Thu, Feb 17, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China could learn from Iraqi vote

By Chiou Chwei-liang邱垂亮

Under the shadow of continuous death, injury and violence precipitated by Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups, Iraq held its first ever democratic elections on Jan. 30, in which the people elected their own parliament. In the coming year a democratic constitution will be established, allowing this Islamic nation, ruled by an authoritarian system for many years, to embark on the journey of democratization. Whether or not this will cause a domino effect and produce similar changes elsewhere in the Islamic world remains to be seen.

It might cause Islamic nations, still entrenched in feudalism, caught up in what Samuel Huntington calls the third wave of democratization, to become modern democratic countries.

There are two historical inferences to be made here.

The first is that, over the past two centuries of human history, there has never been a case of a war arising from the invasion of one democratic nation by another. This has led some scholars to postulate that war will not occur between two democratic countries: if every nation in the world were to become democratic, the world would be a safe place, and the ideals of global peace could be realized.

The second inference, and this has become all the more clear since the Sept. 11 attacks on the US by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, is that many nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America have all joined this third wave of democratization, and there are now, in the post-Cold War period, over 100 democratic countries in the world, as opposed to only 20 or so before it. Only in the Arab world in the Middle East have we not seen any countries following suit (although some would see Turkey as the exception).

As a result, a number of scholars believe that not only is Islamic fundamentalist terrorism intimately related to Islamic civilization, but that it is also closely related to the culture's authoritarian, undemocratic nature itself. This view coincides with the theory of oriental despotism of Karl Marx and Karl August Wittfogel.

From Marx and Wittfogel's profoundly influential idea of oriental despotism to the theory of China's paternalistic authoritarian political culture put forward by Lucien Pye of Harvard University, and from the May Fourth Movement led by Hu Shi (胡適) and Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀), to the River Elegy of Tiananmen Square activists such as Fang Lizhi (方勵之) and Su Xiaokang (蘇曉康), all hold that the 2,000-year-old imperial authoritarian culture is deeply entrenched in China. Even though the modernization and democratization of China is not completely impossible, these theories suggest it is certainly not going to be achieved easily.

Also, there will be no democracy on the political level without a prior democratization of the culture. Both Islamic and Confucian civilizations are classic examples of oriental despotism, and it will be very difficult, and some even say impossible, for them to become democratized.

Al-Qaeda did exactly as they said they would, making terrorist attacks throughout Iraq on the day of the election. One of its leaders, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, declared war on the Iraqi people. No longer were the insurgents targeting Americans or people of other nationalities: any Iraqi seen supporting, organizing, participating in, or voting in the election would be considered to be an infidel and a traitor to Islam, and consequently fair game.

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