Monday, 14 December 2009

Hating Al-Demoqratia

An answer to Mr Ramzy Baroud


I refer to Mr Ramzy Baroud’s article “The Hypocrisy of Al-Demoqratia”, published on www.plsanpawl.com and elsewhere (for example: www.plsanpawl.com, www.scoop.co.nz, www.democraticunderground.com, www.countercurrents.org, tweetmeme.com). This website’s editors may be unaware that the very same article had been also published under the title “Why Muslims ‘hate democracy’” (see: www.maannews.net, twitter.com).

Mr Baroud is to be respected for his commitment towards the Palestinian cause. Also for the terrible experiences he had, even within his own family, with the aggression and injustice of Israelis against the Palestinians. He is to be appreciated as an author (My Father Was a Freedom Fighter, The Second Palestinian Intifada, and Searching Jenin) and as an intellectual. Furthermore, he is to be respected for not succumbing to despair, and giving his share against such great odds (as his website, www.ramzybaroud.net, proves).

The article referred to here is an angry one, as Mr Baroud himself points out, and his anger has also to be respected. People living in countries like Malta, where most generations are oblivious of what war and persecution means, cannot know, deep down, what living as the Palestinians do really means. I have been in Palestine during the present Intifada and seen the terrible and prolonged hardships of this stalwart people. I came out of there convinced that, even if the Palestinian people are sometimes depicted as violent people, their reaction in relation to Israeli violence is indeed mild. Certainly, Mr Baroud’s anger is not to be disparaged, let alone reviled.

However, as sometimes can be observed elsewhere with other earnest and committed Muslim authors, Mr Baroud’s anger is unfortunately displaced. His words maintain the destructive ‘us-them’ divide, and also hearten people (whether Muslims or not) to harbour a siege mentality. Both techniques are part of the problem Mr Baroud is trying to solve; they are not part of the solution most of us would like to implement.
As in most such articles, Mr Baroud uses clichés like “Western countries”, “Western values”, “Western democracy”, “Western interventions”, “Western imperialism”, “the West’s fear of Islam”, and the like, but never defines them or attempts to explain them. At one point he reveals that he understands the ‘West’ in both a “physical” and “figurative” sense but, again, never says what he means by these terms. He just assumes that the reader knows what he is talking about. It is clear that, like so many others, such a respectable and appreciable person is ensnared by these oft-repeated hollow generalisations that persist in hardening prejudices and freezing any comprehensible understanding of people. Similar generalisations and clichés are parroted by people on both sides of the ‘us-them’ divide, when, for example, some talk about ‘Muslims’ and ‘Arabs’ in the same breath (including Mr Baroud himself).

Mr Baroud says that we Westerners (Does he consider the Maltese to be part of his ‘West’?) are on a war path against Islam. “The targeting of Muslims in Western countries,” he states categorically “and the subjugation of entire Muslim nations all over the world has never ceased. Not for a day.” To make his point he mentions the 2004 ban on headscarves in France, and the recent (2009) ban on minarets in Switzerland. This last occurrence seems to be the main reason for all his ranting. However, Mr Baroud does not in the least analyze the intense difference between the two events: the first being a ruling that was directed at all types of concealing headwear (including hooded pull-overs); the second being a despicable action of far-right extremists.

The fact that this has been the main source of the Swiss ban defeats Mr Baroud’s own argument. For the far-right extremists are the purportedly foes of democracy, not its supporters, who brought about this ban (which, by the way, has still to be challenged―successfully, I hope―in a court of law). But Mr Baroud throws the baby out with the water, and castigates all us ‘Westerners’, as if all of us are of the same mind and responsible for any extreme positions taken against anyone, Muslim or anyone else. Well, Mr Baroud, we are not, thank you!

But Mr Baroud goes one step further, and makes our alleged hatred for Muslims a spring-board for pouring scorn on democracy itself, well at least the ‘Western’ type of democracy. But again, authors like Mr Baroud do not regale us with the fine distinctions they make between brands. Almost contemptuously, Mr Baroud says that democracy is “a Western conception”, but then goes on to provide us with admirable and convincing examples of Muslims in Arab countries upholding democracy as a cherished value. Is not this a little bit of a contradiction? As if we did not know that most Muslims uphold democracy, or that, as he himself says, “Muslim intellectuals and nations displayed impressive open-mindedness”, Mr Baroud tries to convince us in the same breath that democracy is a sort of evil. Mr Baroud himself admits that “Muslim communities in the West […] live in the abodes of democracy. They drink from the fountain of rights and freedoms that never runs dry.”

Splendid words. But Mr Baroud then drops his supposed shell-bomb: “Western democracy,” he maintains, “[is] conditional.” It “falter[s],” he states, “on its own commitment to democracy.” It reeks, he claims, “of “double standards, self-negation and, at times, pure hypocrisy.” And what reasons he gives to all of this? “The constant spewing out of right-wing hatred,” he answers, “evangelical fanatic preaching and all the rest.”

Well, this is not news. We all know that democracy, like any other system on earth, has its own pitfalls, and that it can be beaten at its own game. But this is hardly a reason to hate it. Or to hate the ‘West’. And anyway, Mr Baroud proposes no alternative to it. One reason probably being that he does not seem to be able to resolve his love-hate relationship to ‘Western’ democracy.

Muslims (or anyone else, for that matter) should not hate democracy just because extremists and fanatics go about finding ways how to get around it. The same goes for people hating Islam because of its deadly extremists and fanatics. In both cases their hate is misplaced. It is not democracy or Islam, to stick to these two examples only, that are the problem but the people that abuse them. We are bound not to forget the millions of people who do not misuse democracy, who fight extremists and fanatics on all fronts, and promote the wholesome values which democracy embraces. In the same way, none of us is bound to forget the millions of Muslims who faithfully live the principles laid down in the Qur’an.

Sadly, in trying to defend his worthy case Mr Baroud vilified the very system that gives us ‘Westerners’ the possibility and the hope of making this earth a better place for all of us to live in. By upholding the false us-them divide, and by endorsing absurd preconceptions about the ‘West’ or about ‘Westerners’ in general, Mr Baroud succeeds only in giving strength to the cultural incomprehensibility that stubbornly clings to most people’s consciousness, reinforces their impenetrability into the beauty of each other’s lives, debilitates their capability to sympathize with each other’s worries and hardships, and, worse of all, toughens the dangerous attitudes of extremists and fanatics.

Mr Baroud’s disservice to democracy can hardly be condoned.

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