Posted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 5:45 am Post subject: FORMS OF GOVERNANCE
"It can be overwhelming at times to ponder the vast array of new problems which seem to multiply in this globalised world.
These include the implications of new technologies and new scientific insights, raising new ethical and legal questions. They include delicate and complex ecological issues, such as the great challenge of climate change. They include matters ranging from the widening gap between rich and poor, to issues of proper governance and effective, fair, and representative government, and to the spread of rampant consumerism and greed, at the expense of others, or of our environment. In some communities, illiteracy and innumeracy are not only continuing problems but are even growing problems. And our challenges also include the increasing difficulty of nurturing pluralism in the face of strong normative trends - finding ways to accommodate our differences - even as hugely differing peoples find themselves in much closer contact with one another." (Excerpt, Prince Rahim, Commencement Address, IIS Graduation, Sept 10, 2007)
A few weeks ago I sat down with an interviewer from the British Broadcasting Company who asked me 10 questions about democracy. I was only one of many who were being interviewed for a series of programs and films that bear the general title “Why Democracy?” Starting today — October 8 — what the producers call “the world’s largest ever factual multi-media event” will be transmitted on television, radio and online in more than 200 countries with a hoped-for audience of 300 million. The intention is to “spark debate” and provoke a massive online discussion.
I thought I’d do my part by rehearsing some of the questions along with the answers I gave and invite readers to respond with their own answers or with criticisms of mine.
Two of the questions are related to one another: “What is the biggest threat to democracy?” and “Can terrorism destroy democracy?” The answers depend on what you think democracy is. I tend to resist romantic definitions that feature phrases like “noble ideal” and opt instead for something more analytic: democracy is a form of government that is not attached to any pre-given political or ideological ends, but allows ends to be chosen by the majority vote of free citizens.
What this means is that democracy is the only form of government that, at least theoretically, contemplates its own demise with equanimity. Democratic elections do not guarantee that the victors will be democratically inclined, and it is always possible that those who gain control of the legislative process will pass laws that erode or even repeal the rights – of property, free expression and free movement – that distinguish democracies from theocracies and monarchies. (Some would say that this is exactly what has been happening in the past six years.) Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes captured the fragility of a form of government that can alter itself beyond the point of recognition when he said that if his fellow citizens want to go to hell in a handbasket, it was his job to help them, even if he deplored the consequences. Democracy, then, can be said to be its own biggest threat.
Terrorism presents a parallel threat from the outside. The danger is not so much that terrorists will defeat democracies by force as it is that, in resisting terrorists, democracies will forgo the procedural safeguards (against warrantless detention, censorship and secret surveillance) that make a democracy what it is. (Again, some would say that is already happening today.) If terrorists can maneuver democracies into employing tactics indistinguishable from theirs, it could be argued that they have won no matter what the outcome on the battlefield.
Two other questions are also related to one another: “Are dictators ever good?” and “Is democracy for everyone?” The question of whether dictators are ever good turns on the prior question of what you want a government to provide. If you are concerned with personal freedoms and don’t want society policing everyone’s behavior, a strong , permanent and intrusive executive will have little if any appeal. But if, like Thomas Hobbes, stability and security matter more to you than anything, you might warm to the idea of an absolute sovereign who is strong enough to protect you from your neighbor and protect both of you from foreign enemies.
The same reasoning applies to the question of whether democracy is good for everyone. It depends on whether you think democracy is the form of government history has been working its way toward (Francis Fukuyama’s thesis in “The End of History”) or is merely one option among others. If you are of the former opinion (as the present administration seems to be), you will believe that the more your adversaries are exposed to democratic ideas, the more attractive they will find them. But if you distrust teleological arguments (as I tend to), you will be skeptical of the possibility of exporting democracy and think of it instead as something others might take or leave, depending on what they hold dear.
Given that democracy privileges some values — personal mobility, individual entrepreneurialism, tolerance, cosmopolitanism — and downplays others — community, ideological conformity, cultural stability — its attraction will vary with the values a particular society embraces. A society for example that rests on a strong religious foundation may find some democratic practices useful, but it will not be inclined to fight and die for them.
This brings me to another of the questions. “Is God democratic?” That one’s easy. God, like Hobbes’ sovereign, requires obedience, and those who worship him must subordinate their personal desires to his will. (Here the Abraham/Isaac story is paradigmatic.) His rule, therefore, is the antithesis of democracy, which elevates individual choice to a position of primacy. That doesn’t mean, however, that God frowns on democratic states or requires a theocratic one or has any political opinions at all. (On the other hand, someone who, like Walt Whitman, believes that God is not a separate being but resides in each of us might conclude that democracy is the deity’s favored form of government.)
One question I was asked seemed to me to involve a category mistake: “Can democracy solve climate change?” Solving the problems of climate change, if it can be done, will be a matter of advances in technology and alterations in personal and corporate behavior in response to state directives and regulations. No political system is either naturally suited to the task or barred by definition from performing it. Politics and technology are independent variables.
Another question offered a trap: “Are women more democratic than men?” That’s like asking, “Are men more decisive than women?” Any answer you give will get you in trouble with half the world. The idea that qualities of character and temperament are gendered is a very old one and every generation has a new account of the differences. In recent years we have been told that women incline toward connection, compromise, empathy and conversation, while men like to stand on their own and establish boundaries that sharply separate them from one another. If this is so , men are more democratic than women because democracy, especially American-style democracy, is more rights-based than it is communitarian. But I am skeptical of these binaries and therefore of the question.
I found one question too general and ambitious: “Who or what rules the world?” Capital? American consumer culture? Religious fervor? My answer would be “contingency.” You never know what’s going to happen or what forces will be unleashed by unforeseen events.
I passed on another question because I’m too old to answer it: “What would make you start a revolution?” At my age, nothing. If things got really bad, I’d look for a place to hole up.
The final question put to me was, “Whom would you vote for as President of the World?” I know whom I’d like to vote for. Someone wise, learned, strong, courageous, compassionate, authoritative, incorruptible, inspiring, capable and good-looking. No one living (or dead) came to mind, so I settled for a fictional character, Atticus Finch, at least as he was played by Gregory Peck. (Morgan Freeman in any number of roles is another possibility.)
Freedom and democracy take time to grab hold
U.S. acts like a despot by imposing beliefs
John van Sloten
For The Calgary Herald
Sunday, November 04, 2007
How would the world change if western nations decided to extend democracy instead of impose it? As an alternative to going in all guns ablazing and saying, "You don't act, look or treat people democratically enough and we're here to force you to change," what if western powers chose instead to engage that country -- on a country-to-country basis -- in a more democratic way?
What if the United States, for example, chose to treat sovereign nations like North Korea, Syria or Iran with the same democratic principles that they expect their citizens to live by?
There are many democratic tenets that are often touted south of the border: the right to bear arms, the rule of law, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These are all very good things. What would happen if these rights and freedoms, held so near and dear, were actually lived out on the international foreign policy stage?
Imagine how things might change.
A superpower shows more patience toward other developing nations -- as they build up their weapons capacity -- because they really do believe in the right to bear arms. "We cherish this value here at home, why wouldn't we extend these same rights to others?
"We insist on the right to defend ourselves. How can we not freely give that right to them? The right to bear arms is what protects our country from autocracies, from being bullied by a ruling class or another nation. Why not live this value out on the global stage as well (it might just keep us honest as well!)?"
A first-world nation freely and patiently "allows" a second-world nation to express and live out its "backward" beliefs because individual choice and freedom of speech are inalienable rights on all levels. Even though the western world knows that, for example, the "gender suppressing" sentiments expressed by that developing country are not the best or the most equitable, they fully allow that society to believe what it believes, for a time.
