Jim Sillars: West’s not best for Middle East

Fighters in a Shia village in Iraq which was attacked by Sunni Muslim militants. Picture: Reuters
Fighters in a Shia village in Iraq which was attacked by Sunni Muslim militants. Picture: Reuters
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The people of Iraq and Syria, are paying a terrible price for the ignorance and arrogance of the West’s simpletons who believed they could intervene and create democracies in countries where no such tradition existed.

These attempts ignored history, cultural and social structures often drawn exclusively from religious influences, and why non-democratic political systems were the norm.

Here in the West, democracy has been a slow evolutionary process, with the emergence of the rights for women a case in point. Important in that process has been the development of civic society, where people have learnt the basis of self-government, and the tolerances required if stability and harmony are to be reached and maintained. Countless organisations, big and small, make up civic society and engage new generations in learning to live with majority and minority opinions. Trade unions, the churches, political parties, women’s organisations, universities, Royal Colleges in the medical world, lawyers and accountants’ associations, are examples of the bigger organisations, but the small ones like poetry and literature groups, debating societies, bowling, tennis and golf clubs and charities, are all important in framing the democratic mind, and advancing ideas such as free speech and practice of religion.

I worked in the Arab world for many years, and saw that civic society built on these essential foundations for democracy didn’t exist, and realised that they would not exist if the ruling groups had their way.

I had a friend, a minister in an Arab government in the Gulf. At one of his meetings with counterparts in the Gulf Co-operation Council, he raised the matter of fostering the development of civic society. He got short shrift from the others. They were not alone in wanting to keep their systems.

I have another friend, educated in a top university in the United States, who has a first class degree in economics. In contrast to our form of democracy he prefers the system whereby, in the Sheik’s Majlis, he can go direct with criticism or agreement on policies. He was a reflection of an underlying fact in much of the Arab world, especially in the Gulf region, that the people as well as the rulers are deeply conservative. Although our Foreign Office and the US State Department are staffed with experts on the Arab and Islamic regions, they seem to be ignored by our leaders who wade into foreign countries chanting about democracy, where there is not a hope of it becoming a reality.

These leaders now, and previously, seem to have been oblivious to how diverse the region is ethnically and religiously, and how difficult it is to hold some countries together.

Iraq and Syria never existed until the British and French colonial powers carved them out of the Ottoman Empire. Once they had done so, they realised that such were the religious and ethnic differences, they had to be the strong central power that held them together. That “strong central power” remained the key political fact when Britain and France finally withdrew. That was the role of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria. Removing them could not usher in an era of democracy, but a time of break-up and violence. That’s what the experts warned would happen, and it has come to pass. However difficult it is to accept, poking a Western military finger back into the Middle East is not the solution, it has been a big part of the problem.

Lottery figures don’t add up

Gordon Brown’s unconscious function in this campaign is to show just how out of touch he is.

According to him Scotland will lose lottery cash with independence, because we will be frozen out of the UK lottery. Is he unaware that cross-border lotteries are now commonplace?

The UK lottery, given that it already does cross-border ones, like the EuroMillions (as do the Irish) would be mad in pure business terms to exclude the 1.6 million Scottish families who buy a ticket each week.

Hard to give up on this junkie

BaraCk Obama, Hilary Clinton, Danish and Swedish politicos, and now the Pope.

It’s amazing – not so long ago Scotland was a subsidy junkie, any sensible partner would be glad to be rid of. Now, miraculously, we are being told how important we are to everyone.

Love-bombed from London, lectured by Washington – stand by for the next piece of advice, from Beijing, when the Chinese prime minister visits London this week.

Oil goes up $3 a barrel

The No side have kept telling you the price of oil will fall. There are 21 billion barrels still in the North Sea, and it just rose in value this week when oil went up by $3 a barrel.

Landed in it

The Duke of Buccleuch is upset that the Scottish Government is planning to put an upper limit on the land anyone can hold. He would be, wouldn’t he?