The Fate of Democracy in the New World Order

Youssef Aschkar, online publication: Thursday 24 March 2005

In the generally accepted characterization, globalization takes two forms

Allow me first to correct the title of my paper. It appeared by mistake on the conference agenda as “The Fate of Democracy in the New World Era”, but the correct title is “The Fate of Democracy in the New World Order”. I want to distinguish clearly between era and order, to make sure of this distinction at the start of any discussion on globalization in order to prevent confusion. For confusion exists: it lies behind the sharp polarization of debate about globalization, behind the fixed positions held by both sides, which nullify the value of dialogue. I think the debate is between two poles of opinion, and the positions held are mostly about two different things. That is why there is no generally accepted definition of what I mean. But, to borrow from what I said in my book The Globalization of Terror, there are two kinds of globalization: the first is a reality; the second, only a probability.

The first is represented by the “compression of time and space” through global progress in technology and fast means of communication. Tremendous powers bring infinite choices and a constantly renewed testing of human capacities. This globalization cannot be denied or reversed; its progress cannot be stopped. The world has become small, and horizons have expanded or are destined to expand. This globalization is praiseworthy, and man has a vital interest in accepting it and taking part in it. It is one of the most important characteristics of the future, or the present stretching into the future.

The second kind of globalization is the political, military, economic, financial, and cultural project of the New World Order. It is the globalization of neo-liberal imperialism. Unlike the first, it can be denied and reversed: its progress can be stopped, and it can be brought down, because it is a project in the making, not a reality. Nevertheless, it strives to seem identical to or conforming with the first kind of globalization, in order to benefit from the confusion between them. Thus, it claims that, like the first, it is the only alternative, that its destiny is irreversible, and that to challenge it would be vain. It also claims to be praiseworthy and that man’s vital interest lies in accepting it and entrusting it to guarantee the future, because it is the future. Yet, in fact, this kind of globalization is founded upon a concept belonging to the past, or to the present extending back into the past. Nevertheless, it is intruding upon the present and future by their own means. It attacks them with their own weapons.

The New Order among us: the project of wars

Our topic is the second globalization, the New Order, which can almost be summarized, for us at least, as a project of shifting war, beginning in Palestine and Iraq, in order to draw a new map not just for the states of the region but even more for the life of its peoples. The subject of this conference is “The Democratic Experiment in the Arab Countries”. I think that the New World Order and its wars in the region, those happening now, together with those promised and threatened, are the prime factor to consider when observing the reality of the democratic experiment and its future in the Arab countries. By “future”, I mean the near future, measured in weeks and months, not years and decades. But these weeks and months may have vast effects, both immediately and in subsequent reactions. Later, it may be revealed that we are now facing a historical watershed, and one that was planned to be so. This would explain the danger of imminent collapse in crucial aspects of our lives, especially freedom and the chances of a democratic life.

The questions are: in light of the New Order, what is the fate of democracy, especially among us? In our society, what democratic opportunities remain, are being established, or are being called for? What are the conditions for establishing democracy, and what is the destiny of democratic forces? And especially, what is the fate of democratic culture and its values in the light of this order, which can almost be summarized for us by the war-project? I shall confront these questions and try to answer them, but I have not time to look at democracy per se: democracy in our countries and societies is the matter at stake. Thus, my approach will not discuss democracy per se, as a culture, a historical experiment, or a mechanism, nor will it discuss democracy’s conceptual ambiguities. But it will discuss the positions of our societies and states in the light of the new military project, and it will focus on the chances for democracy among us. My discussion of the military project will be limited to its ideology and its strategy. In my view, these are wrecking the chances for democracy among us and may drive our peoples and states into counteracting democracy. Indeed, signs of this counteraction have begun to appear among us through the military operations and media assaults now taking place, and through the expectation of approaching or promised wars. Nevertheless, we can speak about the future only in terms of explanatory probabilities, not in terms of inevitabilities. The future stops when man acts. We may regard future dangers as likely probabilities, but we should not give up our reason or surrender to these dangers as if they are inevitable. Rather, we should use our reason against them, accepting our responsibility to act against them.

The effect of this project on societies

We have been asked why we focus on the dangers of these wars for democracy. Wars always happen. But have we emerged from them more determined and more democratic, or with better chances of establishing democracy, as is claimed by the superpower leading the military project?

