Sunday, January 29, 2006

Duhama Karasi?

If you’re wondering what Duhama Karasi is,  it’s Mu'ammar Qaddafi’s claim that our word “Democracy” comes from Arabic.  Most people believe that the English word comes from the Greek “Demos” or people.  Qaddafi’s  near perfect cognate,  has the literal meaning of “common people in the seats”, which in a rhetorical sense is very close to the American folk notion of democracy as government by the people, for the people, of the people.  I spent a while on the internet looking for the actual Arabic phrase for democracy and surprisingly never found it.  I’m not sure what that signifies, but it’s a reminder to me that the concept doesn’t translate that readily.  Qaddafi’s phrase, a kind of Libyan Hakkunah Matata, seems to be the only “Arabic” phrase for “Democracy” in google.  How’s that for search engine distortion?

I do, however, wonder if “democracy” comes close to describing the way our House or Senate now look.  If you look at any income profile of the U.S. Senate, even with an Obama, there just ain’t a lot of Duhama there.  Bill Frist’s family is inside the corporate medical business.  Diane Feinstein is married to a prominent venture capitalist.  Hillary Clinton used to be the first lady .  Jim Bunning was a Hall of Fame pitcher.  Chanceclucky is more or less a Duhama and I have to tell you these are not the people I run into at any kids’ birthday parties or dinners that I attend.  If you want a reason we don’t see things like universal health care though, that’s probably it.  And does anyone have to be reminded that while the U.S. military has lots of Duhama serving in Iraq, none of them are the children or siblings of any member of the U.S. Senate?  Perhaps, that’s why we make the distinction between “mature” democracies and “fledgling” ones.  The mature demoecracies have worked out the whole “people” part of the concept.  

This was another eventful week in the Middle East.  First Hamas, a militant Islamic group, won the elections in the Palestinian authority, which still  sounds more like the name for a bus terminal in New York than a country.  Second, Bob Woodruff , an ABC anchor, and Doug Vogt, a camerman, were both seriously wounded in an IED  attack in Iraq.  Secretary of State Rice and President Bush publicly walk the tightrope of explaining how they’ve endorsed  the spread of “Democracy” in the Middle East, yet can’t support a democratically elected Hamas.    It’s a familiar paternalistic dilemma,  “I want you to learn to choose any car, boyfriend, or major you want as long as it’s one that I don’t disapprove.  What do you do with the kids who come home with the modded Honda from Fast and Furious, a guy named Spike, or who decide to major in social work or Italian. Or whatever the current equivalent of I’m going to college then coming home again happens to be.  Anyway, the kid chooses, then you lecture her about how she’s proving that she not ready to make her own choices because of the choice she made.  

At another level though, hardly anyone seems to be reminding us that both events are signs that something’s very much wrong with the picture.  In this New American Century, once the US asserted its dominance in the Middle East, then the rest of the region was supposed to fall in line.   Possibly, the Democracy part is happening, but it doesn’t appear that the results are exactly what we had in mind in Iran, Palestine, Egypt, and even Iraq.  In all four countries, Islamic fundamentalism, nationalism, and growing anger about Israel have been reinforced by elections.  The US might see itself  in the role of a democratic Prometheus, but I suspect the region’s voters are much more aware that the US has invaded two countries in the region in the last three years and overthrown existing governments with something other than Democracy.  The right likes to insist that Iraq is nothing like Vietnam for any number of reasons.  This whole Hamas election is more than a little reminiscent of an American dilemma in Southeast Asia.  The US kept having to be complicit in fixing or stalling elections in Vietnam for the simplest reason of all, the wrong side would otherwise have won the election.

I saw an article a couple weeks ago that pointed out that China’s emerging capitalism serves as proof that capitalism and democracy don’t necessarily go together.  In Vietnam, anti-communism and democracy didn’t always go together.  In the Middle East, democracy and peace and stability may be very different indeed.

For the last year, the mantra in Iraq has been that the insurgency is slowly and inevitably losing.  The administration has taken great pains to make sure that we don’t know the names or faces of the dead and wounded in Iraq.  When Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, they took great care to “fix” the reports.  One of the truths about Tora Bora appears to be that the US did know where Osama was, they just didn’t have the manpower in the region to catch him.  Interestingly, they cast Pat Tillman as an army ranger in Afghanistan searching the landscape with his unit for Bin Laden himself.  

Bob Woodruff is yet another famous casualty in the war and yet another journalist casualty in a conflict that has been unusually effective at both killing journalism and literally killing journalists.  There may be any number of reasons things are getting better in Iraq, but the image of Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt (now there’s a democratic name) being blown up in an Iraqi army vehicle may overpower any array of statistics they might trot out about cell phones, business openings, or operational Iraqi army units.  



At 1/30/2006 07:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tonight Monday before the state of the union, Mr. Bush's approval rating is at 39% -- 9% above the absolute zealot core who would vote for him if he had Inappropriate Concourse with Lynne Cheney and Dick too.

Mr. Bush unbelievably shortsightedly missed an historic chance to say, "The people of Palestine have spoken. Let's have an international conference run by Jordan to see how everyone in the region can bring peace, democracy, and prosperity to all the people."

He should have made an end run around this 'We never deal with terrorists' balderdash, and like JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis appealed to the moderates in the region and in Hamas and given them something to hang their turbans on.

The man has the vision of a mole.

At 2/01/2006 09:56:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

what a coincidence. I was looking at photos of hamsters and knew that I recognized those semi-empty eyes from somewhere. If you get pictures of various rodents head on, it's really quite remarkable.


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