They show patience because they understand that democratic ideals do not take hold overnight. (After all, it wasn't all that long ago that the women in their countries didn't have the vote).
Imagine a capitalist superpower allowing a communist despot his atheistic say; giving him the right to not believe in a god, to follow a socialist way, to promote a less than equitable non-religious stance, all because they decided to globally live out the democratic ideal of freedom of religion.
What if the right to a speedy trial applied to all citizens, domestic and international? Would the shame of Guantanamo even exist?
What if the rule of law were a principle with universal application?
Would the concept of pre-emptive war even have a chance of gaining a foothold?
What if the wholly humane insistence on "no cruel and unusual punishment" was an ideal that had no borders? Would the word "rendition" have ever taken on its brutal new meaning? Would the name Maher Arar have ever evoked so deep a feeling of injustice?
What if the values of, "justice . . . tranquility . . . common defence . . . general welfare . . . secured blessings of liberty . . . for ourselves and our posterity," (from the preamble of the United States Constitution) were values that were applied to all nations on Earth, on a state-to-state basis?
The realist in us (the cynic) reads these words and screams out, "Naive! Foolish idealism! You cannot trust those countries. Their intentions are evil and they need to be stopped! Remember the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, Rwanda . . . "
It's hard not to agree. Human beings -- whole groups at times -- are capable of indescribable atrocities. History has proven this fact. When we see these kinds of behaviours arise -- when multilaterally identified, discerned and debated -- they must be opposed.
But, in our opposition, we must never forget that we too are part of that human race. We too are capable of incredible self-delusion, hypocrisy and malevolence. Recent history has certainly proven this fact.
We need to learn from our mistakes. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves some hard questions before we proceed with any unilateral action. Are we seeing things fairly? Are our motivations pure? Are we being consistent here? Is what we're asking of them something we'd be willing to live with ourselves?
Is what we're calling a "just response to an undemocratic act" being confused with an "underdeveloped decision or action of a yet-to-be democratized society?"
Our democracies took hundreds of years to develop. And our rights and freedoms were born in blood.
We had to learn our democratic ideals the hard way, by making lots of messy mistakes; fighting, colonializing, enslaving and subjugating.
How in the world can we insist that other nations instantly understand what we took generations to understand?
We need to realize where these other countries live and that they genuinely can't see what we see when we envision the democratic ideal. They haven't lived enough democratic developmental history yet. They haven't gone through the process.
And we need to understand that when we try to impose what we so clearly understand and believe as right, they see nations that are acting like unilateral dictators, autocratic overlords and democratic fundamentalists.
They see hypocrisy: "Those western nations say one thing and they do another. They talk freedom and then they take ours away."
Again, freedom can never be imposed, nor can it be taught in a quick fix manner. Like all true visions, it must be caught.
If we want democracy to spread, perhaps we need to realize that the best pedagogy is a modelled one; nation to nation.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and we'll be much further ahead.
John van Sloten is pastor of the New Hope Christian Reformed Church.
November 11, 2007
Democracy’s Root: Diversity
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Last Tuesday, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican — the first audience ever by the head of the Catholic Church with a Saudi monarch. The Saudi king gave the pope two gifts: a golden sword studded with jewels, and a gold and silver statue depicting a palm tree and a man riding a camel.
The BBC reported that the pope “admired the statue but merely touched the sword.” I think it is a great thing these two men met, and that King Abdullah came bearing gifts. But what would have really caught my attention — and the world’s — would have been if King Abdullah had presented the pope with something truly daring: a visa.
You see, the king of Saudi Arabia, also known as the Keeper of the Two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina, can visit the pope in the Vatican. But the pope can’t visit the king of Saudi Arabia in the Vatican of Islam — Mecca. Non-Muslims are not allowed there. Moreover, it is illegal to build a church, a synagogue or a Hindu or Buddhist temple in Saudi Arabia, or to practice any of these religions publicly.
As BBCnews.com noted, “some Christian worship services are held secretly, but the government has been known to crack down on them, or deport Filipino workers if they hold even private services. ... The Saudi authorities cite a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad that only Islam can be practiced in the Arabian Peninsula.”
I raise this point because the issue of diversity — how and under what conditions should “the other” be tolerated — is roiling the Muslim world today, from Lebanon to Iraq to Pakistan. More churches and mosques have been blown up in the past few years than any time I can remember.
A senior French official suggested to me that maybe we in the West, rather than trying to promote democracy in the Middle East — a notion tainted by its association with the very Western powers that once colonized the region — should be focusing on promoting diversity, which has historical roots in the area.
It’s a valid point. The very essence of democracy is peaceful rotations of power, no matter whose party or tribe is in or out. But that ethic does not apply in most of the Arab-Muslim world today, where the political ethos remains “Rule or Die.” Either my group is in power or I’m dead, in prison, in exile or lying very low. But democracy is not about majority rule; it is about minority rights. If there is no culture of not simply tolerating minorities, but actually treating them with equal rights, real democracy can’t take root.
But respect for diversity is something that has to emerge from within a culture. We can hold a free and fair election in Iraq, but we can’t inject a culture of diversity. America and Europe had to go through the most awful civil wars to give birth to their cultures of diversity. The Arab-Muslim world will have to go through the same internal war of ideas.
I just returned from India, which just celebrated 60 years of democracy. Pakistan, right next door, is melting down. Yet, they are basically the same people — they look alike, they eat the same food, they dress alike. But there is one overriding difference: India has a culture of diversity. India is now celebrating 60 years of democracy precisely because it is also celebrating millennia of diversity, including centuries of Muslim rule.
Nayan Chanda, author of a delightful new book on globalization titled “Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization,” recounts the role of all these characters in connecting our world. He notes: “The Muslim Emperor Akbar, who ruled India in the 16th century at the pinnacle of the Mughal Empire, had Christians, Hindus, Jain and Zoroastrians in his court. Many of his senior officials were Hindus. On his deathbed, Jesuit priests tried to convert him, but he refused. Here was a man who knew who he was, yet he had respect for all religions. Nehru, a Hindu and India’s first prime minister, was a great admirer of Akbar.”
Akbar wasn’t just tolerant. He was embracing of other faiths and ideas, which is why his empire was probably the most powerful in Indian history. Pakistan, which has as much human talent as India, could use an Akbar. Ditto the Arab world.
I give King Abdullah credit, though. His path-breaking meeting with the pope surely gave many Saudi clerics heartburn. But as historic as it was, it left no trace. I wished the pope had publicly expressed a desire to visit Saudi Arabia, and that the king would now declare: “Someone has to chart a new path for our region. If I can meet the pope in the Vatican, I can host Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Shiite and Buddhist religious leaders for a dialogue in our sacred house. Why not? We are secure in our own faith. Let us all meet as equals.”
Muslim democracy: An oxymoron?
Democracy in Muslim Societies by Zoya Hasan (ed)
Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia
Whether Islam and democracy can coexist within the same socio-political space has long been debated by lay persons and academics. On one hand are defensive claims insisting that Islam has all the value ingredients compatible with democracy and that the religion has been "twisted" out of context by a small minority of hotheads. This side believes that there is nothing about Islam per se that inhibits democracy from flowering and blames narrow cultural frames for misstating the problem.
On the other hand are studies showing that, empirically, Muslim countries have fared very poorly in terms of democratic form or substance compared to non-Muslim countries. This side argues that there is something in the authority patterns of Muslim values that subverts genuine democracy.
