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David Horowitz: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Intellectuals or eggheads are known to be politically promiscuous, especially in their youth; but anti-Islam militant David Horowitz may have set a new low for political infidelity.

Horowitz, of course, is a former anti-war ’60s radical turned pro-war ’80s conservative. For the past quarter-century, in fact, Horowitz has been, so to speak, more Catholic than the Pope — or at least more pro-war than even William F. Buckley, Jr. But now, Horowitz tells us, he’s had a change of heart: He’s again anti-war!

“I allowed myself to get swept up in the Bush-led enthusiasm for a democratic revolution in the Middle East,” Horowitz writes. “But whatever I wrote about the war in support of the democracy agenda, inside I was never a 100% believer in the idea…”

Oh, brother. Is this the best Horowitz can do? The man is 72 years old! Yet he would have us believe that, when he was younger (in his 60s, mind you,) he got seduced by Bush’s enthusiasm for democracy. But now, presumably, he’s older, wiser and less susceptible to romance!

I disagree with Horowitz and with other cons who have lost faith in the democratic wave that is now overtaking the Middle East and North Africa. I think democratization there is necessary and long overdue, and that it ultimately will redound to the benefit of the United States.

This doesn’t mean that democracy is an unalloyed good. Nor does it mean that democratization will proceed inexorably forward without difficulties and challenges. Democracy, after all, is a human and not divine institution.

But there should be no doubt but that self-rule is the ultimate solution to the myriad problems that now ail the Arab and Islamic worlds.

By giving people the right to chart their own destiny, democracy forces people to assume ownership of their future. Problems no longer can be blamed conspiratorially on others and used as a pretext for violence. Instead, problems must be forthrightly acknowledged and peaceably addressed.

“What we want to see happen in Arab lands and in Iran,” writes Reuel Marc Gerecht, “is real intellectual competition — the starting point for healthy evolution.” And such competition, Gerecht explains, can occur only in a more or less representative democracy.

Democracy — understood as a culture of respect for legitimate authority, free media, and individual freedom to work and to organize and assemble, not just the regular holding of elections — introduces competition into every corner of society.

It creates an unending ethical battle between opposing sides… [But] to matter, debate must carry the possibility of practical [real-world] consequences…

The citizenry, while neither saintly nor immune to passions, is broadly speaking “rational” in the West because there is daily demand for and tangible benefit from ratiocination.

This is not at all the case in the Muslim Middle East, where most men are powerless and most of society’s great concerns are decided behind closed doors, or as the Iranians more poetically put it, pusht-e pardeh, “behind the curtains.”

This, in fact, is the great thing about democracy: It gives the citizenry the right to discuss and debate issues. It gives them the right to try and change people’s minds. It gives them the opportunity to fix and remedy their mistakes.

Horowitz, sadly, seems to have become spooked because democratization in the Middle East and North Africa has resulted in some decidedly illiberal groups gaining political power.

But is this really that surprising? A liberal democratic culture develops over time; it does not materialize magically overnight. Success lies in building liberal democratic institutions and processes which will enable Arabs and Muslims to correct their mistakes and to achieve political progress over time.

In any case, what is the alternative? More repression? “Good” or supposedly benign dictators?

Democracy can and will take hold in the Middle East and North Africa, but only with the active assistance and good offices of the United States. Let us not abandon the effort and call it a failure when, in truth, it has only just begun.

Indeed, the only “illusion” that Horowitz should disabuse himself of is the illusion that Arabs and Muslims can’t “handle” democracy. They can and they will, but again, only with our help.

As for Horowitz, he should journey back to conservatism and, this time, stay faithful. With all due respect, he’s too old to be fooling around!

A modified version of this post was published a the American Spectator blog, AmSpec.

John Guardiano is an Arlington, Virginia-based writer and analyst who blogs for a variety of publications, including:  FrumForum, the Daily Caller and the American Spectator. You can follow him at Twitter (@JohnRGuardiano) and at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.

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