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A noted authority tells it like it is.

  by Mehdi Noorbaksh

On February 15, 1991, in the aftermath of the First Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush announced, “There is another way for the bloodshed to stop. And that is, for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.” This statement encouraged thousands in the predominantly Shiite southern region of Iraq to rise against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqis expected that their uprising against the authoritarian regime of Baghdad would be supported by the United States. It was not, and the uprising was put down brutally by Saddam Hussein. Saddam subdued opposition and conquered the South with an unprecedented level of cruelty and carnage.

President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 with the presumption that Saddam was a threat to the United States and the world with hisefforts in building weapons of mass destruction. As these presumed weapons of mass destruction were not found, the mission changed to democracy promotion in Iraq. President Bush viewed democracy promotion as a critical instrument in the long-term war against terrorism. This “coercive democracy” strategy involved invasion and occupation, and it became the cornerstone of American foreign policy under his administration. He stated in December 2006, “We are committed to a strategic goal of a free Iraq that is democratic, that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself.”

Human rights

In June 2009, President Obama declared in his Cairo speech, “Each nation gives life to this principle (democracy) in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

This speech raised hope in the Middle East and the Muslim world as many speculated that the United States intended to change the course of its foreign policy to one in which it would support democratic movements and end its support of authoritarian regimes, especially in the Middle East. With high hope for change following President Obama’s speech, many were disappointed later to observe no change in Washington’s relations with the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East. Middle Eastern people, specifically, lost hope in the notion that the United States would genuinely support democratic change in the region and become involved in the initiation of peace throughout the region.

More than anything else, the example of Turkey rather than Iran has inspired many in the Middle East over the last decade to strive for democratic changes, and many believed that democratic change would be possible both under secularism and Islamism. Although Muslims participated in establishing stable democratic societies and governments in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia and actively participated in democratic politics in countries such as India and in the other parts of the world, a group of scholars in the West, before and after the introduction of the “conflict of civilizations,” concluded that the countries of the Middle East are not capable of and adept in embracing democratic norms because their predominant religion, Islam, is not compatible with democracy. Human rights, democratic norms, women’s rights and participatory politics were considered the sole monopoly of the West and alien to this region. This tendency, was called neo-orientalism in the literature of the region, shared its conceptual framework with past orientalists who separated the Orient and the West in the realm of culture, society, politics, modernity and civilization.

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