By John PowellIt is becoming increasingly clear that the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, has a more realistic approach to the crisis in Syria than the Western leaders. With the power of hindsight, it can now be seen that if President Assad had been supported, instead of the opposition, there would have been no Islamic State in Syria and probably not in Iraq either. It is now up to the West to accept the leadership of Russia and try to avoid Syria going the way of Iraq and Libya, where the removal of the strong men caused the countries to descend into chaos.
The stated aim of Western leaders is to give the Moslem populations of Middle Eastern and North African countries an opportunity to embrace democracy. However, given an opportunity to vote, Moslems have tended to elect an Islamic party to power which then establishes a permanent theocracy with Sharia law and effectively one party rule. Historically, the only alternative has been a take-over by a strong personality, usually from the military, who also imposes one party rule by dictatorial means. Both systems involve ideas and methods that are undemocratic and barbarous, with imprisonment of political opponents, torture and capital punishment.
The fundamental aim of democracy is to give people a choice of government. In a Western democracy, the choice is maintained by allowing general elections to be held at intervals of a few years. This system, with universal suffrage, is still relatively young in historical terms, even in Europe and North America. Before democracy, the leadership of nations was settled by civil war, with the strongest warlord surviving as ruler until a more powerful rival emerged. This is still the system operating in most Moslem countries. Even in a nominal democracy such as Pakistan, the leader is regularly changed by assassination or military coup.
When a dictator is removed, as in Iraq or Libya, or even Egypt, and an election is held, the electorate divides along religious lines and the strongest Moslem sect seeks to impose its form of Islamic state. Apart from domestic abuses, problems arise when the regime seeks to export its ideology, destabilising the region and threatening to disrupt international energy supplies. From a Western viewpoint, a strong dictator is preferable to an Islamic state, although both offend susceptibilities with regard to respect for human rights and the rule of law.
As stated in the Constitution of the USA, Western democracy separates governance from religion, seeing the latter as a matter of individual conscience and thereby allowing a diversity of religious belief within the nation. In Islam, governance is determined by religion and therefore inseparable. So until a majority of Muslims can advance in political maturity, seeking to impose democracy seems doomed to fail. In the meantime, the West can follow Mr Putin in restoring stability to the region by backing the strongmen who have chosen themselves to rule.
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