In 1980, Ayatollah Khomeini told Oriana Fallaci that Western music dulls the mind.  “It involves pleasure and ecstasy, similar to drugs,” he explained; it does not exalt the spirit but puts it to sleep, and “it distracts our youth who become poisoned by it.”  “Even the music of Bach, Beethoven, Verdi?” Fallaci asked.  “I do not know these names,” Khomeini replied but went on to allow for the possibility that some of Western music is acceptable: “For example, marches and hymns for marching . . . Yes, but your marches are permitted.”

The fact that the late Ayatollah—just like Grand Mufti al-Husseyni before him—would have found Die Fahne Hoch to his musical taste indicates an important obstacle to the fulfillment of President George W. Bush’s freshly reiterated goal of spreading democracy to the Middle East.

In a much-heralded speech on November 6, Mr. Bush told the National Endowment for Democracy that 

sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe—and in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.

The President added that there was no reason why the people of the Middle East should not enjoy democracy: “It should be clear to all that Islam—the faith of one-fifth of humanity—is consistent with democratic rule,” he declared, charging those who doubted his assertions with cultural condescension.

Even more serious than his naiveté is Mr. Bush’s mil-lenarian utopianism and his ahistoricism, which brings us to the matter of music.  The link between the ability of a non-Western culture to appreciate, internalize, and reproduce a classical symphony and its ability to develop a prosperous economy and a functional polity is well established.  In the second half of the 19th century, Japan joined the ranks of the great powers because it possessed a culture inured to discipline, approving of delayed gratification and self-restraint.  While remaining proudly aware of their uniqueness, the Japanese not only emulated Western organization and technology but soon understood that Western music released hitherto untapped aspects of their sensitivity.  A century later, world-class philharmonic orchestras and top-notch soloists could be found not only in Tokyo but in Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Singapore.  Even if the Europeans die out in the next century or so—as they are likely to do, if present demographic trends persist—an important aspect of their legacy will be preserved.

By contrast, in the Islamic world, that legacy is appreciated by few and actively pursued by even fewer.  Rigid form, lax rendering, and hypersensuality prevail, in music and in life.  Western goods, technology, and organization are perceived as desirable commodities that can be imported and used, but any acceptance of the aesthetic, social, political, and moral underpinnings of the Western mind is rejected by most Muslims.  For the past three centuries, British, French, German, and American engineers, officers, and doctors have trained thousands of their Muslim pupils, but, in their native lands, the latter have never managed to yield more than what was imparted to them.

Mr. Bush’s speechwriters pretend not to know that the problem is insoluble: Most Muslims want the fruits of Western culture but not the culture itself.  Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Muhammad (routinely described as “pro-Western” and “moderate”) urges Muslims to promote science and technology—not in order to make their own cars, air conditioners, or computers but to produce their own “guns and rockets, bombs and warplanes, tanks and warships.”  The long career of this allegedly enlightened leader, and that of countless other Muslim modernizers, testifies to a disdain for democracy.  Instant gratification, inherent to the Muslim mind-set ever since Muhammad resorted to divine intervention in his lust for his daughter-in-law, is incompatible with the discipline, cohesion, and the individual pride of free men that are the preconditions for both democracy and sustained self-generated prosperity.

Mr. Bush’s speech was presumably directed at a narrow segment of urban intelligentsia in the Muslim world, the would-be Ataturks in Jeddah and Cairo who want to break free from the old mind-set and reform Islam into a matter of personal choice separated from state and distinct from society.  Mr. Bush invoked Ronald Reagan’s faith in the imminent downfall of communism, which he claimed had been considered naive at the time.  He suggested that those who doubt his own belief in the spread of democracy in the Middle East might be proved equally wrong.

The parallel is flawed.  Throughout Eastern Europe, by the late 1980’s, people were fed up with communism, and most had never believed its mythology in the first place.  In many Muslim countries, by contrast, the opposition to autocratic regimes comes from people who accuse those regimes of betraying the True Faith, which would be comparable to fervent Maoists providing the opposition to the Soviet bloc gerontocracy in the 1980’s.  

The predominant response in today’s Muslim world to the crisis caused by Western superiority is the demand for “Islamic solutions.”  It is not the West-friendly intelligentsia but “moderate” traditionalists and “radical” fundamentalists—two sides of the same coin—who form the overwhelming majority in every Muslim country in the world.  They share the belief in the superiority of their faith and its divinely ordained mission of world leadership.  Both groups regard the early success of Islam as a natural result of the strict and uncompromising observance of all tenets of that faith.  They both resent the subsequent decline and the temporary superiority of the unbelievers; they contribute equally to the perpetuation of the culture of anti-Western otherness.

