Saturday, January 29, 2005

Ajami on Iraq

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal carried a superb essay by Dr. Fouad Ajami, one of the foremost scholars on the Middle East, on the impact of Sunday's Iraqi elections:

On the morning after Iraq's elections, we now know, the insurgents will still be with us. And there will remain that denial among broad segments of the Arab intellectual and political elites, their stubborn belief that these elections are but an American veneer over Iraq's mayhem. We shall not be able to convince people with no democratic experience that Iraq is on the cusp of a new history. We shall have to look past those who call up the specter of the Shiite bogeyman and dismiss these elections as the first step toward a Shia theocracy. But set this election for a National Assembly against the background of Iraq's historical torment--and against the background of an Arab world thrashing about for a new political way--and one is forgiven the sense that Jan. 30 is a signal day in Iraqi history.

I found this passage to be especially meaningful:

Leave aside American liberalism's hostility to this venture and consider the multitudes of America's critics in Arab and European intellectual circles. It is they today who propagate a view of peoples and nations fit--and unfit--for democracy. It is they who speak of Iraq's "innate" violence. For their part, the men and women in Iraq--who make their way to the ballot box, past the perpetrators of terror--will be witnesses to the appeal of liberty. In their condescension, people given to dismissing these elections say that Iraq is the wrong place for a "Jeffersonian democracy." (Forgive the emptiness of that remark, for America itself is more of a Hamiltonian creation, but that is another matter.) No Jeffersonianism is needed here. A kind of wisdom has been given ordinary Iraqis--an eagerness to be rid of the culture of statues and informers and terror. It takes no literacy in the writings of Mill and Locke to know the self-respect that comes with choosing one's rulers. Though it would not be precisely accurate to speak of the "restoration" of democracy in Iraq, older Iraqis have a memory of a more merciful history. Now Iraq has to be rehabilitated. These elections--flawed, taking place alongside a raging insurgency--are part of the rehabilitation of this deeply wounded country.

Please read it all:

A New Iraq


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