Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine — the revolution of freedom is spreading

This article by David Ignatius has some fascinating insights. Ignatius is far from a neo-conservative, but he has come around to understanding the power of freedom, even in the Middle East, a region all of the cynics said was not ready for democracy. The nut paragraphs are:

“Jumblatt dresses like an ex-hippie, in jeans and loafers, but he maintains the exquisite manners of a Lebanese aristocrat. Over the years, I’ve often heard him denouncing the United States and Israel, but these days, in the aftermath of Hariri’s death, he’s sounding almost like a neoconservative. He says he’s determined to defy the Syrians until their troops leave Lebanon and the Lahoud government is replaced.

“It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq,” explains Jumblatt. “I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.” Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. “The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

Does anybody else see the amazing process of freedom spreading worldwide?

Just a few scriptures to share with you:

D&C 1:23: “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.”

D&C 90:11: “For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

D&C 45:9: “And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.”

How can the people who are ready to seek to the fulness know about it unless there is some way for them to hear it? This means that the governments and cultural systems that are preventing this from happening must be done away with so the gospel can be preached. The process in the Middle East got a big jump-start with the US invasion of Iraq, but momentum is building for the people there to carry out the revolution themselves. Don’t be surprised if five to 10 years from now most of the countries in the Middle East are democracies or heading in that direction. Also don’t be surprised if five to 10 years later missionaries begin finally to travel to Middle Eastern countries. I’ve heard a lot of cynicism about this issue (“you don’t understand how different the Middle East is, etc, etc.”). But the Lord has a wonderful way of overcoming cynicism. It’s going to be an amazing thing to watch.

16 thoughts on “Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine — the revolution of freedom is spreading

  1. In his latest column, titled “When Camels Fly” (NY Times, soul-sucking registration req’d), Thomas Friedman also compares the elections in Iraq to the fall of the Berlin Wall. But he also points towards some crucial differences:

    “It’s good news, bad news time again for the Middle East. The good news is that what you are witnessing in the Arab world is the fall of its Berlin Wall. The old autocratic order is starting to crumble. The bad news is that unlike the Berlin Wall in central Europe, the one in the Arab world is going to fall one bloody brick at a time, and, unfortunately, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa and the Solidarity trade union are not waiting to jump into our arms on the other side.”

    It is very easy for the United States and the Western World to apply pressure to regimes like Asad’s in Syria. But I’m wondering about the traditional American exceptionalism granted to political allies such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or the Saud family in Arabia. These regimes are very oppressive as well.

    There is a cultural-religious wall that also needs to come down, as well as a political barrier. Even if the regimes of the Middle East turned to democracies (that’s a big if right now, btw) — that doesn’t by any means translate automatically into LDS missions in the Middle East. Maybe I’m wrong but the Islamic world has some very strong prohibitions against Muslims converting to other religions. The traditional (and scripturally supported) penalty for apostasy from Islam is death, not excommunication.

  2. Geoff,

    I agree that some of these developments are exciting, but I think you’re being premature and overly optimistic. We know that eventually all people will be able to hear the Gospel preached to them, but we don’t have a timeline for it, and while this may be the time for the Middle East, it may well not. Given the dynamics of the situation over there, I’m inclined to think it’s not, although I allow for the fact that I could be wrong.

  3. The History of Democracy in the Middle East did not start with the Iraqi invasion. In the late 1970s, Libya had a national election that brought in an Islamic Government and the United States shut that government down with the help of Libyan Opposition movements. When Yasir ARafat was elected president of Palestine (1998? or 99?) the elections were monitored by Jimmy Carter’s own organization, which dubbed the elections fair and valid, but the US refused to recognize that too. since 1992, LEbanon has had pluralistic local and parliamentary elections–with women being elected to the parliament and governorships to boot. Even Hizbullah, a Lebanese party condemend by the US and Israel, has nominated women to be its candidates in parliamentary elections. Democracy has been slowly evolving in the Middle East but we generally don’t recognize it because the evolution isn’t fast enough for us.
    At the same time, I do’nt want to downplay the elections in Iraq, which were a wonderful thing. Hopefully it won’t end in Civil war. If it doesn’t, it just may speed the evolution process up a bit.

  4. There already are missionaries in the Middle East and have been for many years. I do think that the Church will spread in the Middle East through the native Christians. There are sizeable Christian minorities in many Middle Eastern countries.

    We seem to focus on the Middle East as being one of the last places where we need to send missionaries. There are vast areas of Asia where there are no missionaries. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had better luck in establishing missions in Central Asia than in the Middle East.

  5. McConkie in Millenial Messiah (I think) espoused a position that the Arab world would by opened up to missionary work by war and the overtruning of their governments. I find this incredibly distasteful.

    Even if there were democracies, would we be sending missionaries? I think not. Look at Turkey and India. Moreover, the idea of war as a means for evangelism is repugnant.

    Lastly, is there any reason that Muslims might not have their own special deal worked out under the Abrahamic covenant.

