Friday, October 18, 2002
Subtle racism? The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof has come to the conclusion that Arabs can't handle democracy, and any suggestion to the contrary is a "pipe dream."
Listen to the American hawks after a few glasses of wine, and you might be seduced into thinking that after overthrowing Saddam Hussein we're going to turn Iraq into a flourishing democracy.
But I'm afraid it's a pipe dream, a marketing ploy to sell a war.
We haven't even been able to nurture full democracy in modern, bustling Kuwait, where women still cannot vote, or in Saudi Arabia, which is more egalitarian -- neither men nor women can vote. I had a nice insight into the limits of democracy in Kuwait the other night when I was at the palatial home (come to think of it, the reason it was palatial was that it was a palace) of a top Kuwaiti.
Kristof's "nice insight" must have really hurt. I'm sure he feels better now that he's no longer constipated.
Don't get me wrong, I don't believe that creating a democracy in Iraq is going to be easy -- it won't. But I do think that it can be done.
Interestingly enough, Kristof says that if the United States can't get democracy in Kuwait (a country we've never conquered or ruled) then we can't get it in Iraq. Why? Well, women in Kuwait can't vote -- it's just part of the Arab/Muslim make-up, Kristof seems to suggest, that just can't handle democracy.
Yet, just 2 1/2 weeks ago, Kristof, writing from Baghdad, pointed out how women have it much better in Iraq than any other Arab country.
To see how many Arab countries are in some ways even more repressive to women, consider how an invasion might play out. If American ground troops are allowed to storm across the desert from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, then American servicewomen will theoretically not be able to drive vehicles as long as they are in Saudi Arabia and will be advised to wear an abaya over their heads. As soon as they cross the border into enemy Iraq, they'll feel as if they are entering the free world: they can legally drive, uncover their heads, and even call men idiots.
Iraqi women routinely boss men and serve in non-combat positions in the army. Indeed, if Iraq attacks us with smallpox, we'll have a woman to thank: Dr. Rihab Rashida Taha, the head of Iraq's biological warfare program, who is also known to weapons inspectors as Dr. Germ.
A man can stop a woman on the street in Baghdad and ask for directions without causing a scandal. Men and women can pray at the mosque together, go to restaurants together, swim together, court together or quarrel together. Girls compete in after-school sports almost as often as boys, and Iraqi television broadcasts women's sports as well as men's.
Kristof spends the rest of his column consulting various Kuwaitis who scoff at the idea that Iraq could make democracy work. It's a lot of sound and fury -- signifying nothing.
Instead, Kristof's point is that the war in Iraq is all about American imperialism. Bush, Kristof believes, doesn't really think that democracy can work there, but it's a gimmick to sell the war.
Time will tell who is right, but don't expect any apologies from Kristof if he's wrong.