The Jasmine Revolution: The ontology between Geert Wilders, Arend Lijphart and Intellectual Myopia (VIDEO)

Posted on | juni 1, 2011 | 2 Comments

This essay focuses on the role of political barometers that measure political attitudes on the Arab, Latin, African and Asian continent, rather its predictive value for the course of democracy under the umbrella of Islam. This essay theorizes that support for democracy in the Arab countries does not preclude Islam, because Islam in and out of itself, has the proclivity to set up networks necessary to tackle the controversies that determine Arab societies. This theory diametrically opposes western viewpoint on democratization in the Arab world. The paradox is that said viewpoints also impede viewpoints on how Islam shaped the thought of western intellectuals and gave rise to a wave of European populism fueled by fear and apprehension over a possible new Crusade that precedes that of the Mores.

Introduction: The Barometers and other Measuring Tools of Democracy
Seminal research done by Samuel Huntington (1990) teaches that democratization occurs in cycles, or waves, tied to certain historical pinnacles. The first democratization wave emerged in the early 1900s, the first downturn came in the 1920-1930 with the economic crises that gave rise to Nazism and fascism, after Second World War a massive democratization wave emerged until the early 1960s in Latin America, Africa and Asia, with the big reversal between 1960- 1980,when authoritarianism flooded the decolonized world; The last democratization wave occurred between 1989-1995 brought on the last big democratization wave.

The waves and consecutive reversals unequivocally demonstrate that democracy is a reversible process, a fragile, but nonetheless highly dynamic process, that requires care and attention of both governments and existing complementary arenas. Weak political parties, inchoate leadership, weak civility, economic stagnation, lack of freedoms and rights are identified by scholarship as the factors with ample proclivity to reverse democratization.

Freedom House and other existing Democratic Barometers -Latino, Arab, African and Asian- quantify democracy (democratization), measuring citizens’ opinions on the state of democracy, freedoms and rights and civility . These so called data warehouses demonstrate significant progression of democratic consolidation in many Latin America democracies, progression that unequivocally demonstrates that democracy is endogenous tiered process. Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, all societies where the embedding of democracy happens simply because a majority of citizens view democracy ‘as the only game in town’. Even Venezuelan respondents of the Latino Barometro view democracy as the only game in town, while other Freedom House in that same year calculated a 5-9 point decline in the countries’ score on freedoms and rights, based on the shutting down of media, and the ongoing quest of president Chaves to consolidate power (www.

One of the drawbacks of the Latino Barometro, is its primary focuses on Spanish speaking South America. The argument that lack of funding impedes the broadening of the scope of research is an aspect that can be overcome.The project that started in 2006 encasing Arab, African and Latino countries made it easier for conduct comparative research. A broadening of the scope of the project, will indeed give impetus to research and increase knowledge on so called ‘newly emerging democracies’.

The Arab Barometer and the Yasmin Revolution
Surprising however are the results of the Arab Barometer, interviews done in 2006 that showed a more linear trending toward democracy, a trending that in fact forebode the protests that became known as the Jasmine Revolution, but a trending that also negates viewpoints of western intellectuals and opinion-makers who persisted in their argumentation that the Islam impedes democratization, freedoms and rights. Indeed democracy suffered, and indeed many societies were fiercely repressed by dictators such as Mubarak and Ben Alie. The issue is that these dictators were oftentimes supported by western governments.

The protests of what later became known as the Yasmin Revolution started in Tunis, when a young man, Mohammed Bouazizi committed suicide by setting himself on fire in front of the municipal building of Sidi Bouzid, an act that ignited massive protests throughout Tunis. The international surprise and admiration for the protesters increased when the extent of their organization and tenacity became showcased by various media. The creed ‘ if government shuts down social media, we shut down government’ became more than a creed, it symbolized the crucial role of social media, the internet for organization, discourse, but more so, it demonstrated that a younger generation took to the streets in protest for work, for better and more just society.

