2+2, or democracy in the Middle East

April 6, 2006

Let’s have a vote. How many of you think that 2+2 is 4, how many that it is less than 4, how many that it is more?

What a stupid suggestion, I hear you say. Can there be a difference of opinion here? What’s there to vote about?

It is a humbling experience to stand corrected like that. But you are right – when there can be no controversy, there can be no voting; in math, democracy does not exist.

But how about other areas of human experience? We hear a lot about spreading democracy in the Middle East, for example – how’s that supposed to work? How do we push democracy on them? Will the elections do the trick, as the US administration seems to suggest?

Well, as we know by now, the key question to ask is – where do Middle Easterners differ in opinions? The philosophy of the place seems to be – all exists for God’s sake, there is no God but God, Mohammed is His Prophet. This is the Truth. Every aspect of life stems from that. Questions? What, you have questions? Hey, look, he has questions! What, questions? How perverse! How unnatural! How abominable! Off with his head!

This is an atmosphere of certainty that is hardly conducive to democracy, which, as we’ve just discovered, is based on existence of the difference of opinions.

And there is plenty of ground to have different views, in the Middle East just as everywhere else. The problem of the third party outlaws the central tenet of Middle Easterner’s philosophy – the certainty of Mohammed’s prophethood. Take that away, and you’ve pulled the rug from under his entire worldview; you’ve wrecked the whole edifice of mathematical certainty of religious and social life. All of a sudden, nothing is certain, everything is open to doubt and debate. Questions are legit. There can be – and should be – a difference of opinion. Suddenly, there is something to vote against, and to vote for. Elections make sense. There is a ground for democracy indeed.

And so, to spread democracy we need to change peoples’ perceptions of reality, not just impose on them some artificial rules. If we are to spread democracy, we should not be afraid to uncover fallacies even when they underpin the very foundations of “culture” and “identity.” Spreading democracy simply by demanding elections, as the US administration is trying to do now, is nothing more then asking to vote on the value of 2+2.

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