The military coup against Nawaz Sharif’s government in Pakistan last month was greeted throughout the country with joy and relief rather than popular concern for the loss of people’s ‘democratic rights’. Elsewhere, concerns about democracy were raised, notably by western governments, but these were largely cosmetic. Pakistani commentators explaining the coup put it simply: democracy is not an end in itself, they said, but merely a means to a greater end, which is good governance. And it was the purpose of good governance that the military were serving because Sharif’s administration was its very antithesis.
Of course, there was another reason for the west’s relative unconcern about the coup. Their real priority is that governments should be pro-western, and they knew immediately that they had no fears on that score with general Pervez Musharraf. Early speculation that he was ‘religiously conservative’ (encouraged by Sharif’s supporters) was quickly cleared up; the Pakistan army has close relations with the US military, and Washington knew that no-one unsuitable would ever have reached high rank in it. They needed only to check their dossier to befurther reassured; the media was soon informed that this was a man who enjoys ‘an occasional’ whisky, is known for dancing at parties, admires Mustafa Kamal, Turkey’s champion of secularism, and is famously pro-American. The information released by Washington was supplemented by Musharraf’s own performance in Pakistan, posing for pictures with wife, daughter and pet dogs, in classic western presidential style.
The result is that, despite the west’s vocal concerns for democracy, Pakistan has not suffered any serious international censure apart from the suspension of some rights in the Commonwealth. This shows the west’s real attitude to democracy. In theory, western support for democracy is based on the idea that the people of a country are the best judges of the sort of government their country should have, and that this judgement should be exercised regularly through the ballot box. The establishment of such democracy in all countries is repeatedly trumpeted as the goal of the west’s global civilizing mission, and the introduction of ‘democracy’ in eastern Europe and in countries such as South Africa and (most recently) Indonesia, are treated as western triumphs.
In truth, however, the west’s real concern is to have pro-western governments; only where this can be achieved by ‘democratic’ means is democracy welcome. This is so where pro-western elites are sure that they can win any elections, such as in Pakistan (the elites’ subsequent performances notwithstanding), Turkey, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and so on. Elsewhere, the most undemocratic governments can be accepted as democratic because they are pro-western; hence the spectacles of the authoritarian regimes of Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt going through mock democratic procedures which the west chooses to legitimise, and even the most autocratic Gulf rulers being praised for ‘democratic tendencies’.
Meanwhile, states which genuinely meet’democratic’ standards are demonised because they are anti-western. Iran is the best example, being the only country in the region with regular elections, genuine popular debate about public affairs, and the rule of law. Elsewhere, in Latin America for example, we have seen blatant American interference to subvert democratic governments, and their replacement by pro-western governments, often guilty of horrendous atrocities under US tutelage. Most genuinely democratic governments are bound to be anti-western, of course, because of the west’s almost universal unpopularity.
These examples prove that the west has no genuine commitment to democracy. But the examples of western countries themselves, the US and Britain for instance, go further; they show that democracy itself is fatally flawed. Can any system be ideal that produces raises such totally amoral men as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to positions of leadership? - a man who sends bombers and missiles to distant lands to distract attention from his personal, sexual misconduct? And one who automatically backs such a man backs Clinton without a second thought? Yet these men are accepted and hailed as heroes, leaders, even moral exemplars.
Democracy? Not for us, thanks.
Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1999