The results of the Arab Barometer of 2006 indeed demonstrated that a majority of Arab citizens favored democracy over other forms of government. But some of the results of the interviews were more interesting and noteworthy. For example 83% of the peoples polled in 2006, felt that ‘political reform should be introduced gradually’ a response that requires more research, to find out why people had a change of heart; Other results however do support recent occurrences: 54% of the people polled felt they had the power to influence government decisions, while only 33 and 31% of the people polled felt that government did a good job of fighting unemployment and poverty (Jamal & Tessler 2008, p.100).

The Arab barometer also demonstrates that organization and emancipation are closely connected to religiosity[i], a find that correlates with the theory of this essay that democracy and democratization in the Islamic world does not preclude Islam. In fact, Islam is the only aspect of the Arab world cross-cutting class, geography and gender, apt to integrate and amalgamate a society.

Issues, Ideas and Viewpoints
The issue with the Arab world is according to Jamal &Tessler (ibid) the viewpoint that in said societies government and Islam are intertwined, a viewpoint that diametrically opposes that of western scholarship and popular opinion alike, who persist in arguing the incompatibility between church and state, between Islam and State.

The antithesis here hinges on the austere and dogmatic character of both positions,and on the fact that people are guided by preconceived notions, perceptions and images of the Iranian revolution that gave rise to a theocracy. It is false perception that in the western world the ‘church’ and state are completely separated, it is by the same token a false perception that religion can determine politics and government. Indeed religion does played a role in western democracy, in the politicization of seminal western democracy. In England, church and state are intertwined with the reign of the King. The epic fight by the Catholic church over state control in the 1300 and 1400s is not over, the papal stance on abortion and family teaches that until recent, said stance impeded the legalization of abortion in Poland and Ireland, and is rooted in the struggle on Malta to lift the ban on divorce.

The principles of Christian Democracy stem directly from involvement of the church in political organization, corollary mobilization of the followers to compete in the political arena with secular parties. Both the Catholic Church and the Protestant church gave rise to political organization. In The Netherlands, Germany, Austria , Italy, Chile, christian democracy occupies a middle position in the political spectrum, because of their ubiquitous political ideology that allows co-operation with both the Left and the Right.

Exemplary, in this respect, is the Turkish, AK party, a party, that resembles western style christian democracy, becsause The AK observes the Legacy of Ata Turk, upholding the strict separation of church and state, this despite its strong rooting in Islam. The AK shows strong correlates with the conservative Dutch Christian parties, the Christen Unie and the more orthodox Staatskundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP), right wing parties that use religion and the bible to create a conservative political platform, that does not recognize the separation of church and state.

Religiosity, Democratization: The Church and the State, The East and the West

My theory is that a moderate form of Islam, just like other moderate forms of Protestantism and Catholicism before can give impetus to broad based political organization in the Arab world, and in Diaspora in western Europe. Eastern scholarship has identified the importance of grass-roots organization stemming from the Mosques, apt to channel the demand for change,economic advancement and politicization in the Arab countries. The fear that these organizations are a heaven for radical elements of Islam is based on information on radicalization of youth in Diaspora. There is ample evidence that radicalization of Arab youth in Diaspora in Western Europe stems from feelings of displacement and social marginalization. Arab youth in the Arab world also felt the brunt of theocracy, being marginalized and ignored by the state, by the government.

The issue is that discrimination and feelings of marginalization by Arabs have increased dramatically since 9/11, fueled by Western unease and freight over a possible repetition. Today the Islam is consistently portrayed as backward and hateful religion, that seeks to obliterate Christian values and Western society. However, the kindling of animosities and the establishing of we-against antimonies does not stem from the tangible, but from unscrupulous elements in both the West and the East that sought to benefit from mayhem and apprehension that emerged after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.

The problem is that western discourse forgoes that all individuals seek self-actualization and embetterment of living. People, want to be liberalized, free from sorrow and poverty, and go at great length to become liberalized. In the Arab world, the Islam and the Koran promise Paradise, Pentecostal and Latter Day Saints in Ghana, Suriname, Honduras and Rio de Janeiro use the same message, promising their followers salvation from sorrow, mayhem and poverty. Western thinkers refute such reality, using the normative conceptions of how a democracy should work as opposed to how a democracy does work, to analyze developments in the Arab world (and other transitional societies for that matter).

