Saturday, July 9, 2011
Fear Of Domestic Unrest
RussiaRussian domestic and external braggadocio is intended in part to hide the regime’s fears of domestic unrest. Russian officials believe and publicly profess that since 2003 the United States has been trying to foment democracy campaigns in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to undermine existing regimes there. Accordingly, they continue to promote the image of Russia as a besieged fortress surrounded by linked enemies, foreign governments and democratic reformers. Thus, President Dmitry Medvedev said, in March 2011:
While Moscow does not attribute the Arab revolutions to outside forces, it believes that those forces could exploit their example to incite an increasingly dissatisfied populace. In response to the color revolutions of 2003-2005, Moscow has terminated elections of governors, passed increasingly draconian laws suppressing freedom of the press, assembly, speech, and the dissemination of information, and has created thousands of Paramilitary units whose primary mission is to suppress any manifestation of public unrest and autonomous political action. Dissidents and journalists have been jailed, beaten, and sometimes killed. Vladimir Putin has even revived Leonid Brezhnev’s notorious practice of putting dissidents into psychiatric institutions. According to journalist Andrei Soldatov, Russia is also working to prevent a “Facebook Revolution” by proposing that the owners of online social media be responsible for all content posted on their websites. Despite the regime’s habitual public swagger, these policies betray a government deeply afraid of its own people. An April 2009 report outlined the threat perceived by the authorities quite clearly. Specifically it stated:
"The Russian intelligence community is seriously worried about latent social processes capable of leading to the beginning of civil wars and conflicts on RF [Russian Federation] territory that can end up in a disruption of territorial integrity and the appearance of a large number of new sovereign powers. Data of an information “leak,” the statistics and massive number of antigovernment actions, and official statements and appeals of the opposition attest to this."
In this reading, the true standard-bearers of democracy in the Islamic world are none other than those "Arab fundamentalists who believe they can save their societies through God and democracy," and the best solution to the pathologies that still plague their world is to let their followers go to the polls.
He concedes that the results will not always be pretty. What we should keep in mind, however, is the moderating dynamic of popular participation. The author urges us to see elections as the start of a democratizing process rather than as its end. Citing the French Islam scholar Olivier Roy, he points out that the big Islamist movements are at their most moderate in those countries where they've been allowed a voice in the political process. (Roy's list comprises Turkey, Jordan, Morocco, and Kuwait.) And the Green Revolution, the product of three decades of Iranians voting (however imperfectly) for their leaders, dramatizes the extent to which the draw of the ballot box can undermine the radical fundamentalists.
So the new regimes may not give full rights to women? Perhaps. Yet Saddam Hussein's secular Iraq, for all of its anti-sexist rhetoric, was also a country that used rape as a technique of repression. Secular autocracies can scarcely be regarded as guardians of female sovereignty when it is the secret police who reign supreme. Surely the best antidote for male arrogance is allowing women to go to the polls -- a right that most of the mass Islamist parties actually embrace. True institutional change will come, says Gerecht, as women put their votes to use. (Cultural change, he suggests, is already under way, as more and more women in the region move into the workplace and traditional roles quietly shift apace.)
Peter D. Kramer writes for Slate:
It's hard, perhaps, to recall that once sex was—in the ideal—radical politics conducted by other means. When Wilhelm Reich coined the phrase "the sexual revolution," he meant transformation in every sphere: health, marriage, economics, morality, and government. It was in sex, he believed, that we found the integrated self, liberated from the alienating culture and the authoritarian state. Christopher Turner's Adventures in the Orgasmatron is in part a report from that past, when sex held the promise of social reform. His book bears the subtitle, How the Sexual Revolution Came to America, but mostly what Turner offers is a sex-centered biography of Reich, the great proselytizer of orgasm.
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