The neoconservative ideology of Western (preferably American) democracy and free markets is a form of secular religion.  The door to this secular church begins to open to the sinner when he starts surfing the internet, watching CNN, eating at McDonald’s, and reading the gospel according to Tom Friedman.  And he (“or she”—adding that is itself a sign that you’ve been born again) becomes a full member of the new religion when he commits himself without reservation to the principles of Pax Americana, globalization, and multiculturalism.

Indeed, if you regard neoconservatives as missionary zealots applying U.S. power to remake the world and establish a heaven on Earth, then the recent and colorful “democratic revolutions” in Georgia (“Rose”), Ukraine (“Orange”), Iraq (“Purple”), or Lebanon (“Cedar”) should be considered as forms of mass conversion or baptism.  Trendy young men and women—T-shirts displaying cool logos, thongs showing off from behind, men wearing earrings, the sound of rap music is in the air—are evidence that the country in question is ready to join the American Empire.  If you even dare to raise doubts about the commitment of these guys and dolls to the new religion and challenge the belief that your tax money should pay for all of that (not to mention the blood of American men and, yes, women), you are dubbed a heretic (“isolationist”).

After Assad, Jr., took control of the Syrian dictatorships, Friedman (or was it the Gospel according to David Ignatius) had a vision of Dr. Assad the Optometrist seeing the light and becoming a pro-American democrat.  There was also the religious awakening tale, this time from U.S.-occupied Iraq, about the eldest grandson of the Ayatollah (“Death to America”) Khomeini, who revealed to American reporters that he was reading Madison and Jefferson and discovering that “America is the symbol of freedom,” and that “religion has got to be separated from regimes, such as it is in America.”

And now there is the strange case of that rabid antisemite and racist, Lebanese-Druze warlord Walid Jumballat, who has just been deputized by Washington and the U.S. media as a leader of the “Cedar Revolution.”  Just two years ago, Jumballat told Lebanon’s Daily Star that the true axis of evil was one of “oil and Jews . . . The oil axis is present in most of the U.S. administration, beginning with its president, vice-president, and top advisers, including [Condoleezza] Rice, who is oil-colored, while the axis of Jews is present with Paul Wolfowitz.”  But Jumballat, who had accused Israel of being responsible for the September 11 attacks, has finally found religion, confessing to the Washington Post a few weeks ago that he is now a different man: “It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq.  I was cynical about Iraq.  But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.  The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing.  The Berlin Wall has fallen.  We can see it.”

Yeah, right—we can see it.  The Druze gang leader, whose hands are dripping with blood, who has been in the political bed with almost every Middle Eastern thug, would be transformed into Saint Walid.  In return, he would now become a recipient of National Endowment for Democracy dollars and other goodies.  And, if Iranian spy and crook Ahmed Chalabi got the Americans to fight on his behalf in Iraq, who knows?  U.S. soldiers could soon be assisting the “Cedarists” by bombing the Syrians (who, after all, murdered Jumballat’s father).  In any case, our new ally Walid would probably soon be shaking hand with George W. Bush at the White House and would certainly be invited to the religious ceremony that demonstrates that you have become, indeed, one of us: the annual meeting of the West’s most powerful and mighty—Tom Friedman is always there!—at the Swiss resort town of Davos.

President Bush seems to have implied recently that it is in Davos where, soon, we could get to see Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Shiite group allied with Syria and Iran that has been behind the killings of quite a few Americans and Israelis.  In the aftermath of several anti-Syrian “Cedar” demonstrations in Beirut that were supposed to prove to the world—or at least to CNN—that the Lebanese were about to jump aboard the pro-American “democracy” train, Fadlallah gathered hundreds of thousands of his followers—no thongs, men wearing earrings, or rap music in that event—to demonstrate that the Shiites, who constitute about 40 percent of the population, were not going to be baptized neocon-style anytime soon.  So President Bush is hoping that a promised future of U.S. dollars, invitations to the White House, and a ticket to Davos will help change Fadlallah’s mind and turn him into a Bush-fearing, user-friendly, democracy-loving sheik.  “We view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization,” Bush said after an Oval Office meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah.  But then, he added: “I would hope that Hezbollah would prove that they are not by laying down their arms and not threatening peace.”

What Bush and his neocon fanatics don’t understand is that no one is being converted these days to Western-style liberalism on the road to and from Damascus, Beirut, Riyadh, Cairo—or, for that matter, Kirkuk and Baghdad.  In fact, whether it’s Fadlallah, Jumballat, Jaafari, or Talabani, what really counts for the cast of characters that matters in the Middle East are tribalism, ethnicity, and, yes, religion, and not Western concepts of individual rights.

Hence, in Lebanon, a coalition of crooked politicians and brutal warlords and gangsters representing some elements in the weakened Maronite, Sunni, and Druze communities are hoping to counter the emerging political and demographic Shiite represented by Hezbollah.  And they are trying to draw in the Americans to do the dirty job for them.  Ironically, the Americans have just helped the Kurds and the Shiites, some of whom are affiliated with radical Islamic militias that are modeled after Hezbollah, to come to power in Iraq and to devastate the power of the Sunnis there.

The notion that Americans are now helping ignite a Shiite religious and political revival in the Middle East, from the Levant to the Persian Gulf, doesn’t make a lot of sense—unless, that is, you subscribe to the Gospel according to Saint Paul (Wolfowitz, that is).  The neocons insist that they are making the Middle East safe for democracy, while they are really making it safe for ethnic and religious identity.  But who can argue with a believer?