In my opinion, the answer is that this war is not like traditional wars, and not just because of its new destructive power. The terror of its weapons is less than the destruction that can be wreaked upon human society and the general quality of our lives and relationships. At the very least, these transforming (not just destructive) effects reduce the chances for democracy; they may destroy them for a long period through the evil effect they have on our societies, our states, and their interrelations, which are all in a bad condition already. Increasingly, the transforming effects of this war are leading to:

The triumph of confrontational-closed values and concepts in our society, beginning with closure against the external Other and confrontation with him, and ending with the denial of or anger at the internal Other, whether this be a group or an opinion.

The rise of extremism, despair at the prospects of political struggle, and increasing resort to violence, first externally and then internally.

The increasing focus of our states and organizations on security functions.

The increasing violence used by states and organizations against their peoples in response to external pressures made on the pretext of anti-terrorism.

The widening gap between our states and peoples, caused by increasing violence on the part of both, and resulting in the policies of humiliation and agitation that the superpower is now undertaking against both of them alike.

In the final analysis, our societies will enjoy less democratic culture and fewer democratic values because of these wars; and our states and organizations will act less on behalf of democracy and have less respect for it than ever before. These negative developments for freedom and democracy stand in contrast to previous decades.

This condition gives rise to the war-projects taking place among us, and it will worsen as the wars unfold. In one sense, this worsening condition is a gradual and involuntary result stemming from the nature of the wars. But in another sense, it is an intended result stemming from voluntary action towards a strategic goal. In our view, we should understand two fundamental points about the nature and strategy of these wars, which are driving us to confront freedom and democracy. These are: the ideology of war against evils, not against evil itself; and the strategy of war against societies, not just against states and organizations.

Ideology of war against evils

I begin with the following question: in its alleged war against terrorism, why does the superpower not define terrorism? If terrorism is the evil, and if the war against terrorism is a war against evil itself, then why does it not define this evil?

In my opinion, the answer is that the war is not against evil but “evils”. Not just since 11th September, but for a quarter of a century beforehand, the slogan of “rogue-states” has been promoted (notice the Manichean suggestion in this expression) and the superpower has been speaking about the struggle against evil, yet without defining it. In contrast, it has specified and pointed to evils and constantly comes up with new slogans for them.

Evils bring evil, and evil is embodied in evils, so the difference between evil and evils may seem trivial or semantic. But this is not the case. For the transformation from the struggle against evil to the war against evils is dangerous. It has been dangerous and destructive in history, and it is positively disastrous and suicidal in the twenty-first century. To clarify, take an example in history, the history of Christianity. Christ called for a struggle against evil, but not for a struggle against “evils”. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone at the woman”, and “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye and not the log in your own eye?” Christ denied the effectiveness of evil, and he rid the woman of it. But he also denied that others had the right to specify evils. When Christians opposed this principle in the name of Christianity, there arose the leaders of the Inquisition in Spain and their many counterparts in other countries and periods. The principle yielded to historical experience, and everyone will agree that the results were horrific for all: for executioners and the victims alike. And yet, for a quarter of a century now, we find that opposition to Christ’s principle has returned under the name of the war against “rogue-states”. Moreover, it has been confirmed since 11th September by a complete ideology that specifies the “axis of evil” and the world of evils, making them the target of the war now being waged by the American-Israeli superpower.

The negative transformation in society’s relationship with itself

Much has been said about the dangers of this war for us, about its destructive effects and its political-economic aim to dominate us and plunder our resources. I do not deny what has been said; in fact, I agree with most of it. But I wish to limit my subject to the ideological danger of this war, which rests on the culture of stereotyping the “Other”, on specifying continuing evils, and on waging continuous preventive war against them. The danger of this ideology to our societies may surpass the danger of the actual military operations. These are mostly aimed at our possessions, resources, and homelands, but the ideology of this war aims at ourselves. It threatens us from two angles: the stereotyped image it aims against us, and our imitative reaction to this image. In other words, the ideology of this war threatens to infect us with its own stereotype. There is the danger that the stereotype may be realized in our lives as it comes to dominate our view of other people and opinions in our society. The stereotype is mostly characterized by uniformity of opinion, extremism, violence, the rise of instincts, the retreat of rationality, and anger at the opinion and very existence of the Other. The retreat of democracy is evidenced by the stereotyping of life, thought, and relationships within society.

