Friday, December 24, 2004

Don't undermine Iraqi Democracy by curtailing rights12-24-04

Don’t undermine Democracy by curtailing its basic rights
Creators Syndicate Dec. 24, 2004
By Ray Hanania

Why is there no Democracy in the Middle East? One of the main reasons is that constituencies there tend to bond not on specific political or social issues, but on religious issues of faith.
And for most "faithful," religion is non-negotiable. Right or wrong, if God "said it," it must be true, even if it makes no human sense.

So how do you nurture Democracy in the very region where the world’s religions were birthed? How do you instill Democracy without compromising fundamental views of faith?

The answer is to redefine religion in a political message where Democracy is permitted to fearless spread its benefits. That takes more courage than most leaders in the Middle East are willing to offer.

The true balance between religion and politics is what makes American Democracy so successful, although in recent years the tilt to the conservative religious right, and the erosion of pure principles of professional journalism have caused great consternation for the future.

Leaders in the Middle East must be willing to demonstrate that they can balance not only politics and religion, but also give their people the very benefit that makes Democracy successful: Freedom of speech including the freedom to speak against the very people who advocate Democracy.

Simply put. As an American, I should be allowed to burn an American flag without being punished either by the judicial system or by the public.

That power is so great that once people experience it, they will never turn away.Iraq faces the classic challenges prohibiting Democracy.

Shiites will vote Shiite. Sunni will vote Sunni. Christian Assyrians will vote Christian Assyrian. Kurds will vote Kurds. Arabs will vote Arabs and so on. The end result is predictable. Whichever group has the most followers will win in a vote.

Instead of unraveling these religious and ethnic bonds, the current Iraqi government is reinforcing them by oppressing the right of free speech and denying the public the very benefits it claims it seeks to bring.

Iraqis must have the freedom to praise the American-led occupation, and the freedom to challenge it. Even harshly, emotionally, passionately and aggressively. In fact, the right to challenge Democracy is what makes Democracy so powerful. Take that away and the people you are trying to encourage to embrace Democracy never will.

Free speech is not free if you restrict the voices of the people.

Iraqis must be permitted to denounce the American-led occupation. They should be allowed to challenge the actions of the American-appointed government. They should be allowed to develop political positions free from oppression as the only alternative to rising religious extremism.

Most importantly, the public should be allowed to publish whatever media they wish without fear of retribution.

The reality in Iraqis far different. And the toughest actions taken by the government there so far has been against the media it dislikes. It has censored and restricted the activities of al-Jazeera, the only truly Democratic voice in the entire Middle East, replacing it with pro-American propaganda that very few Iraqis even bother to read.

They have banned al-Manara, the television station of the religiously extreme Islamic Jihad organization.

What Iraq is doing is undermining Democracy, and basically stating that while they wish to have Democracy in their country, they have no faith in the power that Democracy is supposed to achieve.

They fear that extremists will use Democracy to undermine Democracy. It’s the single greatest fatal flaw of those who advocate Democracy.

Democracy can win only if you do not impose it on a people. They must embrace it. The public needs to experience the power of free speech, and the ability to burn their own flag.

Extremism feeds on the very oppressions used to protect Democracy. Closing al-Manara and restricting al-Jazeera do not contribute toward the strengthening of Democracy. They only insure that Democracy will not succeed in Iraq.

# # #

No comments: