Human Rights

Democracy v. Diversity

January 25, 2012

Multiple Pages
Democracy v. Diversity

If the Arab Spring is good for democracy, then it has to be good for diversity, right? We know that democracy and diversity are virtually the same thing: Both words begin with a “d,” end with a “y,” and by definition are good. Who isn’t aware that minority protection (indeed, minority promotion) is the essence of majority rule?

American intellectuals are confident of this because the Nazis were against democracy and diversity. And if you’ve heard of Hitler, what more do you need to know about history?

Yet some people who don’t seem to have gotten this message are the Arab majorities themselves, who subscribe to the primitive, even (dare I say it?) populist notion that majority rule means rule by the majority. And majorities in Third World countries are generally not urbane sophisticates.

For example, when Egyptians finally cast a semi-meaningful ballot after decades under Hosni Mubarak’s increasingly senescent but largely secular and modernist dictatorship, over 70% of the seats went to Islamist parties.

“If the Arab Spring amounts to anything, it will likely be the end of Arab Christianity via ethnic cleansing.”

Democracy is unlikely to be good for Egypt’s millions of Coptic Christians. If the Arab Spring amounts to anything, it will likely be the end of Arab Christianity via ethnic cleansing.

The general pattern has been that the old-line dictators in most countries vulnerable to Arab Spring uprisings emerged from modernizing minorities (whether ethnic, religious, class, regional, ideological, or occupational). The pitchfork-wielding peasants resent both the elite minorities and the backward minorities.

Some dictators even imported more diversity to stay in power. Both Libya and Bahrain used immigration to bulk up their mercenaries: sub-Saharan Africans in Col. Gaddafi’s Libya and foreign Sunni soldiers and cops to keep down Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority. The bumptious Col. Gaddafi is gone, but Bahrain’s slick Al Khalifa dynasty is still there, backed by the Saudis and the Americans. Bahrain’s bosses understand modern symbolism about minorities so well that the Arab kingdom’s ambassador to Washington is a Jewish woman.

Elderly and corrupt dictators tend to be accommodating toward minorities, especially “market dominant minorities” that are better with money than with guns, as Tiger Mother Amy Chua pointed out in her 2002 book World on Fire. For example, the overseas Chinese flourished in General Suharto’s dictatorial Indonesia until the mostly Muslim indigenous majority ran amok in 1998 and many Chinese fled to Singapore.

The Middle East might seem like a place where there aren’t enough minorities to be worrisome. Yet as the world’s oldest agricultural region, it is less monolithically Muslim than it appears. Like an archeological dig, there are layers upon layers of cultures, from pre-Islamic groups to modernizing minorities.

When the US invaded Iraq to overthrow the minority Sunni dictatorship, we set off a civil war between the Sunnis and the Shi’ite majority. The most vulnerable were non-Muslim minorities who didn’t have the numbers to form their own militias.

Before American intervention, Iraq was home to something like 50,000 Gnostics. But in democratizing Iraq, the Gnostics’ numbers have fallen by close to 90%, with most escaping to Jordan’s monarchical stability or Syria’s ethnic-minority dictatorship.

Likewise, hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians fled Iraq’s political tumult. Did George W. Bush’s loyal evangelical Christian base worry that their hero’s disruption of Iraqi somnolence in the name of democracy was destroying one of the world’s oldest Christian communities? Don’t be silly.

Until the Arab Spring, Syria was a prudent refuge for Christians because it’s a dictatorship wholly ruled by one minority, the Alawites, who treat other minorities well in their quest to keep the majority Sunnis from their own throats.

The Alawites are another complex ethnicity with deep roots. They are despised by the Sunni majority as not being true Muslims. (Alawites are said to celebrate Christmas and Easter.) When the French took control from the Ottomans after WWI, most of the Sunnis shunned joining the colonial security forces. But after centuries of Sunni oppression, the Alawites thought that getting paid by European experts to use guns and push Sunnis around was a great idea.

It’s widely assumed that the ascendant Islamist urge is merely a phase which will be replaced by a minority-sensitive End of History.

But that ignores Razib Khan’s insight about why Muslims worldwide are becoming less diverse and more dogmatic. Over time, more money means more pilgrimages to Mecca. And when the Hajis get back, they lord it over the poor stay-at-homes with social-climbing upbraidings about how “When I was in Mecca, we did it this way.”


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