  6. The Lebanese elections were, I think, considered questionable due to the influence of Syria. But they definitely had a proto-kind of democracy. And, let’s be honest, Iraq is not yet a real democracy. They still have a ways to go before I’d call it that. I mean the current body elected were voted on by party with people not really knowing who they were voting for. There weren’t debates. There also is not yet a constitution, the rule of law, and check and balances.

    I think that the problem in Palestine was similar. There was a lot of corruption going on. But Arafat definitely was elected and was by all accounts very popular with the population. The problem is that when we use the term Democracy we don’t simply mean voting for someone. We also mean a whole system of government with civil rights, rule of law, and a lot else that at best is found only in Turkey – and even there it could be better.

    I do think, however, that if Iraq improves and become a real functioning democracy, that public pressure will overturn most other undemocratic nations. The ones that will go first are those already with proto-democratic structures. Thus we saw yesterday the legislature among the Palestinians rejecting the cabinent of the “usual suspects” in the Palestinian government. That is a huge issue that might overturn the basic oligarchy in power in Palestine. We’ll see. Likewise I think Lebannon is really looking impressive. The populace is turning against Syrian control. That’s not to say Syria won’t remain a bit of a player, but it seems like legislaters will actually be able to start to exercise the power and become more accountable to the people rather than to the Syrians.

    I’d actually lay pretty good odds that Lebanon might become the first real functioning democracy in the mid-east (outside of Israel). Once the process starts, I expect it to spread. Jordan might be next, since it really has a lot of organization in place already. Palestine I hope for, but the whole Israel situation might make that more problematic.

  7. Clark,

    Interesting synopsis of events in the ME. I thought before the Iraqi elections that they were being done so hastily that people wouldn’t know who they were voting for (not all the candidates are listed on the ballots, for practical reasons). However, it appears in retrospect that people (at least the Kurds and the Shi’a Muslims) did know who they were voting for and were proud to be voting.

    I have high hopes that Lebanon will have a true democracy. At the same time I greatly doubt the U.S. is willing to back up Lebanon against Syria with troops. Yes, Syria can suffer sanctions. I simply have no idea how well Syria can endure those sanctions and still maintain a stranglehold on Lebanon. Then again, it appears the people of Lebanon are showing what they want and maybe Syria will have to back away. It is very hard to read the situation right now and know what the longterm effects of these protests (in the wake of Hariri’s assassination) will amount to.

  8. I think Syria recognizes that there is a lot the US could do to it militarily short of sending in ground troops. One might even say that not sending in ground troops would be most beneficial since it would avoid the problems and commitments we see in Iraq. But air strikes are something definitely possible. I doubt Syria will risk that, mind you.

  9. Some very interesting comments. Let me respond:

    1)Danithew and Davis, I have no crystal ball and have received no special personal revelation on this issue. It is, of course, possible that Iraq could devolve into complete chaos, Syria could crack down on Lebanon, the Egyptian government could arrest all pro-democracy protesters and we could spend the next 50 years talking about what a basket case the Middle East continues to be. I think the Berlin wall comparison is very apt (although the circumstances and the cultures are very different): one small step toward democracy spread throughout Eastern Europe and in the space of a few years the region was completely changed. I agree the process might take longer and probably will be much more bloody. But the point is that there are many, many indications that we are in the middle of the beginning of an amazing transformation of the Middle East. It is very exciting to watch.

    2)It is also true that past U.S. policy has given tacit approval to suppressing democracy in the Middle East (think of Algeria, which had truly democratic elections in the early 1990s but ended up with an Islamist government — we along with Europe supported the Algerian military stepping in and suppressing that). This is one of the principal reasons I support the president’s policy: it appears we are finally sincere about it this time. Yes, yes, we still wink at the Saudis and Egyptians, and we probably will continue to do so. But a policy like this takes place on two levels. There are the public messages (Bush basically urging the people of the Arab world and Iran to rise up against their oppressive governments) and then there are the private messages. My inclination is to believe that the private messages to the Saudis and the Egyptians are very different now than they were during the Clinton years and the years of Bush 1. If I were a Saudi prince, I would be very, very afraid.

    3)J. Stapley, there is a difference between supporting war so you can evangelize (indeed repugnant) and supporting a specific war for many reasons and recognizing that one of its positive outcomes has been a possibility of personal freedom for the people involved so they can eventually make true religious choices. Having said that, there are many instances in the scriptures where the Lord makes it clear that necessary political and religious changes come about because of wars: Joshua’s invasion of Canaan, Cyrus’ wars that allowed the House of Israel to return to Israel, etc, etc.

    4)On missionaries, I have no special insights into the Church’s missionary decisions. I know we don’t spread the gospel in Muslim countries because it’s against the law for a Muslim to convert. My guess is that there is already work being done on a very small level by Muslims who are exposed to the gospel in the United States and Europe (and now in Iraq) who spread it among friends, relatives, etc. Which brings me to my next point….

