The real surprise this week was not that the British House of Commons voted against the government's plans to attack Syria, but that people were surprised that elected MPs should vote pretty much in line with public opinion on the issue. Democracy, it would seem, is alive and if not exactly well, at least still breathing.
The transparent double-standards of governments over the Syrian civil war illustrate the arrogance with which we are governed. Listening to John Kerry make his speech on Friday I was struck by the guy's self-belief; he spoke to us as if we are fools incapable of seeing beyond the headlines and through the bluster. How many times did he repeat, "We know…"? We know you know, Mr Kerry, you have known for a long time that the Assad regime is a nasty bit of work, which is why your country used "extraordinary rendition" to send people to be tortured in Syrian cells, doing the dirty work that the US Constitution won't let you do at home. That didn't stop you and your wife having dinner with Bashar Al-Assad and his wife in Damascus four years ago. You knew then that he had a huge stockpile of chemical weapons and the vicious streak necessary to use them. Like Saddam Hussein before him, Baathist Assad served his purpose and must now be taken out of the game. That's what it is to these people; a game. Read The Game of Nations, the late Miles Copeland's 1970 book on "The Amorality of Power Politics" if you are in any doubt about this.
The Middle East is in a mess; that much is certain. The notion of Arab solidarity and brotherhood has been shown to be a nice idea but little more; that too is certain. The claim that we live in Western democracies is true in theory, but in practice is also less than certain. In fact, although it could be claimed that we are now in a post-democracy era, with governments more or less ignoring the electorate once they are in power, the Westminster MPs have shown this week that there is life in the old dog yet.
Nevertheless, we must be wary of Western political rhetoric about democracy. The election in Egypt and its aftermath has followed that in Palestine in highlighting the fact that politicians in the West who espouse democracy as the world's panacea do so in the knowledge that they will only let results stand if they are "acceptable"; we all know what that means, and "Israel's security" is usually bound up in it somewhere. Worryingly, most of us buy into this charade. It is a cliché to claim that the West doesn't have real allies, only interests, and that foreign policy is bound up in those interests, but as clichés go it is hard to disagree with.
The hypocrisy which governs Western politicians' game is breathtaking; they have little or no shame, and their bedfellows across the Middle East give us an insight into their intentions for the region. Dictatorship works for the West, so we pay lip-service to condemnations of human rights abuses in non-Western friendly states but official silence over similar or worse abuses in the Gulf monarchies and emirates. Worst of all is the slavish support for Israel, which claims to be a democracy – and whose support for the overthrow of Morsi in Egypt suggests that it is intent on maintaining its mythical mantra that it is the "only democracy in the Middle East" – but whose military occupation, colonisation and subjugation of the Palestinians is nothing if not a dictatorship of the powerful over the weak. Western politicians, democrats all, accept this and, indeed, encourage it by their open support for Israel and its far-right ideology. A close reading of events in the region at the moment suggest very credibly that powerful pro-Israel hands are behind recent events, including the coup in Egypt and the rush to bomb Syria.
What's going on? How can seemingly caring politicians who claim to protect the weak and strive for justice ignore the cries of the weak in Palestine and the huge injustice of their case? It is not enough for them to cite the Holocaust as sufficient justification for their support for Israel; the causes of that European industrial-level cruelty against minorities, mainly Jews, have been pushed to one side in the rush to ensure that it doesn't happen again to the Jews by giving Israel someone else's land and indulging its human rights abuses against the Palestinians. Such abuses are not in the same vein as the Holocaust, yet, but they do carry many of the tell-tale signs of genocidal intent, such as erasing all traces of Palestinian life in the land, including towns and villages (of which more than 500 have been wiped off the map since 1948), the Judaisation of Jerusalem, plans to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque, the colonisation of the West Bank and the slow strangulation of the Gaza Strip.
The desire of Western politicians to protect Israel is based on guilt, the price for which is being paid by the Palestinians, the original occupants of the so-called "land without a people for a people without a land". That statement originated in the mid-eighteenth century with a Christian, long before the Holocaust came along and was adopted by the Zionist movement which sought the "return" of Jews to the Holy Land. The truth, of course, is that Palestine was never an empty land just waiting to be colonised. Israeli colonisation requires the displacement of the Palestinians; that's the simple fact of the matter, and it has been the main thrust of Zionism for over a century. The ongoing expansion of Israel's illegal colony-settlements is part of the process, but hardcore Zionists will not be happy until "Greater Israel" is achieved; depending on whom you believe, that could mean an Israel from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, or even from the River Nile to the Euphrates.
The big question remains; why do Western politicians toe the Israeli line so readily? Cue "Zionist conspiracy theories" which look like becoming conspiracy facts. Do pro-Israel lobbyists control politicians? Apparently so; at the very least, they have an inordinate amount of influence. Do they control the media from which most people get news and information about current events? Ditto. Which suggests that democracy as practiced in the West today is a bit of a sham. We have limited freedom of speech and are governed by what amount to elected dictatorships, but what can the electorate do? In terms of choices at election time we are faced with two or more sides of the same coins; there are no major differences between parties on, for example, the issue of Israel and its "right to exist". We know this because it seems to be de rigueur for the leaders of the main political parties in Britain, for example, to express their loyalty to the Zionist state in public on an annual basis at expensive pro-Israel lobby dinners. The least said about the influence of Israel's US lobbyists on America's Middle East policy the better.
We don't do coups in the West, of course, although we will happily support them elsewhere; in Egypt, for example; and with whose support? Step forward the supposedly-benign dictatorships across the Middle East run by "our guys". Oh, and Israel, of course; the Zionist state lost its prized strategic asset when Hosni Mubarak was ousted and is the main beneficiary of the military overthrow of his democratically-elected replacement as president, Mohamed Morsi.
It's a dirty little game being played out and we shouldn't be taken in by claims that the military is in any way restoring democracy in Cairo. Morsi was by no means perfect – which human being, and a politician at that, is? but the people of Egypt would and should have been able to do something about it at the next election. The army has made sure that no elected government in Egypt is ever likely to feel secure enough to make any degree of meaningful change in the country. Anything that threatens the army's considerable financial interests, for example, will be stifled at birth. By backing the coup in all but name Western democracies have laid bare their own lack of commitment to democratic values. It would be interesting to have a proper and open debate in the House of Commons on this issue but it is unlikely to happen; there are too many "interests" at stake.
We could, therefore, be entering a post-democracy era, and that should be a concern for anybody and everybody who strives for peace and justice in the world, for those upon whom democracy has been imposed can see that it is a pointless exercise if the results don't suit Washington, London and other Western capitals. The alternative is, of course, very worrying, but the people in power in the West seem happy to let the rest of the world pay the price for their failed experiments with people power. It's worked for decades in Palestine, so who cares how long other people have to suffer? Democracy may not be dead yet, but plenty of people are losing their lives as it plays out its power games on the world stage.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.