In order to make the impact desired by Mr. Bush, urban modernizers will have to “sell” the West to their compatriots not only as a source of consumer durables and life-saving medicines but as a desirable social and political model.  That is impossible as long as the United States is perceived as being strongly biased in favor of the Israeli side in the Middle Eastern conflict.  The mistrust of America is deep, universal, and it transcends political, cultural, geographic, and economic divisions within the Muslim world.  As Ahmed Kamal Aboulmagd, a leading Egyptian “pro-Western” intellectual, says, never have America’s Arab friends felt so estranged from the United States: “When it comes to the central problem of the Middle East—the Arab-Israeli conflict—we feel that even a minimum of American even-handedness is missing.”  Abdel-Monem Said, director of Egypt’s Al-Ahram Center for Political Strategic Studies, added that the perceived dishonesty of the United States in justifying the Iraq war had tarnished her credibility.  “Democracy is all about legalities, rule of law and legitimacy,” he said.  “There is an issue of double standards.”

Any democratization of Egypt and Saudi Arabia—singled out by the President as ripe for democratic reform—will play not into the hands of his would-be friends and allies but into the hands of Osama bin Laden and his ilk.  Turkey and Algeria provide proof that more democracy in the Muslim world means more Islam, and it is remarkable that Mr. Bush singled out Turkey as a shining example of the alleged compatibility between democratic institutions and Islamic values.  The dream of secularism has never penetrated beyond a narrow stratum of urban elites centered in Istanbul, and Turkey remains uneasily balanced between a democratically elected Islamic government and a Kemalist officer corps.

Turkey’s fragility was underlined by terrorist attacks on November 20 that killed 28 people at the Istanbul office of London-based HSBC Bank and at the British consulate, adding to the 25 people killed the previous Saturday (November 15), when two synagogues in Turkey’s largest city were targeted.

Mr. Bush’s vision will not usher in a dawn of democratic rebirth of the Muslim world.  I hope that his speech at least heralds one welcome and overdue policy change in Washington and that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will finally be brought to heel.  It is the most intolerant Islamic regime on the face of the earth.  It is waging a worldwide proxy war against Christianity and against other religions that Islam encounters: Judaism in Israel, Hinduism in India, animism in Africa, and Buddhism in Southeast Asia.  Its authorities allowed thousands of young Saudis easy access to American visas under various pretexts, many of them hell-bent on waging jihad against unbelievers.  Mr. Bush’s speech should mark the end of the Western desire to pander to Saudi whims, including the nonexistent and unreciprocated “right” of her government to bankroll thousands of mosques and Islamic “cultural centers” in the United States and elsewhere that teach hate and provide the logistic infrastructure for Islamic terrorism.  The Saudi regime may well be unsustainable, but a “democratic” alternative reminiscent of Tehran in 1979 cannot be contemplated with equanimity.  Its carefully devised incremental change should be managed now, or it will be observed with powerless chagrin later.

The most serious problem with Mr. Bush’s November 6 speech is not its apparent failure to grasp the impossibility of a democratic transformation of the Muslim world that would not be preceded by a reform of Muhammad’s faith so colossal as to turn it into something altogether new and different.  The main problem is in the President’s habitual treatment of America as a Shining City on a Hill, legitimately called upon to be an active agent of democratic change around the world.  The United States not only “protected free nations from aggression and created the conditions in which new democracies could flourish” but, he asserted, “also provided inspiration for oppressed peoples.”  He talked of “great turning points” in the struggle and promised fresh resolve in shaping “the next stage of the world democratic movement”:

This is a massive and difficult undertaking—it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes.  The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region.  Iraqi democracy will succeed—and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran—that freedom can be the future of every nation.  The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.

Such words reflect advanced neoconservative megalomania, its symptoms already visible in Mr. Bush’s two State of the Union Addresses.  In January 2003, he declared that “we must remember our calling, as a blessed country, to make this world better”:

[T]his call of history has come to the right country. . . . We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.  Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation.  The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.

This outlook is not “patriotic” in any conventional sense.  Unlike Mr. Bush himself, his speechwriters do not identify themselves with the real and historic America but see the United States merely as the host organism for the exercise of the “world democratic movement” of which they are the manipulators.  They are “patriots” only insofar as the America they imagine is a pliable tool of their global design.

Mr. Bush is probably too good a man to be identified personally with their design and supportive of its implications.  He is merely the most high-ranking victim of the Straussian dictum that perpetual deception by those in control is necessary because those who are manipulated need to be led, and they need to be told what is good for them.  In the Straussian-neoconservative mind-set, those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right—the right of the superior to rule over the inferior.  Mr. Bush may have too much moral sense to be deemed fit to rule by those who write his speeches.