Islam is nearly always in conflict with democracy: both historically and today. There is one single contemporary phenomenon which exemplifies this perfectly. Bizarrely, it's occurring in the West, not in the Muslim world.
In the UK, Muslims - from the BBC's Mo Ansar, Tell MAMA, the MCB and the Muslim Parliament - have carried out systematic and sometimes effective campaigns to bring about what amounts to sharia blasphemy law in the country. (Indeed a Liberty GB radio host is due to appear in court in March f...) These campaigns have focussed on everything from books (Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses), to cartoons (the Danish cartoons), to pages on Facebook and even Twitter posts.
One fundamental aspect of all democracies is free speech. It's crystal clear, then, that very many Muslims - even here in the West - have carried out organised campaigns against the freedom of speech. Now if that's happening in the UK and the West generally, what are the chances that the Muslim world as a whole will embrace the neocon dream of “democracy for all”?
The term “neoconservative” seems to have been invented, in 1973, by a socialist by the name Michael Harrington. In any case, it's certainly become a Leftist soundbite. Leftists use it at the drop of a hat. Or at least they did until they adopted “neo-liberalism” instead a few years ago (i.e., after the fire from the “neocon war in Iraq" had burned out).
This isn't to say that people haven't classed themselves as neoconservatives. They have. I'm also quite prepared to say that the neocons were never a monolithic movement.
In a certain sense, none of that really matters. It's the ideas that matter: not the people and not the classifications.
So why use “neocon” in the title even though certain neocons themselves were saying - as far back as 1996 - that neoconservatism is dead? I use the term simply because very many people do use the term “neocon”. And one place in which there seems to have been some consensus is on the impact neocons had on American foreign policy. So it's that subject alone which I'll deal with in this piece.
“No idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime and anywhere, under any circumstances.”
“[Authoritarian regimes] do not disturb the habitual rhythms of work and leisure, habitual places of residence, habitual patterns of family and personal relations.”
This is all about how the state in these countries doesn't really impinge on areas of everyday life. However, what if “the habitual rhythms of work and leisure” and the “habitual patterns of family and personal relations” themselves aren't conducive to democracy or thoughts of freedom and liberty? What if habitual rhythms of work, leisure, family and personal relations are - at least to some extent - Islamic in nature?
In other words, in Islamic societies, it's not all the fault of the state. It's not even all the fault of the dictators either because they too are often tapping into various Islamic traits within Muslim countries.
Jean Kirkpatrick also offered us a classical account of totalitarian states. She wrote:
“[National Socialist and International Socialist states] claim jurisdiction over the whole life of the society and make demands for change that so violate internalized values and habits that inhabitants flee by the tens of thousands.”
The main argument, from the early neocons, as to why totalitarian regimes couldn't evolve into democracies was that totalitarian regimes have total control of their people and authoritarian regimes don't. In fact some of the neocons were so convinced of their position on the unchangeable nature of totalitarian regimes that Kirkpatrick (again) and Norman Podhoretz, for example, said that Solidarity in Poland was bound to fail.
Yet Islam, to use Kirkpatrick's words, also “claim[s] jurisdiction over the whole life of the society”. In some – or even many - Islamic or Muslim states there is virtual total Islamic control over the people – from the private to the public sphere.
The neocons also offered an almost Marxist analysis of the Muslim world in which it was claimed that “democracy and responsible governments” could limit the rise of Islamism. The first problem with this idea is the fundamental split that's simply assumed between Islamism and Islam (or between Islamists and most Muslims). The second is the assumption that Muslim peoples, Islamist or non-Islamist, really want Western-style democracy (or even any kind of democracy).
1) The neocons assumed that Muslims all over the Muslim world were crying out for democracy, free speech and McDonald's. They weren't! They weren't even against authoritarian regimes. Or, rather, they were only against the authoritarian regimes which weren't Islamic enough. In other words, they were against Western-backed authoritarian regimes: not against authoritarian regimes in principle. In fact millions of Muslims are also in favour of totalitarian regimes; as long as those regimes are Islamic and not backed by Western states.
Islamic authoritarianism, good: Western-backed authoritarianism, bad.
2) Interventions should only occur, on the whole, if Muslim states are a direct threat to the UK or US. We should never try to impose democracy (almost a contradiction in terms) or sort out their sad affairs.
