As a Pakistani I have lived through General Zia’s martial law (1977-88) and army-controlled phony democratic governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff (1988-99). I have closely observed General’s Musharraf’s martial rule (1999 onwards). I have lived, visited and observed democratic countries, and my inevitable conclusion is that in the present world the best system of governance is democracy. Democracy gives people the courage to know and question because it is a system of the people, by the people, for the people. The bane of the Third World, especially the Islamic world, has been lack or absence of democracy. It is due to not having democracy—-or having only fraudulent democracy in countries like Egypt and Pakistan—-that the rulers of the Islamic countries behave like the kings of the Dark Ages. In my belief in the superiority of democracy, I have clamed, in writing, that the difference between the decadent polity of the Islamic world and the vibrant Western world can be explained in terms of the former’s not having strong democratic institutions, and the latter’s having them. As a journalist, I have always contended that the absence of democracy in the Islamic World had pushed it into political and moral darkness, and the very presence of democracy has made the West a world of sympathetic, conscious and conscientious humans.
The recent anti-war protests in the West have only strengthened my belief in the superiority of democratic institutions over the despotic ones. But then I cannot help thinking if the very attitude of the democratically elected leaders of today’s West has rendered the difference between democracy and despotism tenuous, to say the least.
Over the past few months the people in Western democracies have given a clear verdict against George Bush’s willful determination to invade Iraq. There is not a single democracy in the West whose people have shown any support to Bush’s determination. That should have been more than enough for the likes of Bush, Blair, Howard, Ozal, and Berlusconi to drop the war plan. But that has not happened. On the contrary, Bush has said that he is not impressed by the world-wide anti-war protests. Interestingly, the people of Europe have consistently expressed in opinion polls that the world is a more dangerous place with Bush around than with Saddam. The protesters in the US, Italy, the UK, Spain, and Australia, are joined by national and international cultural icons and other celebrities. Perhaps there is not a single anti-war protester in the world who has an iota of sympathy for Saddam Hussein, a tyrant who deserves no mercy. What they are saying is that invading Iraq will destroy the already-shattered civilian life there, and will be disastrous for the world in the long run. Moreover, Saddam poses no threat to the United States by any measure. These protesters are by and large the people who have elected Bush et al to office in the first place. But these democratically elected leaders have shown complete contempt of the wish of their voters. They, to take an expression from Shakespeare’s King Lear, have been acting like the “pelican daughters”, the ungrateful children that turn out the worst enemies of their own parents.
It appears that Bush and his confederates have reduced democracy to what it used to be in its earliest days: a system operating in the slave-owning society. The only difference is that in the times bygone the slaves and women were not allowed to vote; now all and sundry can vote, but their will and wish have no substance. Even the Pope has clearly stated his desire that Iraq be not invaded; but Tony Blair met him to present him with Bush’s case fro war. The Blair-Pope meeting looked like a page from Goethe’s Faust: Mephistopheles interceding with Faust on behalf of the Devil. The deeply religious Bush has subverted vox populi, vox Dei into what the Vulgate (John i. 23) says: vox clamatis in deserto, the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
The democratic constitution of the United States is the country’s most sacred document, more important than the Bible, and its very beginning is “We, the people”. The United Kingdom has a great unwritten constitution and has centuries-old glorious democratic traditions. Italy is where the Renaissance and humanism flowered in the first place. Spain emerged from Inquisition long time ago. Australia can boast proud democratic institutions in Asia-Pacific. And yet all the democratic norms and gains, that have taken centuries to crystallize, are being undermined by Bush, Blair, Howard, Ozal, and Berlusconi.
Saddam can be removed without invading Iraq and subjecting its people to devastation. For the sake of argument, why can’t the United States bomb Saddam’s palace and finish him up? But that is not the purpose. George Bush does not want regime change only. He wants to occupy Iraq, steal its oil, test the deadly weaponry on the people and the environment of Iraq to the delight of the weapons industry, and send a warning to “recalcitrants” like Iran, Syria, and North Korea that their fate shall be no different from Iraq’s if ever they tried to challenge American superiority. Democracy in the hands of Bush, Blair, Berlusconi, Howard, and Ozal is a means to a diabolic end: to dominate the world. To them the notions of international fraternity, liberty, and equality are meaningless. It is the fulfillment of their dreams—-based on covetousness and hubris—-that is the end. Protesters come and go; Machiavellianism stays. In today’s world, does democracy stand for human dignity and respect? Or else?
Abbas Zaidi writes for The Nation, Lahore. His writings have appeared, amongst others, in Exquisite Corpse, The Salisbury Review, and Southern Oceanic Review.