Democracy it seems, is seen as an invention and extension of western civilization, and not as an ongoing, dynamic and reversible and omnipresent process as Dahl and Huntington teach.

The reality is that international world order in the past supported various feuding factions in the Arab world to fight proxy wars, to establish strategic alliances, to ward off a possible Islam Crusade to the west. In other words, the western world contributed to social and economic crises in the Arab World: The US supported the Mujahidin in Afghanistan, roguish Pakistani governments, Sadam Hussain in his dirty war against Iran, support in turn for control of oil-fields, lucrative contracts, benefiting the West, while bringing mayhem and despair to the Arab World. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism is linearly connected with the Afghan war, a war rooted in the Cold War, its outcome in the 1990s, ,marked by the invasion of Iraq by the allied forces, its climax in September 2001, the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers.

Indeed the conflict in the Arab world brewed and simmered for a almost two decades, its final outcome dramatic and devastating.

9/11 and the USA
The Jasmine Revolution, rather gulf of protest encasing the Arab world came as a surprise, capturing the attention and imagination of the Western world, giving rise to the hope that western style democracies will emerge after the dust settles. The USA and the EU went as far as promising to financially support democratization, but make no mistake, again to serve the interest of the western world. The EU and the USA however forgo that the protest did not start at elite level, it started at the bottom tier of society, it started at grass-roots level, by a generation that used modern technology to mobilize, a generation moreover wary of American (western) preponderance and dominance.

The fact that a young dynamic generation was able to organize protests with such savvy, using social media and advanced technology (smart-phones), without the help of the west has somewhat mesmerized and stunned western observers, fueling ideas and deja vu’s over the proliferation of Islamic fundamentalism and Iran style revolution that resulted in a theocracy.

I think that the primary objective of the international community at this stage concerns the containing of possible loss of political control in the region. One down and so many more to go: Hosni Mubarak, such a faithful ally had to be let go by the the USA, because the USA government could not, in good conscience, continue to support such an atavistic, brutal and abject regime without losing face.

I don’t think that the events in the Arab world changed the negative stance of western intellectuals and politicians. The focus has merely shifted to the role of radical elements of Islam, such as the Islam Brotherhood and their role in the protests. Indeed any notion that this revolution would lead to the proliferation of the Taliban to other countries in the Arab world is harrowing and inconceivable, but the only option is to wait and see.

What engendered this consistent and pervasive apprehension over the proliferation of Islamic fundamentalism, to the Western World? I think that 9/11 opened up the political arena in western societies such as the Netherlands for radical political elements with an opportunistic and self-serving agenda.
Individuals such as Ayaan Hirshi Ali and later Geert Wilders, positioned themselves as the new pundits of the right as they started to address the fears of western society over what was viewed as the aberrations of Islamic fundamentalism that was spreading its venom through low income neighborhoods in the West. It was hard to glean from the crusade of Hirsi Ali that her primary focus concerned oppression of Somali women, and not that of Arab women. The fact that western intellectuals failed to scrutinize her key-ideas and viewpoints brought on an intellectual lacuna that cannot be overcome. The dilemma here is how does one turns away from the craze and the frenzy that captivated society, focusing instead on the engendering of apprehension and fear instead?

The problem is that the half-baked ideas and writings of these pundits prevented the discourse dealing with pivotal issues such as integration and marginalization of Moroccan youth in the banlieues of Rotterdam, Paris and the Schilderswijk in Den Haag. In the USA, political correctness has since made way for the ‘right to offend people of Arab descent’, to openly discriminate against people of Arab descent, simply because as the French saying goes, ‘their dirty (ethnic looking) faces make then culpable’ (le delicte de la salle gueulle). Why have intellectuals in said societies remained silent for so long? Is their silence based on fears for radical Islam or apprehension over new attacks surpassing that of 9/11?

Why does research not ponder why Diasporic Communities in low income neighborhoods in The Netherlands, Germany and France became the victims of hostilities and repulsion?

