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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Democracy or imperialism? Ask the experts
Iraqis celebrate on the streets of Basra on hearing  that Baghdad has fallen
You put your questions on Islam and democracy to Kenneth Adelman, Nawal el-Saadawi and Abdel-Wahab el-Affendi.



President Bush has called on the international community to help build democracy in Iraq.

"The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan and beyond, would be a grave setback for international terrorism," he said in his speech to the nation on Sunday.

While some have welcomed attempts to introduce Western-style pluralism, others view US foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan with deep suspicion.

Prominent figures in the Bush administration have pointed to what they see as a lack of participatory democracy in most Muslim states, and argue that America's security post 9/11 is no longer guaranteed through non-democratic regimes.

Is the US campaign in Iraq imperialism or an attempt to sow democracy in the Middle East?

Should, or can, Muslim countries embrace democracy? What does the New World Order mean for Islam?

Put your questions to a panel of experts in a LIVE interactive forum. Our panelists are: Kenneth Adelman, former advisor to Donald Rumsfeld and member of the Pentagon's advisory defence policy board, Nawal el-Saadawi, Egyptian feminist writer, and Abdel-Wahab el-Affendi of the Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London.


Transcript


Paul Reynolds:

Hello I'm Paul Reynolds. Welcome to the second of our forums on Islam and the West. Today, we're discussing US-led efforts to build democracy in the Muslim world. President Bush has linked the goal of democracy building to his war on terror. Last night in his address to the nation he said, the triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan and beyond would be a grave set-back for international terrorism. But many people, especially Muslims, are deeply sceptical of US motives. So is the US genuinely attempted to sow democracy in the Middle East or is it a form of imperialism? To answer your questions we're joined by Kenneth Adelman, former advisor to Donald Rumsfeld and a member of the Pentagon Advisory Defence Policy Board. Nawal el-Saadawi, Egyptian feminist writer and Abdel-Wahab el-Affendi of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London.

Let's begin with a question for you Ken Adelman in Washington. I've an e-mail from Sirajum Ahmed, UK who says: Why is the US asking for democracy in the Muslim world, when at the same time it's hindering that process by supporting unelected governments and dictatorships? The US only wants governments that serve its interests.


Kenneth Adelman:

I think that's a common fallacy but I think it is a fallacy. I think everybody has a right to choose their own leaders. I think everybody has a right to say what they want. I think everybody has a right to assemble and try to have a representative government. I think everybody has a right to write what they want, practise the religion that they want. I don't think that's an American value, I think that's a universal value - America personifies that. There's no reason in the world why in the Arab world people aren't bright enough and sophisticated enough, gifted enough to elect their own leaders. It's the only place in the world right now where you have a group of dictators of one stripe or another over their people. Listen there are 22 members of the Arab League today - there's not one freely elected, legitimate, democratically elected government in the 22 countries. That's terrible - I think Iraq will be the first and that's wonderful.


Paul Reynolds:

Let's try a question on Nawal el-Saadawi who is on the phone in Portland, Maine, USA. I've got a question for you from Ksenon Luminescu, Fagaras, Romania: Democracy and Islam are incompatible. It all is designed for one supreme leader or one supreme tyrant. Currently there is no hope whatsoever of introducing Western style of democracy in any Arab Muslim country. What is your comment on that?


Nawal el-Saadawi:

What I am hearing is a lot of deception. First of all maybe my English will be a little bit blunt because my mother tongue is Arabic. But what I heard just now is very ridiculous because when you say that Islam does not allow democracy - what about Christianity, what about Judaism? Why do you only select Islam? I think there is no democracy whatsoever in the same monotheistic religions and I don't think I am hearing the United States - in Portland - I am a visiting professor - and I am seeing here in the United States, there is no democracy here. There is no free elections here in the US - you need at least $200 million to be a president and to finance your election campaign.

And here in the US the biggest number of prisoners of prison population is the US. The biggest number of exclusions under the Patriot Act - you know people can be put in prison on just suspicion and the security authorities can interfere in the private lives of people and you can be in prison and not allowed to have lawyers etc. So where is democracy here in the US? The so-called western values are very inhuman and not democratic. So let's speak the truth and not make this colonial and neo-colonial language that disguises reality.


Paul Reynolds:

Let's have a question now for Abdel-Wahab el-Affendi in London. A question from Nour Alkarim, New York: I would welcome and encourage attempts to introduce Western style democracy not only in Iraq but all over the Arab world. Arabs should embrace the fact that America is a true friend and that their own leaders are the true enemies.


