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Iraq confounds the prophets of doom (TELEGRAPH UK EDITORIAL) 01/31/05)Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/01/31/dl3101.xml&sSheet=/portal/2005/01/31/ixportal.html DAILY TELEGRAPH DAILY TELEGRAPH Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
That elections are a better thing than tyranny seems a truth so obvious as not to be worth stating. Yet such were the passions aroused by the Iraq war that many Western observers now find themselves hoping, disgracefully, that that country´s first free poll will fail.

Left-wing commentators, in Britain as in much of Europe, have focused disproportionately on the difficulties that any state must undergo during a transition process. To many of them, every terrorist bomb, every murdered election official, every sign of heightened military alertness - even the loss of a British aircraft - makes a nonsense of Iraq´s democratic aspirations.

Yesterday´s high turnout, in defiance of the gunmen, should be celebrated. Of course the Iraqi insurgency is an important story. But this does not explain the loving attention devoted to each setback faced by the forces of order. Compare yesterday´s reports with those by the same commentators during South Africa´s first democratic election. Then, too, there were many technical problems: electors who were not properly registered, voter intimidation, long queues. But these things were set in their proper context, as the backdrop against which the moving drama of people casting their first ballots was being played out. No one suggested that the clashes between IFP and ANC supporters in Zululand undermined the whole process. No one argued that the backlash by a handful of black homeland chieftains and Boer irreconcilables made South Africa unfit for democracy.

Looking to hang their doubts on something specific, the cynics focus on the ejection of the Sunni Arabs from their traditionally dominant position, and the prospect of a permanent Shia majority. There is plainly some truth in this analysis. A combination of sulkiness and intimidation has led to large-scale abstentions among those who prospered most under the old regime: Saddam´s townsmen in Tikrit, for example, seem largely to have stayed at home. Meanwhile, the Shias, sensing that they may be the masters now, have flocked to the polls in huge numbers. None of this, though, is an argument against conducting a ballot. To return to our earlier parallel, no one contended that the likelihood of a permanent ANC majority - or, to make the analogy more precise, a permanent black majority - invalidated the concept of South African democracy. No one wrote sympathetic pieces about the plight of the Afrikaners as they lost their hegemony.

In any case, why assume the worst? It is possible that Iraq will become a second Lebanon, in which different religious groups refuse to accept each other´s legitimacy; or a second Iran, led by Shia ayatollahs. Equally, though, Iraq may turn into a secular democracy - imperfect, no doubt, as all states are, but far happier than it was. After all, the Iranian people are clamouring louder than ever against government by their mullahs. It is surely somewhat patronising to believe that their Iraqi co-religionists want to saddle themselves with their own theocracy. Remember that this is an election to a constituent assembly, not a full parliament: though their votes may be few, Sunni Arabs will almost certainly be given a voice in framing the constitution commensurate with their real numbers. The more fair- minded among them have long since accommodated themselves to the new reality.

No democratic election is flawless. It is human nature that the loser in any system should blame the system rather than himself: think, for example, about our own squabbles over postal voting, the West Lothian Question, or the wording of referendums. But, yesterday, Iraq became the most democratic country in the Arab world. What a pity that so many writers who, in other circumstances, are optimists about human progress, should shut their eyes to what is happening. In their determination to say "I told you so", they are coming perilously close to siding with jihadi murderers. Shame on them. (© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004. 01/31/05)


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