Saturday, December 29, 2007

Could Andrew McCarthy and Juan Cole BOTH Be Right?

The very tragic loss of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan this week has exposed the horrible inflammation hiding just below the superficial skin of the "civilized" Middle East.

I think most Americans had a fairy tale view of Pakistan.

I believe most Americans felt that Pakistan was, for the most part, a civil society hampered by an over zealous military that all too often took control by ousting democratically elected leaders.

In our mind former General, now President, Musharraf was holding back Democracy (with a big "D") is a vain attempt to hold on to power.

And, in our mind, Benazir Bhutto was the beacon of "Democracy," about to bring back light to a darkened society.

As it turns out we Americans have watched too many movies like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Pakistan is no middle earth and Bhutto was no hobbit.

Our view, as Americans, is shaped all too often by the pathetic portraits painted in water colors by the national news networks. Sixty second sound bites on FOX, CNN and the nightly news actually do have a fairy tale quality to them.. No in depth reporting. No one actually scratching the surface looking at the infection.

And how did MSNBC, FOX and others react to Bhutto's death? They paraded endless sixty second interviews with political hacks about which candidate for US President benefited the most from Bhutto's assassination.


And so I point you all to two diverse corners of the blogosphere for some real in depth discussion of the real implications of Benazir Bhutto's life and death on Pakistan and the middle east. The two views I propose you read and take to heart appear at first to be diametrically opposed. But are they really?

First I strongly recommend you read Andrew C. McCarthy's article Benazir Bhutto: Killed by the real Pakistan in National Review Online.
A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.

Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.

President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy — or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy — to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!

The real Pakistan is a breeding ground of Islamic holy war where, for about half the population, the only thing more intolerable than Western democracy is the prospect of a faux democracy led by a woman — indeed, a product of feudal Pakistani privilege and secular Western breeding whose father, President Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, had been branded as an enemy of Islam by influential Muslim clerics in the early 1970s.

Although he certainly doesn't mention McCarthy by name, I believe Juan Cole's blog entry of Friday, December 28, 2007 written one day after McCarthy's article, was a direct response and a full frontal assault on McCarthy's analysis.

I am appalled by the rightwing US pundits who are taking advantage of Bhutto's assassination to blame "the people of Pakistan" for "extremism." Benazir's party would have won at least a plurality in parliament. The PPP is a moderate, middle class party, and it has done well in unrigged elections during the past 20 years. She was killed by an extremist of some sort. The Muslim fundamentalist parties usually only get 3 percent of the vote in national elections, and they got 11.3 percent of the popular vote in 2002 only because Musharraf interfered with the PPP and Muslim League campaigns.

Cole is a widely respected expert on the middle east. And, initially in his article, Cole comes off as a wise and reasonable statesman compared to McCarthy's wild eyed fanaticism.

The trouble is that once you get past these opening salvos the articles almost say exactly the same things. Pakistan is a deeply troubled country being run amok by radical Islam. It turns out that Cole and McCarthy disagree mostly about the percentages, not the outcome.

In effect Cole is saying that a majority of moderate Pakistanis are being run roughshod by a minority bent on civil war. And Cole believes civil war is only a heartbeat away.

The seriousness of the situation in the streets of some of Pakistan's important towns and cities doesn't seem to me to be being reported in the US press and media. In contrast, Pakistani newspapers are giving chilling details of large urban centers turned into ghost towns on Friday morning, with no transport available, hundreds of thousands of persons stranded far from home, shops closed, and banks, gas stations, police stations and automobiles torched.

Folks, I've seen civil wars and riots first hand, and revolutions from not too far away, and this situation looks pretty bad to me.

Meanwhile McCarthy writes an essay that I swear I've read nearly word for word in dozens of Juan Cole's own columns (I'm not implying plagiarism at all, just a strange convergence of ideas):

For the United States, the question is whether we learn nothing from repeated, inescapable lessons that placing democratization at the top of our foreign policy priorities is high-order folly.

The transformation from Islamic society to true democracy is a long-term project. It would take decades if it can happen at all. Meanwhile, our obsessive insistence on popular referenda is naturally strengthening — and legitimizing — the people who are popular: the jihadists. Popular elections have not reformed Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Neither will they reform a place where Osama bin Laden wins popular opinion polls and where the would-be reformers are bombed and shot at until they die.

I'm used to McCarthy proposing Bush-lite Democracy and Cole saying it' can't be done. But in this case I really believe they are both saying the same thing, even while taking veiled potshots at each other.

Pakistan is not ready or willing or able to embrace Democracy today. This Islamic minority (or majority) are not ready for changes that give power to the people. Changes that would trade sharia law for Amnesty International,

This is a clash of cultures, a clash between the past and the future. Pakistan is simply another Afghanistan or another Iraq. It is one more battlefield in the was between Islamic radicals like al-qaeda and the Taliban and moderates who merely yearn for peace and stability.

Yes, it does sound a lot like The Lord of the Rings and the war for middle earth. But don't expect good to triumph over evil. And don't expect an ending in 2 hours and 40 minutes. Or even three installments.

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