First, the idea we are, or shall soon conduct, an experiment in democracy as applied to an Arab culture is spot on. It has been said that America is an experiment in democracy and the Soviet Union was an experiment in socialism. Given the tenses that have to be used, you can tell how those experiments turned out. The study of these experiments are even referred to as Political Science, so let’s please apply a little rigor here and not assume the results before the experiment.
Second, Lex directs our attention to a point/counterpoint regarding the “release valve” theory. The counterpoint argument, elucidated by Michael Kraig writing at Democracy Arsenal is that there is a real dimension to the outward tuned anger that leads to terror.
Unfortunately, it's wrong -- or at least, half-wrong. There is of course an "escape valve" factor at work here. But after traveling to the Near East and the Persian Gulf for a combined total of two months this year (in a cross-country outreach tour for a Stanley product translated into Arabic), what I found was nearly everyone saying that "democracy" is not just about internal practices -- there is also an international dimension to justice, development, and democracy. And this is where anger toward perceived neo-colonialist aggression, not too different from the British mandate in Egypt and the French mandate in Lebanon and Syria, comes in. The truth is that people feel oppressed at one in and the same time by their own governments (internally) AND by perceived anti-Islamic, anti-Arab forces at the international or global level (externally), and neither of these exists in a vacuum apart from the other. The truth is that people feel oppressed at one in and the same time by their own governments (internally) AND by perceived anti-Islamic, anti-Arab forces at the international or global level (externally), and neither of these exists in a vacuum apart from the other.
The problem with this formulation is that it does not address the issue at the appropriate level. The release valve concept is about why people come to believe what they do. Talking to the man on the street about what he thinks is to look at the effect rather than the cause. Mr. Kraig’s vocabulary works against him: “And this is where anger toward perceived neo-colonialist aggression, not too different from the British mandate in Egypt and the French mandate in Lebanon and Syria, comes in.” The release valve concept is that the perception, or misperception, has been encouraged in order to draw attention away from the internal causes. To merely say that there is the perception is to beg the question as to whether the perception is justified.
The need for the release valve is necessary in Arab society with respect to two different realms, namely the political and the religious. The political is to cover the classic misdirection. The governments are failing to provide, and in many cases is outright stealing, prosperity for the people. To misdirect the anger at that, a scapegoat is created in the form of outside aggressors. The religious realm uses the release valve to answer the ages old question faced by all religions: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” If Muslims are acting in a good and moral way (I’ll leave the irony with respect to the bin Ladin minority unaddressed for now), then why has Allah not blessed them with the rewards due a good people?
I will interject one whole argument of my own that Lex gave a nod to regarding the danger of speaking of a whole people can come dangerously close to racism. Namely, I refer to the seeming belief that the Islamic culture, indeed any non-Western culture, can act only in reaction to the action of the West. I believe that this formulation is in itself racist in that it denies to entire societies a faculty that is supposedly only available to the West: the ability to formulate goals and act proactively upon them without reference to outside forces. The most pressing example of this ability in the Arab world has been bin Ladin’s repeatedly stated desire to establish a world-wide Caliphate. This stems from a radical reading of the Koran, and in truth can not be wholly directed at the actions of the West, but instead follows peripherally from the very existence of the West.