    5)Democracy as a political system and cultural freedom that allows people the liberty to make religious choices are obviously two different things. There are all kinds of democracies, some of which are even operating today in the Arab world: in Kuwait and Dubai, people vote on different local and national issues all the time. Lebanon was a true democracy for a shining moment. Algeria had a nationwide vote that was suppressed when the military and the West didn’t like the results. Iran has voting, as does Morocco and Tunisia. The issue is not just the right to vote but the right to set up a system of justice, a constitution, etc, just as Clark points out. And then the big issue is ensuring freedom of religion and allowing people the right to make religious choices. But my point is that you have to start somewhere. Up until now, all of the elites in the West and in the Arab world have shaken their heads and told everybody that the Middle East (outside of Israel) is just not ready for democracy. You can imagine all of the sophisticated Parisians sitting in their sidewalk cafes and having long laughs at the expense of the idiotic Americans and their naivete. But here’s the point: something big is happening in the Middle East. We should not underestimate it. And as Latter-day Saints, we should be ecstatic to see our brothers and sisters on the cusp of real change. All human beings are born with a longing for freedom. People in the Arab world have suffered the worst kinds of oppression for so long. And that dark period is coming to an end, in my opinion.

    6)Here’s my prediction on what will happen in the next year or so in the Middle East. The Arab world will be very excited about what his happening in Lebanon. The Syrians will be forced to pull out. This will destabilize the Assad regime in Syria. The desire for change will spread to most Arab capitals, which will have varying degrees of marches, protests and discussion of the need for democracy. The people in Iran will protest even more than they already do against the mullahcracy there. A few Middle Eastern dictators (Assad?, the Iranian regime?) could fall and be replaced by Ukrainian-style pro-Western people power. I could be wrong, but if I’m right, it will be an interesting year.

  10. Here’s my prediction for the upcoming year in the ME:
    Extensive violence continues in Iraq and destabilizes the parlamentary process slowing both the writing of the constitution and further elections. However, progress is still made on both fronts.

    Isreal’s and Palestine’s steps toward resolution are upset by slow concessions by the Isrealis and continued violence by the Palestinians to the point where Abass is forced to to pull back and try to rebuild his base before attempting to reach out to Isrealis again next year.

    A couple small demonstrations take place in certain ME capitals and are violently put down. The US responds to such violence with actual diplomatic weight.

    Members of the Saudi royal family go skiing with Bush.

    While my forecast for the year is a bit more pessimistic it still looks forward to more prgress than we have seen in the last 2 decades combined. Of course, with the ME you always have to be ready for comlpete and total violent anarchy to break out at any minute.

  11. I’m very wary of making predictions … but I’m also more optimistic for Iraq and the Middle East than I have been in years. Saddam will be going to trial and probably will be executed. A real Iraqi democracy appears to be manifesting itself. Yasir Arafat is dead and has been replaced by Mahmoud Abbas (who appears to be a wiser and more pragmatic leader). The Israeli pullout from Gaza appears to be on the horizon (cross your fingers everyone).

    It is very hard to say what could happen in Lebanon but its good that people are pointing the finger of blame for Hariri’s assassination at Asad’s regime and that the Bush presidency and also the French are telling Syria to back off of Lebanon.

    It is even harder to predict anything good in Iran or Saudi Arabia. Scholars and pundits have been saying these regimes are unstable for many years or have been hoping for some kind of reform in these countries. So far there has hardly been a whiff of progress in either and the regimes remain very much in place. I haven’t seen that there is any real pressure on Egypt, except occasionally to release a dissident scholar from prison. But maybe I’m missing something. Jordan somehow seems to escape Western scrutiny entirely — maybe because Jordan and the Israeli government have been in collusion for many decades and except for a brief stumble during the first Gulf War, Jordan’s monarch has been wise to take the right sides.

  12. Sal, perhaps some reasoning, rather than a mere contemptuous dismissal, would be in order. I’m willing to accept reasoned criticisms if you have any.

  13. BTW–

    One of the reasons that Syria maintains its control in the NE side of Lebanon (between Baalbek and Hamal) is because of the ground’s fertility, which is utilized to grow huge of amounts of marijuana and poppies. It keeps the Syrian troops happy and brings in a lot of money to Syria.

  14. One of the reasons that Syria maintains its control in the NE side of Lebanon (between Baalbek and Hamal) is because of the ground’s fertility, which is utilized to grow huge of amounts of marijuana and poppies. It keeps the Syrian troops “happy” and brings in a lot of money Assad.

    As for Saudi Arabia, the guy who knows most about it says that the Saudi family will remain in power throughout the foreseeable future, say 40 or 50 years. (lecture: Jamal Qureshi, Feb. 12, 2005. He’s an LDS Saudi who graduated from SAIS at Johns Hopkins, works as an energy consultant, and frequently speaks on NPR)

    still, I side with Danithew in being wary of predictions.

  15. Jamal Qureshi is great. I didn’t realize his voice was showing up on NPR. I’ve been missing out.

    This is a crazy world and I wouldn’t try to predict Saudi Arabia’s future 40 or 50 years into the future. That’s a possibility but I also think that just about anything could happen to the Saudi regime, even in as much as the next 5-15 years. A democratic future for other countries in the Gulf area may depend greatly on the success of the democratic experiment in Iraq. If the Iraqis truly establish a stable and lasting democracy it is only a matter of time I think before other Arab populations start to clamor for their own — even in a place as conservative and monarchic as Saudi Arabia.

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