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They don’t have oil and nuclear weapons

A friend of mine asked what I thought about the protests in North Africa. I’m busy with some scientific issues and problems now, so I haven’t devoted much attention to them. All things equal I support a democratic government over a non-democratic government. But I think modern Americans tend to fetishize populist revolts. Russia in 2011 may not be the enemy it once was, but it is no Czech Republic. Iraq is now verging toward a moderately sectarian Shia regime thanks to popular elections (though counterbalanced by secular Kurdish nationalism). Iran is a famous case, with its revolution turning toward authoritarian rule by clerics after an initial period of hope and promise.

Because of the nature of its secular civil society I have more hope for Tunisia being a civilized popular democratic state than Egypt, which I think is more likely to go in an unrecognizable direction because of the power of the Islamic Brotherhood. But at the end of the day, does this matter? Neither Egypt or Tunisia have significant oil reserves, nor do they have nuclear weapons. I am skeptical of the future of any liberal democracy in Egypt, though less so in Tunisia, but it probably doesn’t matter to the rest of the world.*

One thing I will say: the Copts should view with foreboding what democratic government wrought for the Christians of Iraq. The majority of Egyptian Muslims may not be willing to take up arms against their ancient Christian minority, but a motivated minority unrestrained by an authoritarian state can cause great suffering and havoc. Democracy empowers popular majorities, but it often oppresses dispossessed minorities.

* Unlike Iran a religious regime with popular support in Egypt does not have the luxury of petro-dollars. Additionally, I don’t think Israel is actually that important to our geopolitics either, if you are curious.




Why not Congo?

John in The Corner:

While the horrors in the Congo were going on (i.e., from 1998 to the present) I was a busy worker bee, mixing with Americans of all classes, races, and stations in life, certainly including a good many Roman Catholics and, I am sure, at least a few evangelicals. Until 2004 I was also attending my own (Episcopal) church, though I’ll admit less and less often.

In all those years, with all those people, in all those venues, I don’t recall hearing anyone speak of the Congo massacres, not once. That seems to me like a pretty darn good empirical foundation for the remark you took objection to: “North of five million people have been slaughtered in the Congo this past twelve years, and nobody much (no, not me — how about you?) has lost a wink of sleep over it.”

The Congo Wars didn’t even rise to the level of occasional water-cooler chat that, as I remember, the ructions in ex-Yugoslavia did at the earlier part of that period. Interesting contrast.

Empirical-foundations-wise, I believe I’m in good shape.

New-clothes-wise, the Emperor of Universalist Humanitarianism hasn’t got any.

One can argue over the numbers here, but the reality is that the largest loss of life due to political and military conflict since Rwanda over the past generation has been in the Congo river basin (Zaire, which became the Democratic Republic of Congo). I do not begrudge the concern of pro-Israel and anti-Israel factions in their preoccupation with that particular conflict, but when the arguments shift toward abstract and universalizable principles then I think it is important to ask: why not Congo? There are many plausible reasons, but far too often the reasons are not aired for all to comprehend. Let’s make the implicit explicit.

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