Abdel-Wahab el-Affendi:

I think these are two assumption embracing democracy and I probably agree with Ken Adelman that there is no such thing as western style democracy. There are universal values of democracy which relate to how people should interact with each other. Now the content of what comes out of a democratic process will be different of course in Arab countries from western countries because the language being used and the forces being represented and the form of negotiation will be different.

On the other hand, I think it will be a good idea if America was a friend of democracy in the region. But you cannot be a friend of democracy - democracy is not something abstract - democracy is about negotiating within each society how do you work out your problems. Now if you want to introduce democracy without first of all starting to negotiate with the people how to resolve differences and problems, then that wouldn't be democracy because that would be imposing certain solutions and a certain fait accompli - using arms and then saying well let us talk democracy. I think that the best thing to happen is first of all to solve differences which are separate in the United States from most Arabs and then you could talk democracy after that.


Paul Reynolds:

Back to Ken Adelman in Washington. A question from Hamza Sheihk, in Houston, Texas: After living in the US for a couple of years, I can see the virtues of democracy. However, I've also seen democracy fail in Muslim states, such as Pakistan and Egypt. By trying to impose democracy on Muslim nations, the West is horrifyingly similar to the extremists of today both at trying to force their ideas onto others?


Kenneth Adelman:

Let me congratulate your caller from Houston - at least he recognises democracy. I think your other guest from Portland, Maine, just has no idea. If she thinks that America is not a democracy, she should go to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and try to say what she wants to say about the government or about anything else - that's a kind of ridiculous position that's been put on the air.

But let me address this. I don't think there is any impulse or intention of exporting American type democracy. Listen, we have a presidential system. We have separation of powers. Our system we love very much but it doesn't seem for export. There's no country around the world that has this system of democracy. Firstly as an American I don't care that much. It seems that the British system of democracy or the French or the German system is more exportable than our system of democracy - that's fine for me. I don't care what their government structure is. I care that their people have the right for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly - those basic rights and that they select their own leaders.

When your guest says that America is deficient in this - we're not as good as we would like to be but we're better than I think any other country in the world and I don't think that when Americans are saying that there should be democracy in the Muslim world, they're talking about American kind of a democracy - I don't care. What I care about is that the people of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world elect their own leaders. There's no reason to think that the Arabs are inferior in some inherent way that they're unable to do that. When you look at the 22 members of the Arab League, you realise that not one is a legitimate, freely elected democratic government. That's a pretty sad commentary. I think that has got to change.


Paul Reynolds:

There's a point made though by Paul, Oakham, UK: I imagine many Iraqis would welcome democracy but they are right to be suspicious of US motives. Why can the UN not be more involved? It is the only way to lend legitimacy to whole process.


Kenneth Adelman:

Let me just tell you, the US motives, I don't know what there is to be suspicious of. We have no motives of staying in Iraq long. We have no need for Iraqi oil - we've got plenty of oil and we import plenty of oil. We have no idea that we're going have bases in Iraq. We have nothing that we want Iraq for and this has been a pattern of America - and this is why all the talk about imperialism is ridiculous. There are no real motives besides the ability of the people to select their own leaders and to practise basic liberty - that's given by God - that's not given by America or any other place.


Paul Reynolds:

You criticised Nawal el-Saadawi in Portland. Let's go back to her.


Nawal el-Saadawi:

Not given by God. In fact I am hearing and it's really funny because I don't think that God privileged the United States and not privileged Arab people or people in Egypt. What I am hearing - I am from Egypt and I think I have more freedom of speech in Egypt than in any other western country.

I am living here in the United States and the media they cut all my words if they don't like it - each media has an agenda. The US army went to Iraq for the oil, it didn't go for human rights. It killed thousands of people for the oil. It's a colonial war, it's an imperialist war. They did it for humanitarian reasons! - this makes me laugh in fact. The UN - in fact we call it now the United Nations of America because they are not serving the nations. The majority of the people are demonstrating against the US intervention. Can you have liberation and real democracy under foreign occupation? This is the question - how can we imagine that the Iraqi can be free or be liberated under foreign occupation? Can the Palestinian people be liberated under Israeli occupation? This is a question that we should answer and we have to be honest about that.


Paul Reynolds:

Here's another question from John, Baltimore, USA who asks: I don't think that Muslims are right to be suspicious of American motives. In Iraq the Americans are helping the Iraqi people toward a free Iraq.


Abdel-Wahab el-Affendi:

I think what matters for Americans in Iraq is not what Muslims outside Iraq think but what people in Iraq - Muslims or non-Muslims think. At the moment, I think the Iraqi people are giving the majority of Americans the benefit of the doubt. They are cooperating and I believe they believe what American officials are saying about liberation, freedom and democracy.

