Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Who needs "a coalition of the willing" when you can get your paws on "an alliance of moderation"?

...or so Tony Blair asks us today. He argues that "moderate" Muslim states should form "an alliance of moderation" to keep states like Iran in check. The BBC reports him saying the following (so it must be true!):

"We must recognise the strategic threat the government of Iran poses - not the people, possibly not all of its ruling elements, but those presently in charge of its policy. They seek to pin us back in Lebanon, in Iraq and in Palestine. Our response should be to expose what they are doing, build the alliances to prevent it and pin them back across the whole of the region."

Ok. So Blair doesn't like the Iranian President. Blair and Bush have done everything possible to discredit him (and his wide popularity in Iran), even going so far to claim he was one of the persons chiefly responsible for the hostage taking of US embassy workers in Iran many moons ago. I find two things hilarious about Blair's position. No, ok, three things.

First, the choice is between "moderation" and "extremism"---are these the only two paths for Muslim states? Not only is this categorization a bit patronizing, but suggests that Muslim states cannot aspire beyond moderation without being some kind of totalitarian terrorist state. It's nonsense.

Second, Iran is not the cause of the world's problems. I have argued before (admittedly whilst a graduate student in grad journal) that Iran may be a helpful place to look at if one wants to spread democracy in the region. Iran and Turkey have held regular elections for some time now---we may not like how they select candidates, but then again we don't like how buckets of money select candidates for us in liberal democracies either. There are at least half a million things I dislike about Iran. But their elections are not won by persons holding 90 or more percent of the vote, as we'd find in Egypt and the good ol' days in Iraq. Not only is Iran not the source of the world's problems, they show that elections can take root and be taken seriously in the region. It is true: they could be done better. So guess what? Our task should be to help them develop what they have, perhaps rather than castigate them for the progress they have made over their neighbours. If we believe in democracy, we want to foster it--not accept it only when it agrees with what we think is right.

Third, who are the lucky states in this "alliance of moderation"? Afghanistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia? If so, not so moderate are they...?! Heck, Afghanistan and Iraq aren't even in control of their full territories yet, so we have some pretty nifty folks to help keep the torch of "moderation" (whatever this is) for the region shining bright.

In the end, it is all madness. Rather than working with the world as we find it and---to borrow a phrase from Ronald Dworkin---"making it the best it can be" our political leaders seek to denigrate its enemies even where they could become far more useful allies than the totalitarian nightmares, erm, "alliance of moderation" we are now being sold. The general public must get wise to this nonsense. And the sooner, the better.

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