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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Foreign Affairs: democratisation will not end terrorism

A Foreign Affairs report argues that there is no link between terrorism and authoritarianism, and that the Bush administration should stop indiscriminately promoting democracy in the Arab world because it will neither end terrorism, which has other roots, nor bring to power pro-US governments.

Excerpts follow:

Between 2000 and 2003, according to the State Department's annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report, 269 major terrorist incidents around the world occurred in countries classified as "free" by Freedom House, 119 occurred in "partly free" countries, and 138 occurred in "not free" countries .. these numbers simply indicate that there is no relationship between the incidence of terrorism in a given country and the degree of freedom enjoyed by its citizens. They certainly do not indicate that democracies are substantially less susceptible to terrorism than are other forms of government.

Comparing India, the world's most populous democracy, and China, the world's most populous authoritarian state, highlights the difficulty of assuming that democracy can solve the terrorism problem. For 2000-2003, the "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report indicates 203 international terrorist attacks in India and none in China. A list of terrorist incidents between 1976 and 2004, compiled by the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, shows more than 400 in India and only 18 in China.

More anecdotal evidence also calls into question a necessary relationship between regime type and terrorism. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of brutal terrorist organizations arose in democratic countries: the Red Brigades in Italy, the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Ireland and the United Kingdom, the Japanese Red Army in Japan, and the Red Army Faction (or Baader-Meinhof Gang) in West Germany. The transition to democracy in Spain did not eliminate Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) Basque separatist terrorism. Turkish democracy suffered through a decade of mounting political violence that lasted until the late 1970s. The strong and admirable democratic system in Israel has produced its own terrorists, including the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It appears that at least three of the suicide bombers in the London attacks of July were born and raised in the democratic United Kingdom. Nearly every day brings a painful reminder that real democratization in Iraq has been accompanied by serious terrorism. And a memorial in Oklahoma City testifies to the fact that even U.S. democracy has not been free of terrorism of domestic origins.

There is, in other words, no solid empirical evidence for a strong link between democracy, or any other regime type, and terrorism, in either a positive or a negative direction...Terrorism springs from sources other than the form of government of a state. There is no reason to believe that a more democratic Arab world will, simply by virtue of being more democratic, generate fewer terrorists.

The report adds:

There are also logical problems with the argument supporting the U.S. push for democracy as part of the war on terrorism... Underlying the assertion that democracy will reduce terrorism is the belief that, able to participate openly in competitive politics and have their voices heard in the public square, potential terrorists and terrorist sympathizers would not need to resort to violence to achieve their goals.

Well, maybe. But it is just as logical to assume that terrorists, who rarely represent political agendas that could mobilize electoral majorities, would reject the very principles of majority rule and minority rights on which liberal democracy is based.. The United States' major foe in the war on terrorism, al Qaeda, certainly would not close up shop if every Muslim country in the world were to become a democracy.

The report suggests that the US is currently acting against its own interests by blindly promoting democracy in the Arab world. Islamists are bound to win elections in most Arab countries and this will not produce pro-US governments. The US should instead "focus on pushing Arab governments to make political space for liberal, secular, leftist, nationalist, and other non-Islamist parties to set down roots and mobilize voters. Washington should support those groups that are more likely to accept U.S. foreign policy and emulate U.S. political values."

In other words, US foreign policy should stay true to all of this country's founding principles and not harbor the illusion that terrorism is caused by lack of voting.

I have always believed that, eventhough many Arab governments are despicable dictatorships, their rule was not responsible for the spread of terrorism (a word I hate very much but will use for the time being). On the contrary, those dictators helped serve US and western interests for a long time. And if Islamists hate their governments, it's because of their subservience to the west (or what they term as infidels) and not because they couldn't elect them.

The idea of removing dictators is fine by me. But it will only render militant movements redundant and unpopular if the removal was not carried out through tanks or to further western interests. In other words, you cannot remove one dictator whose role was created during the colonial era to maintain profitable friendships with foreign powers and replace him with a more elaborate "democracy" of people that are expected to fulfill the same obedient role.

Change has to come from within -- anything else won't stick.

Now, one problem I have with the Foreign Affairs report is my lingering doubt about the Bush administration's real intentions. This whole democracy pushing business is fairly recent and arose mostly when the WMD argument backfired. Is the administration really stupid, one might ask, to risk so many lives for the promotion of democracy in some Arab country very few can pronounce right?

Think tanks, I believe, are wasting their money trying to decipher and deconstruct the Bush "democratisation" policy, mostly because I believe it's a facade. After 9-11, Rumsfeld said the best way to protect America was to take "the war to them." Bush said something similar recently during his speech to the veterans. Creating a surrogate battleground is the classic way of avoiding conflict on your own land. That's what's happening now. I believe Bush when he says the war in Iraq is protecting America. However it's protecting America not by promoting its values, but by fighting war in a land far away. This might not shield America forever, as some in the administration must have realized lately, but it's a good temporary fix and can get you elected. My fear, of course, is that long term solutions are not being taken seriously by the White House, or at least they are not being devised as more than PR or political survival ploys.

Another problem is is-- what then are the causes of this so called terrorism? And how do we define terrorism? Is is violence against the state? Is it wide-scale murder? Many in the US administration who love to exalt freedom and liberty and refuse to acknowledge that US foreign policy wasn't always benign, blame it on Islamists and even Islam. This report could play well into their hands-- if authoritarianism is not responsible for breeding terrorist, then it must be Islam. That would be unfortunate.

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