May 12, 2008

Dying for Love in a Country "Liberated" by the US. Exporting Democracy Hits Another Snag!

How to best promote not just democracy, but liberal democracy.

..It was her first youthful infatuation and it would be her last. She died on 16 March after her father discovered she had been seen in public talking to Paul, considered to be the enemy, the invader and a Christian. Though her horrified mother, Leila Hussein, called Rand's two brothers, Hassan, 23, and Haydar, 21, to restrain Abdel-Qader as he choked her with his foot on her throat, they joined in... Her shrouded corpse was then tossed into a makeshift grave without ceremony as her uncles spat on it in disgust...

Exporting democracy can be a very difficult task unless the local conditions permit such a regime to exist. Condi Rice Ph.D., should have known this much at least when she was advising the president on Iraq! But she wasn't hired by Dubya to contradict the neocons and she didn't have the personal integrity to utter what she probably had learned in grad school.

Anyway, what the US should try to do is to export the ideas of humanism and
constitutional liberalism, because it is through these values a society can function democratically--as we understand a liberal democracy to be.

Non-liberal governments often have come to power via the ballot box after "open & fair" elections. We've seen this too many times; that democratically-elected parties pursue totalitarian policies. It might even be the will of the people to brutally enforce conformity and exterminate all those dissenters who "give comfort to the enemy" by criticizing the government or challenging the popular wisdom.

Perhaps some of us in the west don't realize that many societies that may pay lip service to democracy don't view favorably things like religious tolerance (and a separation of church-state), privacy, individual rights, free expression that includes satire and offensive speech, etc.

The only countries that give true meaning to freedom are liberal democracies. They're not perfect--as we know from our own experience, especially under the BushCo government--but as long as we control our domestic Taliban, falling in love is not a death sentence for women.

The following story is from Iraq. A 17-year old girl was murdered by her father because she fell in love with the wrong man. Exchanging glances and an occasional greeting with an unrelated male can mean death for a woman in that part of the world. This "honor" killings are an acceptable norm. The law--based on some religious absurdity and primitive myths--supports this kind of behavior. The police that arrested Abdel-Qared actually congratulated him upon his release for doing the right thing by killing his virgin daughter.

'I don't have a daughter now, and I prefer to say that I never had one. That girl humiliated me in front of my family and friends. Speaking with a foreign soldier, she lost what is the most precious thing for any woman. 'People from western countries might be shocked, but our girls are not like their daughters that can sleep with any man they want and sometimes even get pregnant without marrying. Our girls should respect their religion, their family and their bodies.

'I have only two boys from now on. That girl was a mistake in my life. I know God is blessing me for what I did,' he said, his voice swelling with pride. 'My sons are by my side, and they were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours.'

Two weeks after The Observer revealed the shocking story of Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, murdered because of her infatuation with a British soldier in Basra, southern Iraq, her father is defiant. Sitting in the front garden of his well-kept home in the city's Al-Fursi district, he remains a free man, despite having stamped on, suffocated and then stabbed his student daughter to death.

Homosexuality is punishable by death, a sentence Abdel-Qader approves of with a passion. 'I have alerted my two sons. They will have the same end [as Rand] if they become contaminated with any gay relationship. These crimes deserve death - death in the name of God," he said, and he added that his daughter's bad genes were passed on by her mother...

It takes a very long time and a good deal of education for people to change their views or gain enough confidence to examine long-held beliefs that have become part of their identity. Political scientists concern themselves with the question of change, which includes progress towards more freedom; there's a wealth of writings views on change, and the kind of desirable change. Yes, change can be slow coming as societies often move like molasses. Or, change can be imposed from above with the force of either the state or an external source. Let's not look far, civil rights in our own country were enforced by federal troops not so long ago.

Unfortunately, a bunch of ideological idiots and incompetent bureaucrats were in charge of the occupation of Iraq. Instead of bringing change, they unleashed all the evils present in a ill-concocted country like Iraq--where religious factions, tribalism, thuggery, and old unsettled scores got a chance to surface because of the US invasion produced a failed state.

When Germany and Japan were occupied after WW2, they were cohesive nations, but nevertheless, there was enough military occupying power to dictate how the new politics, and to a great extend the legal system, were to proceed. This situation produced stable democratic countries that are our allies today.

The best thing the US should be doing is to promote the ideals of freedom and lead by example. The age of the military empires is gone so the imposition of freedom from above or from the outside isn't possible any longer--not that the former imperialist empires had freedom on their minds or in their practice...

People in unfree countries have to see the benefits and the quality of life enjoyed by those who do have liberty. Modernity can be threatening to traditional societies and there'll always be reactionary movements, but modernity coupled with liberal freedoms can be attractive too. The US should encourage this kind of progress. One way to influence countries is by offering help--which is cheaper, and dare say, more effective than the militaristic approach favored by the neocons. For example, eliminating malaria in Africa for $12 billion is a bargain, and the benefit many-fold, measured in human lives and good will towards the US.

We need smart people in positions of leadership who can re-evaluate the strategy and long-term interests of the US. Without giving in to those who want to impose ideas and political systems unfit for modern humans, we have to think big, outside the sophomoronic approach of: I can punch you really hard...

The more peace, health, education & prosperity spreads, the more likely to have stable conditions for a liberal democracy to flourish. The more of those democracies, the better for all us the world will be. Now, that's a great progressive culture of life!