Since 70% of the world's Muslims live in non-Arab Asian countries, evidence in this debate has to include them and not just the homogeneous block of Arab states. Zoya Hasan's new edited volume containing six case studies and posits that one must grasp the varieties and multiple paths taken by Muslim politics in the quest for democracy.
The editor's introductory essay asserts that a "shift from Arab to Asian societies" as units of analysis is an "intellectual move" challenging stereotypical discussions of Muslim politics after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. The message is that the political language of Islam is not uniform and one has to delve into the national contexts and peculiarities of each case. Hasan contends that Islam is in constant interaction with its socio-economic and political environment, especially its colonial heritage, state-society relations, international setting and stage of development. Islam cannot be the only factor of interest in assessing chances of democracy because there are other variables that have a bearing on the issue.
Amena Mohsin and Meghna Guhathakurta's chapter on Bangladesh reflects on why the country has been steadily Islamizing in violation of its original secular democratic aspirations. The military-bureaucratic elites inherited notions of a divine right to rule from the Pakistan era and, lacking legitimacy, used Islam to shore up their rule. Under General Zia ur-Rahman, the state identified itself with Islam and persecuted Hindus, Ahmadiyas or Qadiyanis. It engineered demographic shifts to dilute the ethnic composition of minorities. Society was turned toward a "mosque-centric" direction and politics became "street-centric" during General H M Ershad's dictatorship. Despite 15 years of formal democracy, the army remains unaccountable to the public, who cannot freely criticize it due to constitutional forbidding.
Even the liberal Awami League party uses religion in all its activities and does not clearly advocate reinstituting secularism in the constitution. Political leaders of all spectrums oppose civil society activism in the name of traditional religious values. The culture of intolerance, hatred and violence of political parties goes hand in hand with terrorist activities that have "intruded into the popular psyche" since the mid-1990s. The state's total failure to check terrorist threats to democracy is ascribed by many to the fact that Bangladeshi rulers themselves patronize Islamic fundamentalism. Politicization of the bureaucracy and judiciary and the absence of internal democracy within parties are other obstacles to democratic practice.
Adriana Elisapeth narrates how Indonesia's moderate majority are "powerless in preventing the growth of militant groups committing violent actions against non-Muslims". (p 75) Ironically, democratization in the post-Suharto era opened the floodgates for expression of overtly religious identities. Once competitive politics began after 1998, the idea of an Islamic state under sharia law was revived by extremists. Though the country is now under civilian rule, "religious ideas could not strictly be separated from the bases of state behavior". (p 93)
Thanks to authoritarian values of "blind obedience", it remains impossible to force Indonesia's military out of politics altogether. Islamist outfits like Laskar Jihad receive financial support and ammunition from within the army's ranks and from fellow jihadis in southern Philippines. They force minorities to live in mortal fear and are also responsible for enforcing severely gender discriminatory laws of sharia. Low keenness of civilian politicians in countering militant Islam is partly responsible for turning the country into a "hotbed of terrorism in Southeast Asia". (p 9
Sadegh Zibakalam's chronicle of democracy in Iran documents how the post-1979 Islamic Republic suppressed the democratic elements of the struggle against the shah and made it appear as if the revolution was intended to create an Islamic state. Rivalries among different political factions and Islamic strands led to purging of moderate and liberal leaders from the revolutionary spectrum and their replacement by fundamentalists. Critics of the current dispensation in Tehran blame the constitution as a stumbling block against any democratic improvement. Too much power belongs to unelected institutions that veto progressive legislation, disqualify electoral candidates for lacking "appropriate Islamic credentials", and deliver religiously biased justice. The author finds some solace in the degree of freedom accorded to the press and relaxation of codes of conduct to form associations and non-governmental organizations.
Abdul Rahman Embong portrays Malaysia as a state that "attempts to negotiate with Western modernity and redeem Islam as a progressive religion". (p129) This most industrially advanced Muslim country has maintained a parliamentary democracy with tolerance toward minorities, although Islam is the official religion. Reasonably free elections have been held since 1959 and a grand "consociational" alliance of parties provides stability.
The problem, which Embong brushes under the carpet, is absence of turnover of governments, as the same ruling alliance has been winning every single election. Should the Islamist opposition ever triumph at the polls, a theocracy could possibly be attempted. Authoritarian tactics like crushing of dissent and suborning of the judiciary, particularly during the reign of Mahathir Mohamad, also place a question mark on the quality of Malaysia's democracy. Provinces ruled by Islamists take strict measures to curb "moral decadence" and government bureaucracies go about enforcing the "official doctrine of Islam" and prohibiting "deviationist activities". (p 159) Increasing Islamization and proselytization backed by law are also generating "scary" moments for non-Muslims.
Mohammad Waseem's enlightening chapter on Pakistan focuses on deficits in the project of state building that created imbalances in favor of the army and bureaucracy at the cost of civil society and the legislature. The migrant Muslim professional class, which was the backbone of the Pakistan movement, had a "well-established 'statist' perspective of paternalistic rule over an illiterate peasant society". (p 190) It captured the new state’s apparatus and institutionalized strong centralist connotations of governance.
Lacking a meaningful electoral constituency of their own, state elites worked against the principle of majority rule. The Pakistani army always favored presidentialism over parliamentarism in order to keep the position of chief executive safe from accountability and to ensure stable tenure. It deliberately weakened political parties through the device of "grassroots-level government". All along, Pakistan's state elites tried to "manage ethnic politics with the help of Islamic ideology", handing over formal or informal dictatorial power over society to mullahs.
Waseem avers that the Islamist ascendancy, which has currently peaked, "needs to be understood in the context of an unstable regional setting, the civil-military crisis at home and the ideological framework of politics in Pakistan". (p 212) Strategic alliances of military dictators with the US have perpetuated the undemocratic and terrorist currents emanating from this country.
Korel Goymen's article on Turkey underlines the wholesale borrowing of Western institutions and techniques after 1923 as crucial for the development of democracy. Overhauling the clerical hierarchy and Shari’a law brought about a radical change from a religious empire to a secular republic. Mustafa Kemal's "cultural offensive" to secularize public life set definitive limits on the political role that Islam could play. However, traditional Islamic forces remained alive and mobilized the suspicions and fears of the masses against modernizing elites once the transition to a multi-party system occurred after World War II.
The Turkish army appointed itself as the guardian of Kemal's legacy and began acting as a bulwark against religiously-inspired parties. Coups in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997 were all targeted at manifestations of political Islam. Elected governments led by conservative religious parties are currently accepted by the military, but with apprehensions. Urban and better educated Turks also remain extremely nervous about the recent successes of political Islam.
However, Turkish Islamists have operated within secular-democratic channels and do not possess the extremist gene found elsewhere. The present Islamic ruling party has even passed legislation against discrimination of homosexuals. Goymen attributes this exceptionalism to historical sequencing. "Republican Turkey initiated and consolidated its secular project before allowing Islam to play a role in politics." (p 239)
Censorship of the media and military meddling to "correct" politicians' mistakes are two outstanding bottlenecks that the country still grapples with. Paradoxically, Goymen remarks that "most citizens are comfortable with the military's role as a guardian of democracy". (p 243) He also mentions the European Union's accession "road maps" as external stimulants for Turkey to deepen its democratic potential.
A common theme emerging from this book is that Islam has been manipulated by two types of actors - conservative authoritarian rulers who need props for social acceptance, and radical social activists who need a mobilizing creed against dictatorship or central government oppression. Hasan moots ijtihad (open interpretation of Islam) as the mechanism behind this instrumental use of religion that damages democracy.