If Muslims aren't children, then we shouldn't treat them as children. If the Muslim world wants to grow up – then let it. If it doesn't - then also let it be.
Non-interventionists aren't heartless devils. (I'm not, personally, an absolute non-interventionist - and for obvious reasons.) They are realists. When the West tries to impose democracy, or even when it intervenes for "humanitarian reasons", things usually get worse in those countries. Look at the list: Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc.
Those who want to change the world - or at least the Muslim world - aren't saints either. Many of the political leaders who are interventionists are in love with their own power. They therefore they get fixated on their own personal dreams about changing things "for the better". Politicians like to change things and exert their power: even in Muslim countries.
Those interventionists who aren't driven by power, are often driven by their own piety: not by any genuine belief that such interventions will change things for the better. They know, as well as we know, that almost all interventions in the Muslim world bring about even worse situations. Still, the dreams remain because they're not always about making things better in the Muslim world - they are about piety and power. (As with the interfaith business in the West and the Islamophilia of our governments.)
3) Simply because Muslims opposed Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq, which they did in large numbers, it doesn't mean that they were yearning or demanding democracy. Many Muslims in Iraq simply wanted to substitute one autocrat and his tribe with another autocrat and his tribe.
The other thing is that many Shia Muslims would have used democracy in order to destroy Saddam. Though once in power, as we've seen, it's the same old story.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hamas in Gaza, also talked about “democracy” and even “free speech”. But once in power, they destroyed it. (The same is true of Leftists and Nazis.) That is, sometimes, as with the Shia in Iraq, democracy is simply a means to an end.
If the Iraqis wanted democracy, then why haven't they got it now? You can't keep on blaming the West, or Shia and Sunni “militants”, or the Media, or poverty, or whatever for the fact that Muslim countries never seem to pull democracy off. The fault is with both the peoples and their beliefs and customs. And the people, beliefs and customs are fundamentally shaped by a tribal Islam.
So I don't “oppose freeing enslaved people".
If people want to be free, given time they will gain it. I mean, for God's sake, Iraq and the rest of the Arab world has been led by despots since World War Two. And before that it was led by more obviously Islamic despots. Can you see a picture arising here?
4) What I don't understand about Western Leftists and Liberals is that they're always castigating people for not accepting 'Difference' and 'the Other' (both domestically and in foreign countries). Yet when we say that Muslims are truly Other, they say the opposite. They say that "Muslims are just like us". That is, they are just like them: white, middle-class professional Leftists and Liberals in US/UK universities, government, etc. I don't think so. If you believe in the Other, then Muslims in Muslim lands are a good candidate for that post-structuralist label.
5) I'm fully aware that many International Socialists, National Socialists and Muslims used the word "neocon" as a synonym for "Jew" (as with "Zionist"). (The Nazis and Leftists simply focussed on those neocons they knew were Jewish and simply ignored the rest - such as those with black skin.) However, I don't use it that way.
For a start, most neocons weren't Jews and many neocons classed themselves as neocons. There was also neocon movement and ideology at one time. Simply because Leftists and Nazis use it as a codeword for 'Jews', that doesn't erase the reality of American neoconservativism.
6) I was going to mention Iran in the piece. What I said about Turkey applies to to Iran pre-1979. That is, Iran, like Turkey, became a democracy to the extent it erased Islam from the state and even from the social sphere. However, from what I know about Iran, it wasn't exactly a democracy in the American sense. As far as I know, the American state, whether Republican or Democrat, doesn't torture thousands of dissidents per year. But having said that, it's a sad state of affairs to say that pre-1979 Iran was still much superior to post-1979 Iran and it was also superior to all the contemporary Arab regimes of the time. That is, it was bad in certain respects; though not as bad as the Arab regimes which surrounded it.
7) It's correct to say that the Turkish interest in Western democracy, amongst many other Western things, started in the 19th century. However, a fully democratic regime didn't occur until after World War One. Having said that, I'm not altogether sure if at that early point it was entirely democratic. (I can't say myself.) It was also the case that the Ottomans looked Westwards even before the 20th/19th century (e.g., Western weaponry and the organisation of the army).
Whatever the case may be, Turkey became democratic to the extent it erased Islam from the sphere of the state and even from the social sphere.