The negative change in the relationship of society to state

This negative change is not limited to relationships within society; it also extends to society’s relationship with the state, which has changed into a relationship of confrontation, violence, and loss of trust. The superpower is practicing a military ideology of stereotyping, a methodical policy of humiliating states and peoples in general, and our own in particular. Humiliation is worse than starvation for peoples, and it has been the main cause of revolutions and wars throughout history. We now witness a strong upsurge of popular anger against states, organizations, and governments that submit to such humiliation, pretend to ignore it, or sometimes even try to justify it. All this widens the gap between them and their peoples. The gap means loss of trust, the increase of extremism, hostility against any manifestation of the Other, the deepening of popular despair at the usefulness of political struggle, and the consequent resort to violence.

The gap between states and their peoples is being widened by the superpower. In the ideological context of the war against evils, the superpower requires states, and indeed obliges Arab-Islamic states in particular, to get rid of evils by attacking them with the utmost violence. Moreover, it punishes these states by accusing them of collaborating with evils and the axis of evil if they do not do exactly what is required of them. Yet, it does not specify or define evil. It insists on not defining the notion of terrorism and instead specifies evils without measure or limit. Hence, the demands made by the superpower upon our states are widened arbitrarily to embrace increasing sections of our population. Expelling evils by continuously widening their own area of operation has become the main task of our states. These states and their employees are now supposed to act primarily as a police for punishing evils and driving them back. The list of demands upon these states grows daily, and the targets listed include groups, foundations, and individuals. The accusations (always stemming from an intelligence source) vary, and pressure grows on states through all means of intimidation, including economic sanctions and threats.

Thus, we now witness a new political and security situation in our region, one far more dangerous than the previous situation, bad as that had been.

Exactly as in the original case of the Palestinians, our states now find themselves upon an anvil between the two hammers of popular anger and superpower sanctions. They tried at first to strike a balance. But the increasing demands of the superpower are now forcing them to upset the balance and enter into confrontation with their peoples.

On the other hand, our societies are suffering from confrontation with our states and sharp divisions that may develop into internal struggles and perhaps civil war.

In summary, the ideology of the military project is leading to a region of states entangled in confrontation with their peoples, and peoples hostile to their states, if not also divided in civil strife. This is exactly what the ideologists intend.

The destiny of democracy within this situation of total and continuing war against “evils” is part of the destiny of man. The culture of the new war may lead to the deepening and generalization of a new totalitarian culture that crushes man himself. This is more dangerous than traditional totalitarian organizations that dominated and oppressed man’s activities, without aspiring to or being capable of crushing man himself.

The strategy of war on societies

This term may seem a stranger to the military dictionary, but it expresses the strange reality of the war facing us.

It is only being applied in our region, which is why the world does not understand this strategy. However, it seems strange that we too do not understand it.

The strategy of war on societies means that the war aims firstly at societies, not at states, organizations, and armies. It is a strategy of Israeli origin and American development. Its roots stretch back far into Zionist history, but it has only been an active strategy of the Israeli state since the 1960s, when Israel defeated the Arab armies and, hence, their states. Israel then decided to extend its war against the Arab peoples, beginning with our people in Palestine. The last three decades have abounded with documents revealing this strategy and events confirming it. The Israeli peace project and the nature of Israeli negotiating conditions are part of this strategy. The Israelis plan to create a new Middle East in accordance with a new map for the life of their people. Shimon Peres misrepresented this project under many bright-sounding slogans, especially the slogan of spreading democracy.

The New World Order promulgated by the American-Israeli superpower promises a new map for our region in accordance with the plan to spread democracy. We are being told this so sharply and clearly as to be left in no doubt about its meaning. Consequently, most Arab leaders are hurriedly tugging on some articles of democratic clothing and hastening to be cleared of suspicion. Some of those calling for democracy are putting on their best clothes to welcome it as it accompanies the new map.

There are two questions. First: what is the nature and aim of the new map? And secondly: what is the destiny of democracy in this map?

In answer to the first question, the new map is not so much a political one relating to states as a social map relating to societies. Its aim is to achieve what Israel wants: societies that are either destroyed or frozen.

