Two catastrophes befell humanity at the same time, claiming hundreds of lives; the Katrina hurricane and the Baghdad bridge incident. In New Orleans it was nature’s uncontrollable disaster, in Baghdad, it was fear of a terrorist attack that wrecked the bridge under hundreds of frightened people running for their lives. While both countries are still grieving their victims, preparations are proceeding for the United Nations International Development Summit on good governance and democracy. The horrendous footage from both New Orleans and Baghdad leave us with no doubt that reform anywhere in the world starts with providing the basic human needs, regardless of the varying political ideologies. The Iraqis and Americans struck by the calamities need nothing today more than shelter, water, food and a promise of a more secure future.
In the Middle East, especially Iraq and Palestine, human disasters are the daily norm not exception. Wars have been waged in the name of “freedom” and “democracy,” and brought terror, violence and suffering in stead. Democracy and freedom could have been more achievable through real human development, which could have been a sustainable shield against extremism and racism. Malaysia stands a case in point. Over the past thirty years, the Malaysian government attained harmony and balance between the varying races and ethnicities through development, equality and social justice. Democracy and good governance undermined racial and religious extremism. Turkey is another Muslim country who reached democracy and undercut extremism through development and social equity over the last twenty years.
Interestingly enough, the West is fully aware of this constructive strategy. It fought communism through economic investment in South Korea and the Marshal Plan in Germany. Hearts and minds were not captured through war, but through promoting economic prosperity instead. It is only puzzling that when it came to the Muslim world, wars, regime change, and political interference were sought instead. The United States, in the mean time, has forgotten that the Islamism extremism it is fighting today is the same movement it sponsored in the past in its war on communism. If democracy in the United States means that each ethnic and religious group has the right to autonomy and sovereignty, would the American democratic system survive? Or is it that development, standards of living, equity and the rule of law what actually makes democracy? With the same logic, it becomes clear that democracy in the Middle East is only achievable through inclusive human development, economic prosperity and justice. Only then, the tide of extremism, anger, and violence will subside.
The model of South Korea, Germany, Malaysia and Turkey show that improving the living, educational and cultural standards for the society as a whole is the mechanism that brings about change in society, and that the political profit of development exceeds the economic one. What is needed, therefore, is more investment, not more wars, in the Middle East. Development, not siege and sanctions, is the means to fight oppression, corruption and terrorism. This is especially when it is coupled with social equality. Poverty, poor education and unemployment, on the other hand, breed extremism, oppression and corruption. We should aspire that the UN summit will demonstrate enough responsibility to reverse the prevalent international trend that seeks freedom and democracy through wars and aggression. Only comprehensive development and prosperity will bring about sustainable and healthy democracy. A certain road, therefore, would be intensive investments war in the Middle East.