Recently we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of both Westminster and Washington flailing around with ever changing policies regarding the Middle East. The uncomfortable truth is that both Washington and London don’t know how to react in this new arena of Middle East unrest.
In part this is because both the Prime Minister and the President are, by inclination, less interested in foreign policy than domestic politics. Prior to gaining office Cameron had evidenced no interest in anything other than winning power and Obama’s main experience was in the sewer of Chicago local politics. Both of them have to find a way to come to terms with a challenge that has leapt up at them out of the dark and is beyond their skills set.
It is not helped when their officials take pot shots at each other’s statements. The economic recovery of both countries rests upon a constructive approach to the demand for democratic freedom in this unpredictable and unfortunately strategic part of the world.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that both Cameron and Obama are pragmatic politicians. Their primary concern is with the ever changing problem of what is going to work right now. Both underlying principle and long term view are foreign to their personal political outlook.
Behind their problems is that fact that the West and the Middle East operate on contradictory underlying principles. Our conceptions of the summum bonum are entirely at odds. When the mob in Cairo or Benghazi shout for freedom they do not yearn for Western democracy as envisioned in the bistros of Notting Hill or the upscale restaurants of Georgetown.
If, in the West, we think that blanket voting rights constitute democracy and the basic elements of political freedom we shall never make meaningful contact with the Middle East. For the man or woman brought up in an entirely alien environment the concept that the vote of a promiscuous binge drinking 18 year old female is accorded the same weight as that of an experienced sober elder of the tribe is simply laughable.
Whatever emerges in the Middle East it won’t be liberal democracy. Egypt, the Middle East bellwether, has already reverted to military autocracy.
Progress in relations with the Islamic world will only take place when in the West we take Islam seriously. Progressive power brokers in the West imagine that everyone is like them, that people only pay lip service to religious ideals. Muslims, however, actually believe what they say they believe.
This means that whatever emerges in the Middle East will not accord with Western concepts of freedom and democracy. Apart form Western influenced Israel there is not a single country in the Middle East which has the simplest notion of democracy as we in the West understand it. Democracy as understood in the West is a product of an emphasis on the doctrine, shared by Christians and Jews, that every person is made in the image of God; as such it is inimical to Islam.
Politicians in the West fail to realise that our concept of civil society is undergirded by a fundamental set of structures and values which are based on Scriptural principles. We still live on the legacy of Christianity. When this legacy is squandered there is no foundation and society is open to whatever alien ideology is willing to enter in and reshape civil discourse.