Unfortunately, she does not comparatively examine non-Muslim countries to see if religion has similarly been manipulated. What explains the relative infrequency of religious manipulation as a tool of regime legitimization or de-legitimization in non-Muslim countries? Does it boil down to whether a religion has institutions like ijtihad or does it go deeper into the way different organized faiths extract submission from believers?
Is it easier to mobilize the masses for revolution or to consecrate a tyranny using Islam in a Muslim country than using Buddhism in a Buddhist country, Hinduism in a Hindu country, or Christianity in a Christian country? What is the link between the method of struggle or legitimation chosen by actors in a country and its dominant religion? Owing to its dogmatic stress on non-cultural factors, the book fails to probe these interesting puzzles.
Democracy in Muslim Societies. The Asian Experience by Zoya Hasan (ed). Sage Publications, New Delhi, September 2007. ISBN: 9780761935667. Price: US$$49.95, 266 pages.
Four 13th century copies of the Magna Carta, considered to be one of the most important documents in the history of democracy, go on public display next week for the first time in nearly 800 years.
The four, three of which date from 1217 and one from 1225, are held by Oxford University's Bodleian Library and represent nearly one quarter of the surviving 13th century Magna Carta manuscripts in the world. "These three 1217 charters are a unique historical collection," said librarian Sarah Thomas. "No other institution can boast such a concentration of Magna Cartae."
The Magna Carta was signed by England's King John at Runnymede near Windsor just to the west of London in 1215 under intense pressure from rebellious barons who had captured London in protest at his exercise of arbitrary power over them.
In return for the concessions granted in the charter which effectively assured the barons of their feudal rights, the barons pledged allegiance to the English throne.
While it contains few sweeping statements of principle, it did establish in writing for the first time that the power of the monarch did have limits.
As such it is considered to be one of the cornerstones of democracy despite the fact that in restating feudal laws it has little or nothing to do with either human or equal rights.
Only four copies of the original charter dated 1215 survive, of which two are held by the British Library.
But the document was reissued regularly by or on behalf of succeeding monarchs, and only 17 of those dating from the 13th century now survive.
Apart from the four held by the Bodleian Library -- which houses more than eight million books and many other manuscripts -- the others are held at nine locations in Britain, Australia and the U.S.
The Bodleian's collection will go on public show for just six hours at Oxford's Divinity School on Dec. 11. ahead of a sale on Dec. 18 by Sotheby's in New York of a copy of the Magna Carta owned by Ross Perot and priced at up to $30 million
Increasing numbers of Canadians believe that an "ethics deficit" exists in the political arena. Crudely put, they think that too many politicians and their friends are liars or crooks or both. Shawinigate, the sponsorship scandal, revelations and allegations surrounding cash payouts by Karlheinz Schreiber -- all tend to reinforce this perception.
The breadth and depth of the ethics deficit in national politics contributes directly to the "democracy deficit" -- declining public confidence in political leaders, parties, candidates, elections and elected bodies such as Parliament. It also makes it increasingly difficult to recruit men and women of integrity and ability to run for public office. So what might be done to fix it? n Political education: "Ethics" must become an integral part of the training and education of political participants including volunteers, constituency and party executives, campaign managers and candidates, elected representatives, cabinet ministers and leaders.
Since modern political parties are basically marketing mechanisms for fighting elections, and do very little development of their own human resources, training and education must largely be provided by others close to but not part of the party machinery.
For example, two programs being developed by the Manning Centre for Building Democracy -- a school of practical politics and an advanced level program in political management -- seek to provide this service. Ten years ago, ethics would not have been an explicit part of the curriculum. Today -- post-Enron, post-sponsorship scandal -- it is a must. n A stronger role for Justice: In the early 1990s, it became popular to acknowledge and address the ethics deficit in politics by drafting new codes of conduct for politicians and civil servants and by appointing ethics commissioners or watchdogs to enforce them. While this approach may have some merit, it did nothing to prevent the sponsorship scandal or the ethical laxity that permitted it, and appears to make ethical considerations an add-on to the regular business of politics and government rather than an integral part of that business.
A better approach is to rely much more heavily on making the federal Justice Department and the provincial attorneys general the primary guardians of the ethics of governments and the political system.
One premier, with whom I'm familiar, would periodically assemble his caucus and senior civil servants and lay down the rule: "Those who make the laws and those who administer the laws must keep the laws, for when we fail to do so we lose the moral authority to govern." To give weight to this imperative, he let it be known that he had charged the deputy attorney general and several key members of his staff to randomly, but systematically, scrutinize all government contracts and transactions, and to report any appearance of conflict of interest or ethical misconduct to the attorney general and himself.
Maintaining the integrity of the government, the legislature, and the provincial political machinery was not some "add-on" to the normal business of government in response to some particular instance of chicanery -- it was to be an integral part of the administration of justice. n Strengthening public ethics: One of the oldest maxims of democratic politics is that we generally get the type of government we deserve. Thus only rarely will the ethical standards of a government or legislature exceed those of the population that elects them.
If we are prepared to fleece our neighbours by cheating on our income taxes, it should not surprise us if some politician democratically elected to represent us is prepared to fleece us by misappropriating public funds.
If we are prepared to utilize near truths, half truths and even lies to advance our personal or business interests, it should not surprise us if those we elect to represent us also use near truths, half truths and even lies to advance their political interests.
Years ago, I conducted a poll prior to a municipal election asking voters the simple question: "Did you vote in the last municipal election?" It turned out that twice as many respondents answered "yes" as had actually voted. In other words, one out of two electors didn't tell the truth in response to this question. I would then argue with my friends that we should not complain if half the people elected to city council turned out to be liars -- since they would simply be representing their constituents! Raising our own ethical standards as citizens and voters is also an integral component of overcoming the ethics deficit in the political arena.
And what if . . . what if, over the past 20 years, public demand for ethical political behaviour had been stronger and more vocal? . . . if the federal justice minister had been specifically charged with ensuring that those who made and administered the laws kept the laws? . . . and if political practitioners from campaign volunteers to cabinet ministers had received consistent and vigorous training in political ethics? Would it have made any difference? Perhaps not with respect to the ethical standards of the Prime Minister's Office under Brian Mulroney or Jean Chretien. But surely it would have made a difference further down the ladder. Surely at least one of the dozens of people who knew about the illegal sponsorship payments or dubious dealings of Karlheinz Schreiber would have blown the whistle earlier.
Surely the Justice Department would have then acted more vigorously than any ethics commissioner or public inquiry. And surely an alerted public would have made the "ethics deficit" a major federal election issue long before 2004 or 2006. Ethical behaviour matters -- in politics and government -- and it is up to political practitioners, public officials and you and me as voters to insist that this be so.
Preston Manning is a former leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons. He is currently a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute and president and CEO of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy.
Thursday, Dec. 27, 2007
Enough with Democracy!
By Robert Baer
Benazir Bhutto's assassination Thursday should put a bitter end to the Bush Administration's misguided policy of shoving democracy down the throat of the Middle East and Muslim world. Since 9/11 there has not been a single country in that region that has had peaceful and successful elections. Hamas's victory in Gaza, the stalemate in Lebanon, elections in Iraq and now Pakistan — none of them have led to the stability, modernity and civil society this Administration promised us.
The common denominator between Pakistan, Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq is an ongoing war, wars without end, wars that poison democracy. The Bush Administration is particularly culpable in creating the chaos in Pakistan because it forced a premature reconciliation between President Musharraf and Bhutto; it forced Musharraf to lift martial law; it showered money on Musharraf to fight a war that was never popular in Pakistan. The Administration could not understand that it can't have both in Pakistan — a democracy and a war on terrorism.
The immediate reaction in the United Sates will be visceral: al-Qaeda killed Bhutto because she was too secular and too close to the United States, an agent of American imperialism. It will be of some comfort that the front lines of terrorism are thousands of miles away; that we are fighting "them" there rather than in lower Manhattan; that there are heroes like Bhutto ready to fight and die for democracy, moderation and rationality.
But this misses the point. The real problem in Pakistan undermining democracy is that it is a deeply divided, artificial country, created by the British for their expediency rather than for the Pakistanis. Independent Pakistan has always been dominated by a strong military. And democracy will only be nurtured when the wars on its border come to an end, whether in Afghanistan or Kashmir, and the need for the military to meddle in politics is removed. And never before.
Another irony underscored by Bhutto's assassination is that after 9/11 the Bush Administration justified going to war in Iraq to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But as of today all that it has managed to do is invade two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which has weapons of mass destruction, while leaving Iran and Pakistan to fester — two countries that one day very well promise to threaten us with their weapons of mass destruction.
It is high time Americans return a pragmatic President to the White House. When George H.W. Bush, James Baker and Norman Schwartzkopf decided not to occupy Iraq in 1991 at the end of the first Gulf War, they understood that imposing an American-style democracy wasn't going to work.
Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is TIME.com's intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down
It's wrong for the West simply to mourn Benazir Bhutto as a martyred democrat, says this acclaimed south Asia expert. Her legacy is far murkier and more complex.
Sunday December 30, 2007
One of Benazir Bhutto's more dubious legacies to Pakistan is the Prime Minister's house in the middle of Islamabad. The building is a giddy, pseudo-Mexican ranch house with white walls and a red tile roof. There is nothing remotely Islamic about the building which, as my minder said when I went there to interview the then Prime Minister Bhutto, was 'PM's own design'. Inside, it was the same story. Crystal chandeliers dangled sometimes two or three to a room; oils of sunflowers and tumbling kittens that would have looked at home on the Hyde Park railings hung below garishly gilt cornices.
The place felt as though it might be the weekend retreat of a particularly flamboyant Latin-American industrialist, but, in fact, it could have been anywhere. Had you been shown pictures of the place on one of those TV game-shows where you are taken around a house and then have to guess who lives there, you may have awarded this hacienda to virtually anyone except, perhaps, to the Prime Minister of an impoverished Islamic republic situated next door to Iran.
Which is, of course, exactly why the West always had a soft spot for Benazir Bhutto. Her neighbouring heads of state may have been figures as unpredictable and potentially alarming as President Ahmadinejad of Iran and a clutch of opium-trading Afghan warlords, but Bhutto has always seemed reassuringly familiar to Western governments - one of us. She spoke English fluently because it was her first language. She had an English governess, went to a convent run by Irish nuns and rounded off her education with degrees from Harvard and Oxford.
'London is like a second home for me,' she once told me. 'I know London well. I know where the theatres are, I know where the shops are, I know where the hairdressers are. I love to browse through Harrods and WH Smith in Sloane Square. I know all my favourite ice cream parlours. I used to particularly love going to the one at Marble Arch: Baskin Robbins. Sometimes, I used to drive all the way up from Oxford just for an ice cream and then drive back again. That was my idea of sin.'
It was difficult to imagine any of her neighbouring heads of state, even India's earnest Sikh economist, Manmohan Singh, talking like this.
For the Americans, what Benazir Bhutto wasn't was possibly more attractive even than what she was. She wasn't a religious fundamentalist, she didn't have a beard, she didn't organise rallies where everyone shouts: 'Death to America' and she didn't issue fatwas against Booker-winning authors, even though Salman Rushdie ridiculed her as the Virgin Ironpants in his novel Shame.
However, the very reasons that made the West love Benazir Bhutto are the same that gave many Pakistanis second thoughts. Her English might have been fluent, but you couldn't say the same about her Urdu which she spoke like a well-groomed foreigner: fluently, but ungrammatically. Her Sindhi was even worse; apart from a few imperatives, she was completely at sea.
English friends who knew Benazir at Oxford remember a bubbly babe who drove to lectures in a yellow MG, wintered in Gstaad and who to used to talk of the thrill of walking through Cannes with her hunky younger brother and being 'the centre of envy; wherever Shahnawaz went, women would be bowled over'.
This Benazir, known to her friends as Bibi or Pinky, adored royal biographies and slushy romances: in her old Karachi bedroom, I found stacks of well-thumbed Mills and Boons including An Affair to Forget, Sweet Imposter and two copies of The Butterfly and the Baron. This same Benazir also had a weakness for dodgy Seventies easy listening - 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree' was apparently at the top of her playlist. This is also the Benazir who had an enviable line in red-rimmed fashion specs and who went weak at the sight of marrons glace.
But there was something much more majestic, even imperial, about the Benazir I met when she was Prime Minister. She walked and talked in a deliberately measured and regal manner and frequently used the royal 'we'. At my interview, she took a full three minutes to float down the 100 yards of lawns separating the Prime Minister's house from the chairs where I had been told to wait for her. There followed an interlude when Benazir found the sun was not shining in quite the way she wanted it to. 'The sun is in the wrong direction,' she announced. Her hair was arranged in a sort of baroque beehive topped by a white gauze dupatta. The whole painted vision reminded me of one of those aristocratic Roman princesses in Caligula
This Benazir was a very different figure from that remembered by her Oxford contemporaries. This one was renowned throughout Islamabad for chairing 12-hour cabinet meetings and for surviving on four hours' sleep. This was the Benazir who continued campaigning after the suicide bomber attacked her convoy the very day of her return to Pakistan in October, and who blithely disregarded the mortal threat to her life in order to continue fighting. This other Benazir Bhutto, in other words, was fearless, sometimes heroically so, and as hard as nails.
More than anything, perhaps, Benazir was a feudal princess with the aristocratic sense of entitlement that came with owning great tracts of the country and the Western-leaning tastes that such a background tends to give. It was this that gave her the sophisticated gloss and the feudal grit that distinguished her political style. In this, she was typical of many Pakistani politicians. Real democracy has never thrived in Pakistan, in part because landowning remains the principle social base from which politicians emerge.
The educated middle class is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process. As a result, in many of the more backward parts of Pakistan, the feudal landowner expects his people to vote for his chosen candidate. As writer Ahmed Rashid put it: 'In some constituencies, if the feudals put up their dog as a candidate, that dog would get elected with 99 per cent of the vote.'
Today, Benazir is being hailed as a martyr for freedom and democracy, but far from being a natural democrat, in many ways, Benazir was the person who brought Pakistan's strange variety of democracy, really a form of 'elective feudalism', into disrepute and who helped fuel the current, apparently unstoppable, growth of the Islamists. For Bhutto was no Aung San Suu Kyi. During her first 20-month premiership, astonishingly, she failed to pass a single piece of major legislation. Amnesty International accused her government of having one of the world's worst records of custodial deaths, killings and torture.
Within her party, she declared herself the lifetime president of the PPP and refused to let her brother Murtaza challenge her. When he persisted in doing so, he ended up shot dead in highly suspicious circumstances outside the family home. Murtaza's wife Ghinwa and his daughter Fatima, as well as Benazir's mother, all firmly believed that Benazir gave the order to have him killed.
As recently as the autumn, Benazir did and said nothing to stop President Musharraf ordering the US and UK-brokered 'rendition' of her rival, Nawaz Sharif, to Saudi Arabia and so remove from the election her most formidable rival. Many of her supporters regarded her deal with Musharraf as a betrayal of all her party stood for.
Behind Pakistan's endless swings between military government and democracy lies a surprising continuity of elitist interests: to some extent, Pakistan's industrial, military and landowning classes are all interrelated and they look after each other. They do not, however, do much to look after the poor. The government education system barely functions in Pakistan and for the poor, justice is almost impossible to come by. According to political scientist Ayesha Siddiqa: 'Both the military and the political parties have all failed to create an environment where the poor can get what they need from the state. So the poor have begun to look to alternatives for justice. In the long term, flaws in the system will create more room for the fundamentalists.'
In the West, many right-wing commentators on the Islamic world tend to see the march of political Islam as the triumph of an anti-liberal and irrational 'Islamo-fascism'. Yet much of the success of the Islamists in countries such as Pakistan comes from the Islamists' ability to portray themselves as champions of social justice, fighting people such as Benazir Bhutto from the Islamic elite that rules most of the Muslim world from Karachi to Beirut, Ramallah and Cairo.
This elite the Islamists successfully depict as rich, corrupt, decadent and Westernised. Benazir had a reputation for massive corruption. During her government, the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International named Pakistan one of the three most corrupt countries in the world.
Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari, widely known as 'Mr 10 Per Cent', faced allegations of plundering the country. Charges were filed in Pakistan, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States to investigate their various bank accounts.
When I interviewed Abdul Rashid Ghazi in the Islamabad Red Mosque shortly before his death in the storming of the complex in July, he kept returning to the issue of social justice: 'We want our rulers to be honest people,' he said. 'But now the rulers are living a life of luxury while thousands of innocent children have empty stomachs and can't even get basic necessities.' This is the reason for the rise of the Islamists in Pakistan and why so many people support them: they are the only force capable of taking on the country's landowners and their military cousins.
This is why in all recent elections, the Islamist parties have hugely increased their share of the vote, why they now already control both the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan and why it is they who are most likely to gain from the current crisis.
Benazir Bhutto was a courageous, secular and liberal woman. But sadness at the demise of this courageous fighter should not mask the fact that as a pro-Western feudal leader who did little for the poor, she was as much a central part of Pakistan's problems as the solution to them.
· William Dalrymple's latest book, The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857, published by Bloomsbury, recently won the Duff Cooper Prize for History
Citizens worried over corporations' influence
Companies more powerful than governments: poll
CanWest News Service
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
The majority of the world's most informed, engaged and connected citizens believe large corporations have too much influence over government decisions and wield more power than governments, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs.
The survey found 74 per cent of respondents believe companies have too much influence over governments, while 69 per cent agreed that large companies are more powerful than governments.
The majority of these citizens, referred to as "intelligaged" by the pollster, back aggressive action by their governments to regulate the activities of national and multinational corporations.
Darrell Bricker, president of Ipsos Global Public Affairs, said the Internet has created a global public square where people can share their local experiences with a world audience. What happens in one corner of the world can quickly travel around the globe and influence the decisions and perceptions of people on a mass scale.
"The Internet is the great leveller," said Bricker. "What this shows is that the public is simply not willing to allow business to operate totally unfettered into the future. . . It's a sense of the coming weather."
Major corporations could face more government intervention and controls unless they become more sensitive to how global trends affect public perceptions, Bricker said.
In all, 22,000 people were surveyed between Oct. 18 and Oct. 31 in 22 countries classified as leading or emerging economic powerhouses.
Among Canada's "intelligaged" citizens, 80 per cent said large companies have too much influence over government decisions, 77 per cent said large companies have more power than the government, and the same proportion wanted more aggressive government regulation.
In the U.S. and around the world the numbers were similar, although only 67 per cent of U.S. respondents demanded more government controls.
January 11, 2008
Democracy by Other Means
By AIDAN HARTLEY
AS I write this, the crackle of gunfire is audible from the veranda of our farmhouse. Warriors of the Pokot and Samburu tribes are fighting a mile away. A bush fire engulfs the horizon. I hear the tally in blood so far is three Samburu warriors killed, while the Pokot have rustled 750 of their cattle.
Today I hope our farm and its workers will be spared the violence. But this was not the case two weeks ago on Boxing Day, the eve of Kenya’s elections, when Samburu rustlers armed with AK-47’s made off with 22 steers. The police were unable to respond, as they had to guard ballot boxes. So our neighbor Charles saved our cattle by charging his car at the raiders in a hail of bullets, which forced them to cut and run.
The world knows of Kenya’s vote-rigging scandal — of the rioting in Nairobi; the police assaults on the supporters of the opposition leader, Raila Odinga; the pogroms against traders and farmers of President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe. But we’ve watched it unfold in real time in our corner of central Kenya.
When the Kikuyus fled the village up the road from us, local food supplies quickly dried up, hunger set in among the mob and rioting flared again. Then a Samburu witch doctor announced that it was time for his warriors, supporters of Mr. Odinga, to advance on the Pokot tribesmen, who had backed Mr. Kibaki. He said he had found a way to turn Pokot bullets into rain — a promise that evidently precipitated the clashes erupting around me.
Over the last two weeks, we’ve stuck to our daily routines, as if it somehow might make the nightmare of what was unfolding over the horizon recede. Still, I devised an evacuation plan for our workers who were from the “wrong” tribes. We dug up the lawn to plant extra vegetables, not knowing how much livestock we’ll have down the road.
Still, and despite all the talk of another Rwanda, I think Kenya will pull back from the brink. This is mainly thanks to the basic decency of ordinary Kenyans — whose priorities are to work hard, educate their children, fear God and enjoy a few Tusker beers.
Nobody wants to believe Kenya is a typical African basket case. Nor is anybody banking on the swift intervention of the world community: not from Washington, with its string of disastrous foreign policies, or the African Union, which has had unmitigated diplomatic failures in Darfur and Somalia. Kenyans know only they themselves can prevent fresh chaos. Despite all the claims and counterclaims among the candidates, ordinary citizens also know the entire class of Kenyan political leaders is to blame. The African saying that “when elephants fight, the grass suffers” applies tragically. Kenyan politicians are paid more money than many of their counterparts in the West — though they rarely bother to turn up at Parliament.
Kenyan democracy has failed because ordinary people were encouraged to believe that the process in and of itself could bring change. So Kenya’s leaders — and often international observers — interpret democracy simply in terms of the ceremony of multiparty elections. Polls bestow legitimacy on politicians to pillage for five years until the next depressing cycle begins.
In the campaign rallies I attended, I saw no debate about policies, despite the country’s immense health, education, crime and poverty problems. The Big Men arrived by helicopter to address the voters in slums and forest clearings. When they spoke English for the Western news media’s benefit, they talked of human rights and democracy. But when they switched to local languages, it was pure venom and ethnic chauvinism. Praise-singers kowtowed to the candidates, who dozed, talked on their mobile phones and then waddled back to their helicopters, which blew dust into the faces of the poor on takeoff.
Mr. Odinga campaigned on a policy of federal decentralization known as majimboism. On paper, devolution of power in an African nation led by corrupt politicians seems to make sense. But on a local level, majimboism is interpreted another way: without functioning national institutions, decentralization becomes synonymous with mob rule. A few months ago a drunken power broker in a village wagged his finger and declared that after the elections all “outsiders” — meaning Kikuyus and whites — would be kicked out and their farms taken.
In any case, we can be certain that the violence will simply worsen the poverty that is itself the root cause of all Kenyan crises. Already we are seeing layoffs and a potential collapse of the tourism and agricultural industries. On the political front, perhaps the best we can hope is that Big Men will reach a deal and the tribes will put away their machetes and rifles. Then the Western press will trickle home, content that democracy has been re-established, while the people of Laikipia return to their daily struggle to survive.
Aidan Hartley is a columnist for The Spectator and the author of “The Zanzibar Chest,” a memoir.
January 18, 2008
How Voters Think
By DAVID BROOKS
People in my line of work try to answer certain questions. Why did Hillary surge after misting up in New Hampshire? Why have primary victories produced no momentum for the victors? Why did John McCain win among Republicans who oppose the Iraq war in both New Hampshire and Michigan, but lose among voters who support it?
The truth is that many of the theories we come up with are bogus. They are based on the assumption that voters make cold, rational decisions about who to vote for and can tell us why they decided as they did. This is false.
In reality, we voters — all of us — make emotional, intuitive decisions about who we prefer, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations to explain the choices that were already made beneath conscious awareness. “People often act without knowing why they do what they do,” Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, noted in an e-mail message to me this week. “The fashion of political writing this year is to suggest that people choose their candidate by their stand on the issues, but this strikes me as highly implausible.”
Nobody really knows how voters think, especially during primary seasons when the policy differences are minute, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the cognitive chain went something like this:
After seeing a candidate for 100 milliseconds, voters make certain sorts of judgments based on expressiveness, facial structure, carriage and attitude. Alexander Todorov of Princeton has found that he can predict 70 percent of political races just by measuring peoples’ snap judgments of candidates’ faces.
Then, having formed an impression from these thin-slice appraisals, voters rack their memory banks. Decades ago, Kahneman and Amos Tversky argued that human judgment is less a matter of calculating probabilities and more a matter of trying to fit new things into familiar patterns. Maybe John Edwards reminds one voter of the sort of person he disliked in high school. Maybe Barack Obama evokes the elevated feeling another voter felt watching John F. Kennedy.
It is no accident that the major candidates in the Republican field are a pastor, a businessman and a war hero. These are the three most evocative Republican leadership models. Nor is it an accident that the Democratic race is a clash between a daughter of the feminist movement, a beneficiary of the civil rights movement and a self-styled proletarian. These are powerful Democratic categories.
In making these associations, voters are trying to perform trait inference. They are trying to divine inner abilities from outward signs.
At the same time, voters embark on an emotional journey with candidates. Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux have shown that emotion isn’t the opposite of reason. We use emotion to assign value to things, thus making decision-making possible.
As the campaign drags on, voters see candidates at different events. Maybe at one event Mitt Romney smiled without dipping the outer edge of his eyebrows. This is a cue that the smile is fake, and produces distrust. On the other hand, maybe he vowed to bring all the manufacturing jobs back to Michigan. A voter might have known this was impossible, but appreciated the concern nonetheless.
As the months go on, emotions oscillate and voter preferences do, too. Voters listen to policy proposals and infer character traits. A social contagion like Obamamania might sweep the country. A global shock might set off a wave of fear, producing a powerful intellectual cascade.
Social tribes rally for and against certain candidates. Rush Limbaugh is currently going bananas because Mike Huckabee threatens to disrupt the community of conservative dittoheads he has spent decades cohering. Work by researchers at Stanford’s Business School suggests that the voting environment itself — in say a church or a school — can influence choices.
Each of us has an unconscious but consistent way of construing the world. Some of us light up when we see a candidate being intelligent, others when we see a candidate being friendly or sentimental. This is the mode we use every day to make sense of the world.
My own intuition is that this unconscious cognition is pretty effective. People are skilled at judging character. And through reading, thinking and close observation, they can educate their unconscious to make smarter and finer distinctions.
But if there is one lesson from this wacky primary season, it is that we analysts should be careful about imposing a false order on voter decision-making. We can do our best to discern how certain politicians are making connections with certain voters, but in that process we have as much to learn from William James as from political scientists and pollsters.
Democracy in retreat, but appeal stronger than ever
Sunday, January 20, 2008
You hardly need Freedom House to get the gist. Most people will already have noticed that these have not been the most inspiring of times for democracy and human rights.
December brought the murder of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and what was almost certainly the stealing of an election in Kenya, one of Africa's relative successes, fast descending into a nightmare of tribal violence.
And now comes confirmation from the American think-tank. Freedom House's closely watched annual review confirms that 2007 was the second year in a row during which freedom retreated in most of the world, reversing a democratic tide that had looked almost unstoppable during the 1990s following the collapse of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Undeniably, the news is grim. But when democracy is the issue, it can be a mistake to extrapolate too much from the advances and retreats of a single year or two.
Here, also prompted by recent events, are two brighter observations.
First, most people in most places still want democracy.
This near-universal appetite is evident not only in what people say (even in conservative Muslim countries, where God-given sharia can be more popular than any law made by man, people tell opinion pollsters they want to elect their own governments).
It is also reflected in what people do. Kenya's voters turned out in droves and queued for hours under a scorching sun. So in recent years, and at huge risk to life and limb, have voters in Afghanistan and Iraq.
All these countries, it is true, are now riven by political violence. But that does not prove that their voters cannot grasp the democratic idea, only that voters' choices can be uncongenial to the few who have power and are prepared neither to yield nor share it.
Where the strong are willing to use violence to thwart the popular will, democratic movements can be stopped in their tracks, as in Myanmar, or provoked into a violent reaction of their own, as in Kenya. But the idea itself is harder to squash or suborn.
In many newly democratic parts of the world, including most of Latin America, its roots are spreading wider and burrowing deeper.
Which leads to a second reason for optimism.
There are many reasons why societies advancing fitfully toward democracy can suffer setbacks. Political transitions are disorderly.
If the disorder becomes scary enough, as in Russia or Iraq, people may well come for a time to place less value on freedom and more on basic physical and economic security.
But autocracies suffer setbacks, too, and usually for one overwhelming reason.
As Winston Churchill hinted in his aphorism, rulers who try to govern without democracy eventually discover that none of the alternative systems works as well.
Look no further than the current news.
Bhutto was back home campaigning for election because it had become evident to Pervez Musharraf and his American backers that military rule was failing to hold Pakistan together.
In Thailand, the generals who pushed out the elected prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, in 2006 have found running the country harder than expected; if they are wise, they will heed the verdict of the people, delivered in December's election, that they want the former lot back.
In January 2007, Bangladesh's army intervened to halt the
alternation of power between two venal, incompetent but nonetheless elected political dynasties.
But after a miserable year holding the ring, the generals would be glad of a way to give back the power they grabbed.
Freedom House may well be right that democracy is on the back foot right now.
February 3, 2008
How Democracy Produced a Monster
By IAN KERSHAW
COULD something like it happen again? That is invariably the first question that comes to mind when recalling that Hitler was given power in Germany 75 years ago last week. With the world now facing such great tensions and instability, the question seems more obvious than ever.
Hitler came to power in a democracy with a highly liberal Constitution, and in part by using democratic freedoms to undermine and then destroy democracy itself. That democracy, established in 1919, was a product of defeat in world war and revolution and was never accepted by most of the German elites, notably the military, large landholders and big industry.
Troubled by irreconcilable political, social and cultural divisions from the beginning, the new democracy survived serious threats to its existence in the early postwar years and found a semblance of stability from 1924 to 1928, only to be submerged by the collapse of the economy after the Wall Street crash of 1929.
