Americans were quick to criticize the change in leadership that occurred following the death last June of longtime Syrian dictator Hafez Al-Assad.
Correctly, American pundits challenged the obviously flawed Syrian political system, reminded the world of the tyranny of the Al-Assad era, and condemned absence of so-called "Democratic processes." As an example of this flawed, unDemocratic system, American media pointed to the decision of the Syrian political establishment, the Ba'ath Party, the name Al-Assad's son, Bashir, as his successor.
"What kind of Democracy is that?" American newspaper editorials screamed. "An example of the worst kind of nepotism," others insisted. "This is the ultimate example of a system that denies its citizens basic human rights," others asserted.
All of these condemnations are true, of course. The average Syrian is denied the right to choose his or her own leader, and must accept the dictates of the Ba'ath Party which has ruled the Syrian people for generations.
Al-Assad's legacy is one stained with the blood of his own people, highlighted by a poor leadership that has resulted in Syria's failure to recapture lands occupied by Israel or defend itself against each act of Israeli aggression. And, the former tyrant's greatest failure is his denial of basic human rights to his people and the ironfisted manner in which he ruled.
So why should anyone be surprised that the dictator, in the final months of his life, conspired with his son, Bashir, to impose Bashir as the new leader of this disenfranchised Arab nation?
But those who live in glass houses, should not thrown stones. And no nation lives in a house made more of glass than the United States.
As Syrian's celebrated what little rights to Democracy they enjoy, Americans were engaged in their own system of managed politics that also disenfranchises most Americans.
As the Republican National Convention came to a close August 3 in Philadelphia, where Democracy's bell first rang in the 18th Century, the delegates there crowned George W. Bush as their candidate for president in much the same way as the Ba'ath Party declared Bashir Al-Assad their own.
Why should the Syrian system be any worse than the American system, that has anointed the incompetent son of a former American president who imposed a system of suffering so nauseous that each month some 5,000 Arab babies die in Iraq?
By what right do Americans condemn the Syrians for selecting the son of their former president when they, too, have selected the son of their own president. There is a difference, of course. Bush "the son" must face off against Al Gore, who is now the vice president of the United States and is expected to be officially crowned the candidate of the "Democratic" party of the United States.
Syria has one party. The United States has two. And yet both deny the average citizen the right to genuine political representation.
In Syria, no one has the right to challenge the choice of the Ba'ath Party, a system of fragmented former Communist with little vision but a grip on luxury and power. In the United States, there are two parties, and these two parties apply the same form of discrimination and denial common to the Syrian system.
The truth about American Democracy
Although Americans brag that their system of government offers individuals the ultimate right to expression, the truth is the American political system, called "Democracy," institutionalizes the power of two Ba'ath-like party organizations. Individuals who seek to challenge this system are ignored and pushed aside by the nation's media. And this "Democracy" has two parties, as you know, "Republicans," and "Democrats."
The political system is an aristocracy that anoints individuals from within, and closes the door to those who are disenfranchised. And who is disenfranchised? For one, Arab Americans. But they are not alone. African Americans and Hispanics are also pushed out of this system. Oh, the two parties offer token members who are Black and Hispanic, and they even now pander to other groups like Asian Americans and Arab Americans. But these groups are shut out of the American Democratic system, and despite promises and empty words, they will never climb to the top of political control.
When it comes to the disenfranchised, the Republicans and the Democrats are very similar in policies.
It's a sad irony that the Arab World fails to recognize the flaws in the American system, and worse, fail to exploit its weaknesses.
For example, Arabs mistakenly believe that power in America begins at the top. But the truth is power begins at the ground level where a privileged few individuals control the strings that decide who represents them in Congress. It is a complicated system, of course. But there is a way for outside forces to influence the outcome of American political elections.
Take the case of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (Congress), Dennis Hastert. Hastert originates from a "district" in the State of Illinois.
There are 20 districts in Illinois and each elects one Congressman every two years.
Each district is equally divided among approximately 600,000 residents. And here is where the key to American politics and the real difference between US Democracy and Syrian politics lies.
Of the 600,000 people in Hastert's district, only 260,000 are actually old enough to vote (you must be 18 years of age to vote.)
Of that 260,000 who are "eligible" to vote, only 120,000 have actually "registered" to vote with the State of Illinois. In other words, although "every American" has the right to vote, only those who are 18 years of age or older and who register to vote, can vote in elections.
Now, of that 120,000 who actually register to vote, only about 50,000 actually take the time to "exercise" that "right" to vote.
And, of that 50,000 who actually vote in elections for, say, Congress, it takes exactly 25 thousand and one votes to actually elect someone in that district. Let me repeat that because it is so important. It only takes about 25,001 votes to elect or defeat a congressman like Dennis Hastert, the most important member of the United States Congress.
And suprisingly, Hastert's Illinois district has approximately 2,000 Arab American families, and about 4,200 Muslim American families. Assuming that these numbers translate into 6,000 to 12,000 individuals of voting age, that means Arab Americans hold the key to electing or defeating Hastert.
But, do you think they recognize this power? No.
Remember, they come from an Arab World which struggles hard to deny individuals the right to vote, and when they come here, it is difficult for them to shake old habits.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American author and writer. His columns are archived on the Internet at www.hanania.com. He can be reached by email at [email protected])
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