I posit that the same neo-conservative powers that supported the invasion of Iraq, in the name of war on terror, are the same powers that are responsible for instilling wide-spread fear and hatred. These neo-conservative powers however have the same objective to divide and alienate certain social categories as Islamic Fundamentalist organizations. In fact one can establish a linear correlation between radical Islam and Western right wing parties, based on compatibilities in their message, a message that is reproachable and dogmatic, seeking to blame some external force. The analogy does not stop there, neo-conservative elements in the USA use the bible in their fight against Islam, while their more profane counterparts tend to peg all post 9/11 social and economic problems on Islam.

But the post 9/11 world became even uglier when former President George Bush gave carte blanche to his inner circle to start a war in Iraq. It is hard to imagine and understand that the decision to invade Iraq, stemmed from a deep seated notion that ‘a buck could be made’ under the banner of the war on terror ( Halli Burton, Black Water). The end result of this unbridled greed of said politicians with a neo-conservative, hawkish agenda, was a completely destabilized and destructed Iraq where obscure elements of Islam fundamentalism thrived. Ample documentation of the Bush era, the foibles of Dick Cheney, Abu Graib prison and other crimes against humanity, did not change the tone of western discourse, it just enshrouded, evaded.

The Crusade of Geert Wilders
The question is why Europeans decided to become protagonists in this global fight, started by the Bush Administration. What compelled European politicians such as Geert Wilders to seek support based on an obscure agenda, confounded in corporate greed? What compelled politicians such as Wilders to use a message of hate to hijack the discourse on immigration, ethnicity, social inequality, keeping the political establishment for ransom? It is very interesting to observe the reactions of the political and intellectual establishment in the Netherlands in the media, on blogs, in the public debate. Puzzling is the move of The Dutch establishment to the right, gradually buying into preconceptions, notions and ideas on Islam, hardening their standpoints instead of formulating a credible answer.

The deafening silence is not confined to the Netherlands, most Western intellectuals seem overcome by fear and apprehension to be branded a liberal, a leftist or elitist by the radical right, by the champions and pundits of the hard-working masses.The problem is that said silence cannot be completely attributed to social confusion and polarization, and voter volatility. There are underlying issues that still need to be identified: A known fact is that people continuously feel let down by politics, they feel that the establishment has failed to formulate a credible and sustainable solution, to deal with the radical and dysfunctional elements of Islam, and with banlieus filled with unemployed and unruly youth from the Riff Mountains. People feel let down because in their perception there is no voice of reason that calms and soothes, that offers liberation.

Intellectual Dichotomies
The irony is that Western intellectuals and political leaders have a hard time accepting that the emergence, henceforth, the increasing strength of the ultra right, political conservatism and Islamic fundamentalism originate from the same source. Arab intellectuals, by the same token grapple with conceptions on democracy, oftentimes refuting Western conceptions and ideas on democracy and nation-building.

But the hesitancy of intellectuals cannot ensconce the fact that citizens in both the West and the Arab world feel divorced and disenfranchised, feelings that indeed foster fundamentalism and radicalism, prompting people to seek refuge in organizations such as:

1) Hamas and to a lesser extent Al Qaeda, political organizations that decoy as NGO’s offering citizens their support and assistance in the absence of the state in lieu of their support;
2) radical right wing political parties such as the PVV, Vlaams Belang and Front Nationale by Marin le Pen, claim to liberate, ridding society of its aberrations, and discrepancies brought on Islam.

Concentrating on the case of the Netherlands, to argue that intellectuals typically refute the idea that populism is a universal principle that emerges in times of turmoil and confusion. Seminal scholar Arendt Lijphart warned in 1968, that the Dutch elite cartel political structure was prone to break down, a warning that only in part explained the presence of undemocratic forces in the contemporary landscape. Lijpharts’ warning corresponds with the empirical reality, namely the erosion of broad-based parties and the re-emergence of political populism.

Populism is theoretically defined by for example Kurt Weyland (1996) through identification of five specific criteria:
1) populist leaders tend to use fear and confusion to build a support base,
2) populist leaders typically circumvent existing institutions or build new ones to position themselves in the political landscape,
3) populist leaders tend to establish we-against-them antimonies to build a support base,
4) populist leaders approach their followers in a semi direct and quasi personal fashion
5) populist leaders typically tap into a group of previously disenfranchised to seek support.