The Nazis’ spectacular surge in popular support (2.6 percent of the vote in the 1928 legislative elections, 18.3 percent in 1930, 37.4 percent in July 1932) reflected the anger, frustration and resentment — but also hope — that Hitler was able to tap among millions of Germans. Democracy had failed them, they felt. Their country was divided, impoverished and humiliated. Scapegoats were needed.
It was easy to turn hatred against Jews, who could be made to represent the imagined external threat to Germany by both international capitalism and Bolshevism. Internally, Jews were associated with the political left — Socialist and Communist — which was made responsible by Hitler and his followers for Germany’s plight.
Increasingly, Hitler seemed to a good third of the German electorate the only hope to putting the country back on its feet, restoring pride and bringing about national salvation. By 1930 it was effectively impossible to rule Germany without Nazi backing. But while Nazi electoral gains could block democracy, they were insufficient to bring Hitler to power.
From 1930 onwards, therefore, the German state was locked in stalemate. Democratic forms remained. But democracy itself was in effect dead, or at least dying. The anti-democratic elites tried to broker solutions, but failed on account of Hitler’s intransigence. Ultimately, because he could find no other authoritarian solution, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as head of government, or chancellor, on Jan. 30, 1933. What followed led to disaster for Germany, for Europe and for the world.
These distant events still have echoes today. In Europe, in the wake of increased immigration, most countries have experienced some revival of neo-fascist, racist movements. Not so long ago, Serbian nationalism, inflamed by President Slobodan Milosevic, set off war and ethnic cleansing within the continent.
Today, too, skillful politicians around the globe have proved adept at manipulating populist sentiment and using democratic structures to erect forms of personalized, authoritarian rule. President Vladimir Putin has gradually moved Russia, a country increasingly flexing its muscles internationally again, in that direction. Venezuela, under President Hugo Chávez, has also showed distinct authoritarian tendencies, though these have been at least partly blocked through his defeat in the December referendum to change its Constitution.
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has turned democracy into personal rule, ruining his country in the process. In Pakistan, democracy largely provides a facade for military rule, even if President Pervez Musharraf has now put aside his uniform. Most worryingly, perhaps, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has used populist support in a pluralist system to push Iran into a hazardous foreign policy, though he does remain formally subordinate to the “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
None of these examples, however, poses a close parallel to what happened in Germany in 1933. Neo-fascist movements in Europe can certainly terrorize minorities. And they have had success in stirring such resentment about immigrants that mainstream political parties have taken account of the swell of feeling.
However, short of some unforeseeable eventualities like major war or, perhaps less unlikely, another meltdown of the economic system, neo-fascist movements will remain on the fringes of politics. And none of these parties, unappealing though their internal policies are, can today conceive of preparing for a war of conquest with the ultimate aim of a grasp at world power.
Elsewhere, there are — and always will be — nasty forms of authoritarianism (some supported by democratic governments). But neither in their acquisition of power nor in their use of it do modern authoritarian rulers much resemble Hitler. International organizations and institutions that did not exist in interwar Europe — the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund — also provide some barriers to the sort of calamity that engulfed Germany.
Moreover, democracies under pressure can still pose obstacles to creeping authoritarianism. Vladimir Putin looks as if he will indeed step down as president and not risk a breach of the Constitution (though effective power will probably remain in his own hands), while Hugo Chávez has been forced (maybe temporarily) to give up his ambitions to become a president for life. Even once Hitler had been appointed chancellor, it took the Reichstag fire, a month later, to begin the destruction of the last vestiges of democracy and pave the way to his full control.
Mercifully, what happened in Germany in 1933, and its aftermath, will remain a uniquely terrible episode in history. What took place then reminds us even so of the illusory assumption that democracy will always be a favored choice of a population torn apart by war, facing enormous privations and burning with resentment at national humiliation through perceived foreign interference. It also reminds us — if such a reminder is necessary — of the need for international cooperation to restrain potential “mad dogs” in world politics before they are dangerous enough to bite.
Ian Kershaw, a professor of modern history at Sheffield University, is the author of the forthcoming “Hitler, the Germans and the Final Solution.”
February 8, 2008
By NOAH FELDMAN
THE West doesn’t know quite what to think of Turkey’s Islamic-oriented ruling party: does it envision a liberal, European future for Turkey or an Islamist one? A vote this week on the seemingly minor issue of whether head scarves should be allowed at universities will help us begin to answer that question.
The ban on women covering their heads on campus has long been a thorn in the side of the Justice and Development Party. The rule has the perverse effect of keeping devoutly religious women out of higher education. A few years ago, while on a trip to lecture about Islam, I met a daughter of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — not in Istanbul, but at Indiana University, which she was attending at least in part so she could cover her head while getting an education.
The ban — a relic of the aggressive secularism enforced by modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — can be repealed only by a constitutional amendment. Such an amendment was just one of dozens of changes that the Justice and Development Party was expected to propose a few weeks ago as part of a comprehensive overhaul of Turkey’s state-centered, ethnically narrow Constitution.
The description of the package of draft amendments that was leaked to the press would put Turkey on a decidedly liberal constitutional course. Reports said that it would vest sovereignty in the people, not the state, and acknowledge that the category “Turkish” in reality encompasses people of all ethnicities — implicitly including Kurds, whose separate identity has long been suppressed. The new Constitution would give parents increased control over their children’s education, allowing them to opt out of state-mandated religious instruction. In this context, lifting the head-scarf ban could be seen as just another step toward the religious liberty that liberal, Western states claim to prize.
But before the amendment package could be formally introduced, a minority secularist party, the Nationalist Movement Party, introduced an amendment limited to ending the head-scarf ban. Support from that party essentially guarantees passage for any initiative the government favors — and, indeed, it passed a preliminary vote on Thursday and is likely to get final approval tomorrow. Apparently, Prime Minister Erdogan felt he could not turn down the opportunity to get the head scarf ban revoked.
Unfortunately, the passage of the head-scarf amendment casts doubt on whether the rest of the constitutional package will be introduced at all. Some hard-liners within the ruling party seem to be questioning whether it is worth the fight over liberal constitutional ideals if the gains to religion like lifting the head scarf ban can be achieved other ways. They have a point: the party must always be careful about provoking the military, which sees itself not only as the protector of secularism but of traditional Turkish nationalism, and is wary of any major liberalizing changes.
The issue raises a big question about Mr. Erdogan: is he dedicated to his party’s plans for comprehensive constitutional reform, or is he simply serving the interests of religion? The latter would be a grave error — if Turkey is to continue its integration into European and Western civilization, it needs to show that liberal values and Islam are not only compatible but complementary. The audience for this message includes Europe, which for historical reasons is skeptical — perhaps too skeptical — about bringing a non-Christian nation into the orbit of the European Union.
Yet there is a more important audience: the Muslim world at large. The rising global Islamist movement is embroiled in its own epochal debate about whether an authentically Islamic government can and must respect individual freedoms and the equality of all citizens. The best possible refutation of the claim that Islam and democracy are incompatible would be to point to an existing government where liberal and Islamic values work together.
In Turkey, starting with the head-scarf amendment — a case study of religious freedom against coercive secularism — is perfectly fine. Liberalism, after all, has its roots in the desire to protect Christian religious liberty. But the historical staying power of liberal democracy has come from expanding citizenship and extending constitutional protections to minority groups and others vulnerable to government coercion. Turkey has the chance to blaze that trail in the Muslim world — it’s up to Mr. Erdogan to keep moving ahead.
Noah Feldman, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine, is a professor at Harvard Law School and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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