Democracy’s Root: Diversity — Tom Friedman

Written by  //  November 11, 2007  //  Asia, Geopolitics, India, Middle East & Arab World  //  No comments

November 11, 2007

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Last Tuesday, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican — the first audience ever by the head of the Catholic Church with a Saudi monarch. The Saudi king gave the pope two gifts: a golden sword studded with jewels, and a gold and silver statue depicting a palm tree and a man riding a camel.
… I think it is a great thing these two men met, and that King Abdullah came bearing gifts. But what would have really caught my attention — and the world’s — would have been if King Abdullah had presented the pope with something truly daring: a visa.
You see, the king of Saudi Arabia, also known as the Keeper of the Two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina, can visit the pope in the Vatican. But the pope can’t visit the king of Saudi Arabia in the Vatican of Islam — Mecca. Non-Muslims are not allowed there. Moreover, it is illegal to build a church, a synagogue or a Hindu or Buddhist temple in Saudi Arabia, or to practice any of these religions publicly. … “The Saudi authorities cite a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad that only Islam can be practiced in the Arabian Peninsula.”
I raise this point because the issue of diversity — how and under what conditions should “the other” be tolerated — is roiling the Muslim world today, from Lebanon to Iraq to Pakistan. … maybe we in the West, rather than trying to promote democracy in the Middle East — a notion tainted by its association with the very Western powers that once colonized the region — should be focusing on promoting diversity, which has historical roots in the area. … The very essence of democracy is peaceful rotations of power, no matter whose party or tribe is in or out. … democracy is not about majority rule; it is about minority rights. If there is no culture of not simply tolerating minorities, but actually treating them with equal rights, real democracy can’t take root.
But respect for diversity is something that has to emerge from within a culture. We can hold a free and fair election in Iraq, but we can’t inject a culture of diversity. America and Europe had to go through the most awful civil wars to give birth to their cultures of diversity. The Arab-Muslim world will have to go through the same internal war of ideas.
I just returned from India, which just celebrated 60 years of democracy. Pakistan, right next door, is melting down. Yet, they are basically the same people — they look alike, they eat the same food, they dress alike. But there is one overriding difference: India has a culture of diversity. India is now celebrating 60 years of democracy precisely because it is also celebrating millennia of diversity, including centuries of Muslim rule.
Nayan Chanda … notes: “The Muslim Emperor Akbar, who ruled India in the 16th century at the pinnacle of the Mughal Empire, had Christians, Hindus, Jain and Zoroastrians in his court. Many of his senior officials were Hindus.” … Akbar wasn’t just tolerant. He was embracing of other faiths and ideas, which is why his empire was probably the most powerful in Indian history. Pakistan, which has as much human talent as India, could use an Akbar. Ditto the Arab world. Complete article

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm