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Caution in the Middle East

Reader comment on item: After Saddam? Remaking the Mideast

Submitted by James M. Carter (United States), Feb 11, 2003 at 11:35

Dr. Pipes' article "After Saddam" sides with Prof. Ajami concerning establishment of democracy in the Middle East, citing Japan as an example of a United States success in political reform. While I cannot claim to match the knowledge of either Dr. Pipes or Prof. Ajami on the Middle East, I do have some knowledge of Japan, having lived there for nearly five years and having had a wide circle of contacts and acquaintances.

First. Dr. Pipes states "Japan had about as much 'affinity for democracy' in 1945 as the Arabs do today, yet democracy took hold there." I respectfully disagree. Democracy in Japan had its roots in the 19th century revolution that ended the Tokugawa Shogunate and "restored" Emperor Meiji's authority. Meiji was no liberal but he was forward looking and sought to bring Japan into the European mold of modern nations. What he did not do and probably could not have done at the time was to vitiate the Samurai class which had long dominated Japan and maintained its medieval notions of Bushido, "the way of the warrior." It was this class of militarists who came to dominate the army and navy and, in a famous series of political murders in the early 1930s, completely intimidated the civilians in the Japanese political structure.

The Samurai militarists were largely wiped out during World War II and their top leaders, including Generals Tojo and Doihara were executed in 1946. Gikai (the parliament) and the civilian bureaucracy, however impotent they may have been during the war) had continued to function and took over real political power when Emperor Hirohito renounced his "divinity" and discarded the pretense of Imperial rule.

Once the Samurai were dispersed and reduced to ordinary citizens, Japan's suppressed democratic institutions asserted themselves. The citizens were highly literate, the state religion, Shinto, became a quaint tradition with colorful festivals and no particular philosophy. Buddhism, perhaps the most pacific of religions, had long been the majority's moral philosophy and Christianity, which had been suppressed as a "western evil" emerged from hiding. After the demise of official Shinto, Japan's government divorced itself from all religion to a degree not found elsewhere.

In contrast, the U.S. will not be able to proclaim freedom or diversity of religion in the Mideast nor eliminate religious domination of government in the Middle East. Iraq is, arguably, the most secular state of any nation dominated by Islam. Is the U.S. going to proclaim that the Christian god has defeated Allah and so Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism must now be tolerated throughout the region?

As Dr. Pipes has recognized, totalitarianism exists in Arab states because modern Islam, not unlike ancient Christianity, demands subservience in thought and action to the will of a god as expressed by learned holy men. Religion is a tool to enforce conformity and until the citizens can learn to think for themselves and be responsible for their own actions as individuals, democracy cannot flourish. The United States is not going to be able to instill freedom of throught in millions of people who hate the western world in general and the United States as the "Great Satan" in particular.

Conquering Iraq is the easy part. But the U.S. cannot bring peace and democracy to the Middle East even though some of the Arab states may, for a time be frightened into sycophancy. The urge to seek freedom and accept the principles of democratic government must come from within. They cannot be imposed by force. Even the current Administration is not ready to execute the Imams and Ayatollahs who preach hatred and terrorism nor are we prepared to depose and humble the princes and dictators who dominate Arab nations other than Iraq.

This writer therefore respectfully disagrees with Prof. Ajami and Dr. Pipes.
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