Friday, May 11, 2007

Elected Islamists Can Be Tamed

For most of the Arab and Islamic world, the Bush administration’s boycott of the Palestinian Hamas-led government stands as the epitome of hypocrisy. America pushed for democracy in the Middle East, and in Palestine that’s what it got. But contrary to what it envisioned, elections across the region have brought Islamists to power.

It’s no secret that democratic elections sometimes bring out odd bedfellows, and the Islamists are undesirable bedfellows to many. It is, however, in the best interest of America and the West -- and indeed for the good of the peace in the Islamic world -- to accept Islamists when they come to power through the ballot box. The secret should be to tame them, not to shun them.

The West committed the original sin in Algeria when the Algerian military denied election victory to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which had won an overwhelming majority of 231 seats out of the 430. Instead of condemning the military’s obstruction of the democratic process, the West applauded it. It was this miscalculated step that reinforced the Islamists’ claim that the West is against Islam. It was here that the clash of civilizations started long before Samuel P. Huntington wrote his ominous article of the same title in Foreign Affairs in 1993.
Read More in Newsweek.WashingtonPost/PostGlobal.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Nostalgia for Swords and Heroes
BY Bashir Goth

I am not a fan of hereditary rule. I would rather live in a place where every child can dream of being able to reach the highest position of power. A place where even immigrants and children of immigrant parents such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy can find an open field to compete and achieve their goals through ambition, merit and hard work and not through the mere chance of being born into it.

Having said that, I can understand why the British people should hold on to their queen. I once asked a British friend whether the British would ever get rid of the royalty. “I can’t imagine Britain without the queen,” was his reply. Later, I realized that he was not alone in his nostalgic attachment to the British crown. Even citizens of former British colonies felt the same way about the British royalty. I saw elderly men of my own country, Somaliland, a former British colony, proudly adorning swords, medals and other royal mementoes awarded to them during British rule. Even today the surviving elders still hold dearly their royal memorabilia and flash them around with pride on special occasions. Despite the agony of colonialism, people who lived under the British crown saw the queen as being beyond reproach. They attributed the evils of colonialism to anyone but the queen.

The British people also have more reason to have faith in the queen. Apart from being apolitical, the queen stands out as a noble and divine person; a mother to all people at all times. She has been a rallying point, a unifying force and an emotional anchor at times of national disasters for more than 50 years.

It is also quite palatable why the queen should be revered now more than ever. The world at large is bereft of national leaders with the status of tall historical figures such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, Churchill and De Gaulle. Political dwarfs who do not meet people’s basic expectations of national leaders dominate our modern era. It is no wonder, therefore, that the queen is set on a pedestal by people in search of heroes. She symbolizes the last badge of Britishness for a nation in identity crisis due to globalization and mass migration. She also stands as the last memory of good times for millions of Africans living in Commonwealth countries that haven’t reaped but misery from their independence. They recall their old days under the British crown with sweet memories.

It is unbecoming, however, to compare the situation of the British queen to the unconstitutional despotic dynasties emerging in the Arab world where, for example, former military dictators anoint their sons as heirs under the guise of bogus democracies. The British monarchy is in a class of its own; it draws its strength and glory from the long and checkered history of the British Empire -- although one might question its survival beyond Queen Elizabeth II.