U.S. democracy is no model for Arabs

By Rami G. Khouri The Daily Star Lebanon

I had a particularly enlightening and depressing day last week as a student of American democracy and Arab-Israeli diplomacy. I know better now why most Arabs have totally given up on expecting anything positive or fair to emerge from the United States when it comes to the Middle East. Democracy is a great and noble venture and a most utilitarian governance system; but it also has a dark and ugly side that is very visible in the U.S. these days.

My day started out while I was reading The New York Times on the flight from Boston to Philadelphia, including a front page article that noted, “The growing influence of Islamists in Libya raises hard questions about the ultimate character of the government and society that will rise in the place of Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s autocracy.”

In what has become nearly the norm in American journalism and that of some other Western societies, even among quality media, wildly vague, unattributed and mostly unsubstantiated assertions are made about Arab or Islamic societies that include pessimistic expectations about what might result from the current revolts. Will Islamists take over? Will we have another Iran? Will democratic Arabs threaten Israel and badmouth the U.S.? Will the democratic moment wither away to be replaced by the authoritarianism that Arabs seem to know best?

Such attitudes reflect prevailing concerns, biases, fears, assumptions and preconceptions among some quarters across the U.S., without really subjecting the issues to any sort of rigorous intellectual or even professional journalistic scrutiny. This trend has been with us since the Arab Awakening started last December, and reflects not only Western fears and prejudices, but also some lingering Orientalism and a bit of racism here and there.

My second lesson in the vagaries in democracy – at least as practiced in the United States – occurred later that same day when I attended a city council meeting in Philadelphia. I went to hear the discussion about a resolution – which passed, as expected – strongly supporting U.S. Senate Resolution 185 that denounces the Palestinian request for United Nations recognition of statehood, threatens the Palestinians with American financial aid cutoffs, attacks Hamas in every possible manner, and generally repeats a litany of pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian positions that come right out of the Israeli lobby handbook of distortions, exaggerations and general hysteria.

There was good news and bad news here, though, because the frenzied rush by the Philadelphia city council to suddenly take a very one-sided position on a foreign policy issue that is beyond the mandate of the council was somewhat offset by several other factors. The fact that this issue was discussed in public was a sign that times are changing to some extent, because this pro-Israel position would normally pass without any discussion. The council’s public comments period saw half a dozen pro-Israel speakers, including the local Israeli consul-general, recite the usual arguments that held up very badly when assessed against the facts of the situation, but went over very well in the American political system in which Israeli views hold sway over any other argument – including the arguments in favor of the American national interest, it seems. But a handful of Americans (church officials, an Arab-American activist, a Jewish-American activist) also spoke up against the resolution, explaining why it was factually wrong, politically imbalanced, and diplomatically tendentious.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Columnist/2011/Sep-17/148968-us-democracy-is-no-model-for-arabs.ashx#ixzz1YFFKg8qI
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

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