“Life has changed for the worse,” said Bushra Mahmoud, a mother of three, sitting in the waiting room of the Princess Salon in Baghdad.
“There is a creeping zealousness among men and women that is really frightening. You sit on the bus and have abuse heaped on you by the fanatics because you are not wearing the hijab [Islamic head covering]. These things never used to happen.”
This anecdote is from a front-page story in The Washington Times, which goes on to relate:
“Intimidation of women for religious reasons has become more common in the past year, and those who do not cover themselves are often the targets of kidnappers. Salons have been bombed.
“The elections in January that the White House welcomed as the start of an era of democracy in the Middle East have helped to entrench the strictures imposed on women.”
The repressive reality for Iraqi women should give us pause. What does freedom mean over there? What will the Middle East look like if our crusade for democracy succeeds in dumping over all the kings and autocrats from Morocco to the Gulf?
The U.S. invasion undeniably liberated the Iraqis from a tyrant. But for Iraqi women, especially in the Shia south, it has meant an end to freedoms they used to enjoy. For the scores of thousands of Christians who have fled in terror after the bombing of their churches and murder of their co-religionists, it has meant the loss of homes and exile. Most have fled to Syria, apparently a more secure and tolerant country for Christians than liberated Iraq.
For Iraqi Arabs in northern cities coveted by the Kurds, like Kirkuk, it means persecution and expulsion.
Looking ahead, what will “democracy” mean for the larger Middle East?
The limited freedom of the press they now enjoy has spawned al-Jazeera, the network with the widest distribution. But it is as anti-America as Fox News is pro-war. In Egypt, freedom of the press has produced a recent TV series based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
If President Hosni Mubarak should stand down and let all parties compete, how would the Christian Copts fare during an election where the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist party, is free to campaign on its principles? If one of the major issues were, “Should Egypt break relations with Israel?” how would the voting go?
Ultimately, Western democracy is based on the principle encapsulated in the old Wallace campaign slogan, “Trust the People!” But our own liberals really do not trust the people all that much, which is why they are desperate to preserve the power and present orientation of the Supreme Court, the least democratic branch of our government.
And it is delicious to observe these democracy-lovers grimly fix bayonets to defend the club old Strom used to use to pound the life out of civil rights bills. But truth be told, conservatives, too, believe there are human rights that are not to be subject to the whims or discretion of any majority.
In the Arab and Islamic world, however, hundreds of millions reject our values. They favor beheading adulterers and pornographers. Believing there is but one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet, many approve of executing missionaries from infidel faiths, like Christianity, who are discovered in their midst subverting Islam.
As for cutting off Salman Rushdie’s head for his blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, the volunteers would line up from Mecca to Medina.
What will one-man, one-vote produce over there? In 1992, Algeria voted for an Islamist regime, until the army intervened, igniting a civil war in which 100,000 have died. Our NATO ally Turkey has voted in a moderate Islamic regime that denied us use of our Turkish bases for invading Iraq. The Gazans just voted 70 percent for Hamas. The Palestinians would have voted for Marwan Barghouti, now serving five life terms for murder in Israel, had he not taken his name off the ballot. Look for Hezbollah to double or triple its strength in the Lebanese elections.
In the Middle East, the struggle is between moderates who look West and Islamists and radicals who reject the West. In every survey, Osama beats Bush hands down on trust and admiration. In Pakistan, the most popular name for newborn boys is Osama. Not a lot of “George W’s.” In every nation where royalty rules Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Gulf states, Kuwait the regime is more pro-American than the people. Why destabilize these regimes?
Why should the United States invest blood and treasure effecting regime change that could bring to power an anti-American populist as happened when the kings and emperors fell in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Ethiopia? Making the Middle East democratic may mean an end to monarchy. But it may also mean our expulsion from the region and a final Arab confrontation with Israel. Is that a goal for which we should shed American blood?
If Bush is holding hands with the Saudi crown prince, perhaps it is because he now understands who the alternative is.