizing the Arab-Muslim world.” Democracy, you must understand, is being highjacked. Friedman admits that in these cases, the Islamacists have had impressive electoral victories. Any honest observer would ask himself, at this point, as to the nature of the outstanding social and political problems that imparted so much prestige and popularity to these parties.

Instead, Friedman proceeds to delegitimize these authentic mass movements because they do not play by rules that Friedman has imported from the United States.

The biggest complaint is about the private Islamic parties. Yes, this is a problem. Hamas’ fighting force is a product of the split between Palestinian factions during the battle against the Israeli occupation. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, implemented with U.S. complicity, meant unlimited military repression sponsored by two ostensibly democratic governments. According to classic democratic values, a people has the right to rebel when subject to arbitrary and brutal dictatorship. The military wings of the Palestinian movement were born in this struggle. They will not disappear until the basic demand of the Palestinian national movement for an independent viable state is met by Israel and the international community. Friedman doesn’t like to hear authentic voices that accuse the United States of its crimes; but at the least he should try and understand why people vote to empower those voices.

His attack on the Shi’ites in Iraq is mind-boggling, some sort of record in cynical distortion: “…and so too are the Iranian backed- Shi’ite parties and militias in Iraq [pulling all the strings].” (Incidentally the text here is convoluted and a literal reading would be that the Iraqi Shi’ites are pulling all the strings of Palestinian politics.) Shi’ite terrorists, then, are according to Friedman, pulling all the strings in Iraq.

Its rather clear to all that the Shi’ite parties, double as ethnic terrorist organizations and that it is impossible to know where their political functions end and where the political groups operate as cover for Shi’ite death squads. Yet once again, the private armies developed directly from U.S. attempts to colonize and divide the Iraqi people into friends and foes.

Once more, this time in Lebanon, the private army phenomenon has clear parentage in the Israeli occupation. Not so incidentally, private ethnic armies have been the rule and not the exception in Lebanon’s history. Over the years, almost every ethnic group had their private armies, except the Shi’ites who were the poor and degraded underclass of Lebanese society. How did they get a private army? When the continued Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon made a mockery of Lebanese sovereignty and democracy, the Shi’ites under occupation created a fighting force – Hezbollah.

How very strange! The Arabs had to fight tooth and nail for their freedom and independence against so-called democratic forces. In so doing they created fighting forces that enjoyed the confidence and the admiration of the popular masses – who are the basis for any democratic society. If there is any pretext of democracy, the fighters will get votes.
Instead of this, Friedman would like to limit voting rights to people who agree with him – and he wants us to thinks he is speaking in the name of democracy.

Private armies do not drop from the skies. They are either indirect tools of former colonial control or instruments of mass struggle against foreign domination. Is it undemocratic for the Islamic voter, in the voting booth, to remember and to distinguish between those who betrayed their interests and those who were willing to die for their freedom?