I think that in the opinion of Dutch scholarship a ‘sophisticated’ and ‘savvy’ politician such as Geert Wilders can by no means resemble populists leaders such as the likes of Hugo Chaves, Desi Bouterse, Alberto Fuijimori. But they just like Wilders woe disgruntled, fearful, disenfranchised citizens by using a divisive message, by creating optical metaphors to create we-against-them antimonies. I find the stance of the Dutch intelligentsia interesting, but at the same time highly puzzling because the decision not to study the rise of Geert Wilders and his PVV, will not make it go away.

Noteworthy was an assertion on the Dutch public broadcast (Radio 1, Primtime), that populism in the Netherlands is a benign sort of populism, a phenomenon in its own right, beneficial to society. Said assertion forgoes the reality of a split and torn Dutch society, but also underestimates the effects of populism on the ensuing erosion of the political landscape, brought on by the marginalization of both Labor (PvdA) and Christian Democrats (CDA).

I think that the dismissal of western scholarship to assess western populism on its merit is as equally problematic as their stance on the role of Islam in democratization, a stance confounded in normatism and ascription, and not on the empirical. The position of eastern intellectuals by the same token, is equally problematic and myopic.

I want to reiterate my earlier posit that religion in the western world indeed helped foster civility, by building the necessary networks and NGO’s that gave rise to social and political emancipation. The case of Morocco supports my posit, because NGO’s indeed help to increase civility in Morocco by; 1) addressing the fallacies of society, such as gender disparities, youth unemployment, corruption and: 2) challenging certain dogmatic and fundamental standpoints of Islam, progression can be achieved (Khrouz, 2008 p. 43). Relevant in the case of Morocco is the consistent effort of the civility to mitigate between the bottom the grass-root and the top, by seeking to increase influence at the top, with as ultimate goal to forge gradual change and transformation of the political order, without insurgency and social unrest.

The Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East indeed revealed dynamic civilities that stand up for their rights. The problem is the extent of political repression, and the pervasiveness of dictatorship, encompassing all sectors of society, indeed impeded the possibilities for gradual reform.

[i] The Barometer has identified the frequency of Koran Reading a valid and reliable measure of religiosity. People interviewed were categorized according to the frequency of reading the Koran, and then cross-referenced with the responding in each category that feature democracy as most important ( Amaney and Tessler 2008, p.100-101): Source: Amaney Jamal&Mark Tessler (2008), The Democracy Barometers: Attitudes in the Arab World in: Journal of Democracy, Volume 19, number 1, January 2008, National Endowment for Democracy and the Johns Hopkins University Press

Amaney Jamal&Mark Tessler (2008), The Democracy Barometers: Attitudes in the Arab World in: Journal of Democracy, Volume 19, number 1, January 2008, National Endowment for Democracy and the Johns Hopkins University Press (pp.97-110)

Khrouz, Driss (2008) Morocco’s Elections: A Dynamic Civil Society in: Journal of Democracy, Volume 19, number 1, January 2008, National Endowment for Democracy and the Johns Hopkins University Press (pp. 42-49)

Tozy Mohamed (2008) Morocco’s Elections: Islamists, Technocrats and the Palace: Journal of Democracy, Volume 19, number 1, January 2008, National Endowment for Democracy and the Johns Hopkins University Press (pp. 34-41)

Dahl, Robert. (2000) On Democracy (Yale Nota Bene).

Huntington, Samuel (1993) The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Julian J. Rothbaum Distinguished Lecture Series)

Lijphart, Arend (1968) Politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in the Netherlands (Campus ; 142).

AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@]


2 Responses to “The Jasmine Revolution: The ontology between Geert Wilders, Arend Lijphart and Intellectual Myopia (VIDEO)”

  1. natascha adama
    mei 30th, 2011 @ 12:07

    This article is not the article that I wrote, the actual article is on my blog. This is an edit, not by me. The quality of this article does not reflect my work nor my thoughts on this matter. I wrote the original article not only to provoke debate which we need, but also start a discussion on a very serious matter that is being avoided and cloaked. I at all times am a fan of free speech and free thinking even if it goes against my own views and ideas.

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    mei 15th, 2012 @ 21:49

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