In answer to the second question, the new map will destroy freedom and the chances for democracy. Its effects reinforce and complete the effects of the war against evils.

As evidence of that, I will give two current examples, which I hope will be sufficient. The first example is what is happening in Palestine. The American-Israeli name for the war being waged against the Palestinians is reform of the Palestinian Authority and a change of leadership in the interest of democracy. But the reality is not the granting of the Palestinian right to freedom, but a war against Palestinian society in order to take away its very right to life. This is a methodical war of extermination led by the leaders of society. They are separating cities from their surroundings, villages and farms from their lands, students from their schools and universities, producers from consumers, and the whole society from the outside world. They are unraveling the social texture, the very foundation distinguishing human from animal society. Moreover, the graduates of military academies are helping them to demolish the foundations of society by depriving that society of any reason for living. And American-Israeli propaganda is misrepresenting all this by calling it a strike against the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority with the aim of reforming it in the interest of democracy. But the question not being asked is: which Palestinians will still have the luxury of taking part in democracy, and how, where, and when will they do so?

The second example is Iraq. The American line (of Israeli origin) on Iraq is the same as its line on Palestine: toppling the leader, changing the regime, and reforming the system in the interest of democracy. But some brief statements give us an idea what kind of future Iraqi society will be practicing this democracy. President Bush Sr. said, “We will put Iraq back to the stone age”, and, somewhat more mercifully, his Secretary of State, James Baker, said, “We will put Iraq back into the pre-industrial era.” Both statements were made about Iraq in the 21st century, but they echo the Biblical psalm (137): “You, Babylon, doomed to destruction, a blessing on he who seizes your babies and dashes them against a rock.” It remains for President Bush Jr., who is going to bring democracy to Iraq by spear-point, to tell us what kind of democracy will be practiced by a stone age or pre-industrial society. It remains for him too, especially, to tell us about the “new map” series announced for our region immediately after the Iraqi episode is over, and how the example of democracy will be transferred from the Iraqi and Palestinian episodes to the whole series. How will his staff of social scientists be able to move the whole region back to long-gone eras? And will the democracy promised for this region take a single generalized form, or will it take a variety of forms depending on the various “Iraqs”, ethnic groups, confessions, sects, and ideological factions – or perhaps depending on the new historical stage in all of these groupings, starting with the stone age and graduating up to the pre-industrial age? And who will monitor the good behaviour of these new tribal democracies as they engage in mutual struggle? Finally, who will guarantee that this democratic “axis of good” can be contained, so that it does not go beyond its geographical limits and spread its pioneering experiment to the civilized world, which is still rather backward in this respect? It thus remains for President Bush to answer this weighty question, first to himself, and then to the peoples of America and the whole world: will the world, especially America and Israel, be more secure or less secure when this misshapen map becomes the new reality for society and man in our region?

The responsibility of intellectuals and the media

In conclusion, I would like to face Arab intellectuals and media people in general, and those among them in particular who desire a future of freedom and democracy. These wars against our societies are now the main threat to such a future. They may give rise to new situations in our societies and states that make our current wretched situation appear merciful. Thus, we say that helping to stop these wars must be the first concern and responsibility of those desiring freedom and democracy. And the responsibility of intellectuals and the media is primary. For these wars, to a large degree, are cultural and media-oriented. The superpower, which possesses the greatest arsenal of war in history and in our contemporary world, feels the need to win the political and cultural-media war before anything else. It understands the special importance of this matter and is making a political and cultural-media effort equal to, if not surpassing, its military effort.

Even though we cannot oppose the superpower and its belligerence by military means, we can oppose its cultural-media war. In this arena, we are now in an increasingly strong position because world public opinion is becoming aware of the risks involved in these wars, and movements have arisen to oppose them. Pens and voices are increasingly expressing and nourishing this opposition all over the world, including America itself. In large circles worldwide, both popular and official, a political will is beginning to be formed. In consequence, we see the leaders of the superpower pressing forward their military operations in a race against growing public awareness and opposition. In this dangerous race, however, we lack Arab pens and voices to engage with world public opinion, in Europe and America especially, let alone other countries. It seems that most of our intellectuals and media people have retired from this arena; they have assigned the task of external confrontation to the Arab states and then limited their concern to blaming these states, though fully aware of their incapacity and loss of political will.