Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Democracy in Iraq and Nigeria

So I was reading this article about Nigeria in the Atlantic (thanks, Ryan!) and I came across a throw-away line in which the author, Jeffrey Tayler, makes a very interesting assertion: "In Nigeria, where one generally votes for one's religious or ethnic brethren, democracy has deepened divisions rather than healed them." I think he is pretty much on the money, and it says a lot about why election after election has not helped Iraq achieve a functional government. When people feel insecure (and not insecure as in "does my hair look ok", but insecure as in "I don't know if I'll be dragged into the street and shot by thugs today"), a clan mentality tends to ensue. If the fundamental conflict in Iraq (and Nigeria) is one between clans, having elections (where everyone votes for a representative from their own clan) buys you nothing. It really is problematic for democracy in many of these cobbled together former colonial holdings. Democracy does not necessarily require an ethnically and religiously homogeneous society, but it does demand one where people don't identify themselves solely by those traits (someone send a memo to the religious right).

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