In The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof attempts to dispel the myth that Arabs in the Middle East are “too politically immature to handle democracy.” Inspired by the courage he sees of the protesters, Kristof admits there will be bumps ahead, but believes the time has come for “people power” to sweep across the Middle East and hopes the rest of the world shares his belief too. Though his optimism about such a result sweeps under the rug America’s very legitimate concerns.
Despite Kristof admitting “the overthrow of the shah in Iran, of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, of Tito in Yugoslavia, all led to new oppression and bloodshed,” the list of such perils completely ignores what America fears most: an Islamic fundamentalist regime gaining power and legitimacy in any newly free Arab country. It is in America’s best interest to do whatever is necessary to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East. If certain populations want nothing more than to destroy Israel and promote extreme elements of their religion, then maybe favoring the continuation of dictators who are slightly less crazy than some of the people they govern isn’t necessarily such a bad idea? Hesitating to be in support of freedom to all is a realistic approach to foreign policy, despite not seeming as nice as Kristof’s naive prediction that the entire Arab world is ready for democracy.
Outside of America, according to Kristof, the notion that “Arabs or Muslims can’t do democracy [is] still a view peddled by Arab dictatorships, particularly Saudi Arabia — and, of course, by China’s leaders and just about any African despot.” Such a view could be motivated by prejudices concerning the nature of Arabs, as Kristof suspects, yet also couldn’t the view merely be the rationale any leader would grasp at to justify their own continued necessity? In other words, in a survey of whether Arabs are mature enough for democracy, the opinions of dictators whose existence depends upon promoting the very idea of immaturity seems irrelevant.
Kristof concludes, “I’m awed by the courage I see, and it’s condescending and foolish to suggest that people dying for democracy aren’t ready for it.” Everyone can agree the protesters have demonstrated remarkable bravery by standing up to their dictators. Yet America expressing genuine concern about what comes next with a free Arab population is not suggesting Arabs cannot handle democracy. It’s merely preparing for that possibility, and such preparations are certainly not condescending or foolish.
Check out Kristof’s full column.
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