However, I think the way, for example, Britain is getting more troops in and America is also asking more people to get more troops in. While people would look if things were going alright - you see a reduction of troops, more handing of power to the Iraqi people, a timetable for restoring sovereignty to Iraq. It is actually interesting that at the moment, America is at this level helping democracy in Iraq and somebody has commented saying that nowhere else in the Arab world are there, for example, you find communists and Islamists, the parties getting together in one council - Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and all this. So there is some progress there. The problem I think of America and Britain there is they are mixing the actual agenda with another agenda of trying to fine tune and change Iraq itself, rather than hand Iraq as it is to its people. Now that's a very long-term process and a recipe for a long-term entanglement which could derail the whole process.


Paul Reynolds:

Let's go back to the agenda set by our listeners and viewers. Here's a question for Ken Adelman in Washington. It's from Edwald Leme, Brazil: America has the right to guarantee its interests, whenever, wherever and for whatever reason it may judge necessary.

So I suppose he's saying that's it's really America first.


Kenneth Adelman:

Well, I don't know what that means to tell you the truth.


Paul Reynolds:

It means, I suppose - interpreting the question - that if the US is not on the top, some other nation will be and you might as well be at the top.


Kenneth Adelman:

I have nothing to say to that. The United States is the strongest nation in the world - am I supposed to apologise for it? I don't feel bad about it. I don't feel particular eager or jumping for joy about it to tell you the truth. The United States has no imperial ambitions overseas. We're not looking for new lands to conquer, we're not looking for new oil to exploit - we're not looking for anything to take over in any sense.

I think the default position of America is by and large isolationist - we want the whole world to exist - the United States has plenty and Americans would love to concentrate on issues at home and not be embroiled in world affairs. We are embroiled in world affairs because we think and I think, I share this, that we have a responsibility that (a) to protect ourselves against another September 11th and (b) to try to spread the universal value of freedom.

Now one of your guests, say's she has more freedom in Egypt - that's ridiculous, it's a ridiculous thing to say and it shouldn't be given serious time on a serious programme. It is ridiculous to say because I'd like to see over the last 20 years an article in the Egyptian paper criticising the Mubarak government - I'd like to see that - and criticising the president - I'd like to see that. When you look at the United States press, you look at the British press, you look at a free country press, obviously it's full of criticism of the current administration from wherever. So I think that when you look at it, the United States is the most powerful country in the world - it doesn't particularly move me one way or the other, it doesn't create any suspicion on my part. If you look at the behaviour of the United States and I think it has been very altruistic and very far-sighted and quite sacrificial if you ask me.


Paul Reynolds:

Do you want to reply Nawal el-Saadawi?


Nawal el-Saadawi:

Yes, I think I should reply. Who supported the Saddat regime? I was put in prison by Saddat but the US Government was the support of the Saddat regime and he was a dictator. Speaking about democracy - who was supporting the Saudi Arabia regime all the time? It was the United States of America and Saudi Arabia, we know that it's not a democratic country etc. etc. So to defend one country in that way is not fair.

I am not defending my country or any country but I have to be a little bit objective and to see how the United States of America, a capitalist, military power - nuclear power - supporting Israel - the most terrorist state with nuclear power to kill the Palestinian people and the US army to go and kill thousands of Iraqi people for oil and then we come here and speak about democracy - I think this is not serious. And when he said that what I am saying is not serious, well we have to be a little bit fair.

This idea about Islam or terror - when George Bush says he is fighting terrorism but George Bush himself is causing terrorism in our region and he is killing people for economic benefit and interests. So who is the terrorist? We have to understand what it is terrorism and to define what is terror. Who is terrorising whom - because I am living in Egypt in our Arab world with people being killed all the time - killed militarily in Palestine, in Iraq and killed economically by neo-colonial powers and the World Bank and globalisation and all that. We are suffering poverty all the time because of those projects. So how can we say that we are really free - we are colonised now. We have really to be a little bit fair.


Paul Reynolds:

You're both accusing each other of not being serious I notice. Ken Adelman, there's another question from Gerard M in the Netherlands: Democracy yes, but US style democracy, the US is more a plutocracy based on money than a democracy. Its campaigns are about money and adverts and not about mission and participation. It is not good at respecting other people's democracy, Venezuela and Chile come to mind.


Kenneth Adelman:

I just don't know where he's getting his information. Let me just say that I have to go after this question and I really don't believe that the kind of programme is fairly balanced in any way. But anyway the United States I think is not a perfect democracy, it's just the best that exists on earth. When politicians have to raise money yes they do, they raise money from mass support of people and a lot of people in history - John Connolly spent $11-12 million dollars on his campaign, he got one delegate. Why? Because he didn't do a very good campaign. The richest candidates don't win, otherwise you would be looking right now at Senator Kerry, by and large far, far wealthier in the Democratic Party than anybody else - he's not doing much of anything. Dean, who is probably the poorest candidate in terms of financial resources of all the candidates, or one of the poorest anyway, has really no independent money, is doing the best out of the Democrats.

