Lebanon – Last Weeks Meeting (9/3/9)

After Gary and I briefly recapped Lebanon’s recent history, the group focused on
the bigger issue of Arab democracy. Using Lebanon’s example, I made a few basic
points about its prospects/pitfalls:

(1) Democracy is not just about elections. Democratization is the slow and
unevenly-paced development of institutions, processes, and all the other
components of civil society. It can take decades, or longer;

(2) Democracy doesn’t magically solve a society’s deep-seated problems, and can
be a captive of them. Mass poverty, ethnic/religious hatreds, conflicts with
neighboring states, etc.;

(3) The good guys don’t always win—especially if you define the good guys as
the pro-American side. Witness Hezbollah’s success in Lebanese elections and
Hamas;

(4) Our ability to influence outcomes in foreign elections is limited (I
probably did not emphasize this enough).

Our discussion needed two improvements, I thought. First, most of our comments
on the prospects for Arab democracy seemed to focus on their psychological
“readiness” to accept it, as if democracy entirely a function mainly of national
character or ideology or theology. I get why people do this: it’s easy, like
the way the media turns our elections into tests of candidates’ “character,”
rather than focusing on substance. But, I thought we should have placed more
weight on how structural social forces impede Arab democracy, such as their
stagnant economies, their dictators, legacy of foreign meddling, etc. Of
course, national character plays a part. But the only part?

Second, I don’t know what to say about the idea that Muslims/Arabs are
inherently irredeemable or warlike. So were Christians, and Alabamans. History
is not destiny, and it takes two to make a “clash of civilizations.”

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