So I mean these things come and certainly Bill Clinton was never wealthy - Bill Clinton's last job before he was President of the United States he was getting $23,000 a year as a salary, so he had no financial resources. So it's kind of a ridiculous position to say that money rules in the United States. Politicians rule and politicians have to raise a lot of money. And I would put our system against any other.

But let me just end this - my participation on this programme - by saying that I'm not talking about American-style democracy, for we've had it for 200 years, we love it but it doesn't export. No country in the world has American style democracy and that doesn't bother me at all. We're talking about civil liberties, I'm talking about political liberties, talking about the people to say what's on their mind and the ability of people to get rid of rulers who are bad rulers. Certainly the people in Saudi Arabia and Egypt don't have that right, none of the 22 countries in the Arab League, not one, is a legitimate, fairly freely elected government. And with that I thank you very much for including me.


Paul Reynolds:

Okay well that's Ken Adelman's contribution. Back in London to Abdel-Wahab el-Affendi. A question from Richard in London: Why should people who live in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, be denied the right to vote to decide the direction the majority want their society to take? Who says they are children of a lesser god that denies them the right to a regular franchise?


Abdel-Wahab el-Affendi:

I don't know of anybody who's advocating that the people of the Middle East should not vote. There are factors I think which are preventing the people of the Middle East from voting freely, these factors are - I mean we have been confusing issues I think here - we've speaking about deficit of democracy in America and the West and also of an agenda, an anti-democratic agenda for America and the West and the Middle East. Now these two issues are not often related. It's true that there is a deficit of democracy in the West and this deficit is at the sharpest when it comes to foreign policy where a small group of people and very limited interest groups can define foreign policy areas which are not of concern to the majority of the people.

The relevant factor is - who is preventing the people of the Middle East from voting? Some people are suggesting that it's Islam, which is doing this. There are certainly some groups and some people and some views which say that Islam is incompatible with democracy but they happen to be the minority views and they do not have much influence. There are of course the incumbent regimes who are all arguing that the people of the Middle East should not have democracy because it will be a nightmare. I think this was one of the stronger arguments by Arabs who opposed American intervention in Iraq saying that toppling Saddam Hussein is going to let hell break loose because Iraq is an ungovernable country. Now of course was through the club of what those leaders would say because they have an interest in this.

Now the crucial issue which has raised is - is America with this club or against it? And I think there's lots of evidence that the US and the West are still more accepting the view that the Middle East people are children of a lesser god and they should not be given the right to determine their own future.


Paul Reynolds:

Well let's go back finally to Nawal el-Saadawi in Portland, Maine, for a last question from an American, Joshua Splinter, Houston, TX, USA: If the United States were imperialistic, Europe would have been assimilated. Where is the proof that the United States is imperialistic? Where are our conquered lands?


Nawal el-Saadawi:

Can you repeat the last part of the question?


Paul Reynolds:

He says that America is not an imperial power because it has no colonies.


Nawal el-Saadawi:

It has no colonies? What does he mean by colonies?


Paul Reynolds:

Well he says conquered lands.


Nawal el-Saadawi:

Conquered lands? Well you know the definition of colonies changes by time. When you colonise a country economically and not military and when you colonise a country militarily and economically like Palestine and Iraq. We have evidence now. What do you call what's happening in Palestine and Iraq? Palestine is a colony, Iraq is a colony. How can you call it - when the US army invades Iraq and kills people and dominates their resources - what do you call that? When the British colonised Egypt they did that - they did exactly the same. In 1882 they invaded Egypt militarily and colonised us and took our cotton to Manchester - that's colonisation. Neo-colonialism is the same but it is a little bit different.

And when millions of people are demonstrating now, even in the United States, against the military occupation of Iraq and the killing of the Palestinian people - millions are demonstrating against that, then we say the US is not an imperial state, it is not colonising anybody, there are no colonies. Well it's a matter of language you know, but reality is very clear.


Paul Reynolds:

Alright, well thank you very much indeed to our guests. That's all we have time for today. I'd like to thank you all for joining in and also thanks to our guests for a very combative session - Kenneth Adelman in Washington, Nawal el-Saadawi in Portland Maine and Abdel-Wahab el-Affendi in London. If you'd like to take part in more forums on Islam and the West then visit our website at www.bbcnews.com/islam. Tomorrow we'll be joined by the US Imam, Hamza Yusuf for a discussion of Islam post 9/11. Goodbye.





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