Friday, January 28, 2005

Iraq: Election Perfection and Other Myths

Well, it's been weeks leading up to the elections and we have heard all sorts of balderdash (to put it politely) about the Iraq elections. Things like "it's not legitimate nor free under 'occupation'" or "if a majority of Sunni don't participate it won't be seen as illegitimate" or "low voter turn out will make it illegitimate" or "violence during the election will make low turn out or intimidate voters and make it illegitimate", or, or, or...

I think I could go on all night and write down the foolish things people say. It's as if people were expecting some sort of perfection in this election. Perfection in an emerging democracy that has only known repression, violence and definitely never had an election where more than one party or one man stood for office. Those can't even be counted as elections by sane people.

I was thinking back historically about "elections in emerging democracies" and I am wondering if anyone can point to an emerging democracy that did not emerge from or through violence? Anyone? Please ask your left friends to name some because I can't think of one.

Yet, here they are, demanding some sort of perfection in Iraq. It reminds me of a song from my club days: "Things that make you go...hmmmmm?"

Look, I'm not going to go google every election figure known to man and available to any person with half a brain, a keyboard, monitor and internet access, but I will give you an idea of why I laugh at all this "election perfection projection".

Let's start with...oh...I don't know...the United States, maybe? Let's did we gain our freedom? Anybody? Somebody? If I recall my history lessons correctly, I believe it was because a bunch of guys from the cities and farms grabbed their muskets and marched into histroy, fighting the British, killing and dying? Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's how it went. A whole hell of a lot of people died in that war. Yet, when we think about it, we always think about it in grand terms and refer to these same people in grand terms. Our forefathers. Revolutionaries. Minutemen. (Yeah, I know, some fat wannabe movie maker tried to mess that word up by mixing it up with the terrorists, but it's still ours). We say they fought for our freedom. We talk about the battles, the grand orators, the men like Paul Revere who rode off into the night to warn the neighboring towns that the British were coming. We talk about people like Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Their thoughts, their beliefs, their ideas that still fuel our way of life and thinking today. We talk about the men who signed the declaration, wrote the constitution.

Yet, we have some how white washed it, drilled it down to a few basics, a few moments, made it into a story fit for a Disney production and completely forgot some of the reality. The men who were selected to go to the National Congress, were elected by their local councils, elected DURING a time of war. At the most desperate of times, there were certainly calls for reconciliation between the rebels and Britain. Calls to lay down arms and stop the killing. Certainly, many people wondered if the National Congress could even be considered a legitimate representative body of the people. Men were dying daily of wounds, starvation and disease.

When the Declaration of Independence was written, signed and presented, the Thirteen Colonies had already been at war for a year.

The Articles of Confederation, loosely allying the thirteen colonies, was written in 1777. Maybe somebody on the far left can correct me and tell me if 1777 was a particularly peaceful year or were the rebels running from place to place trying to stay alive, fighting whenever they could against a larger, well armed and well trained military. People were being arrested and sent to prison barges in the bays, executed, imprisoned. The Contintental Army spent a cold and frustrating winter of 1777 in the barracks at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. They were not even sure if they would have enough men to fight come spring.

Yet, during this whole time, the operations of government continued. Men were elected to represent their states and districts, sent to New York to the National Congress, to conduct the business of the colonies. Men risked their lives to be free, much less vote or be a representative of the new government. Every man who signed his name to the Declaration of Independence was a marked man.

Strangely, these men continued on, doing what they believed, even in the middle of this crisis.

Maybe, somebody on the left would now like to say that, because a war was going on, these men were not legitimate representatives of the government and nothing they did or wrote was legitimate, because, you know, there were probably plenty of farmers and people in outlying towns who didn't get their voices heard, who were afraid to vote because they might be targeted, because they might die or be imprisoned.

If we go by the reasoning of our friendly (and not so friendly) naysayers, then we must declare ourselves illegitimate because our beginnings were, you know, inauspicious at best.

What's that you say? We've had many "legitimate" elections since then?

Well, now, you'd be right. Eight and a half years of war and we finally got our freedom, wrote another constitution and had "peaceful" elections. Still not perfect by any means. Yet, here we are, a sovreign and legitimate country with regularly elected representatives to our government.

Do I have to list every inauspicious moment in our history to make you understand that "legitimacy" is in the people, the laws and continuation of a functioning government not in numbers nor times. Let's think about this now:

1) Civil War - recall that half the states of the union "seceded" and did not vote in the last elections and that 25% of the actual population of the United States were slaves. Slaves that were unable to vote yet somehow represented 3/5 a person for representation in the government bodies. Go figure.

2) Women's Suffrage - 19th Amendment 1920. Fully half of the population of the United States was denied the right to vote in many states and in federal elections until 1920. Thank God no one thought we were illegitimate back then. Who would have saved the Brits and the French from the dirty huns in 1917?

3) Jim Crow Laws and Segregation - Men and women were not allowed to vote withoiut taking tests, without separate facilities, you name it, there was voter suppression and general degredation of minorities in this country BY LAW from 1870 through the 1950's. Good thing we were still considered "legitimate" by our European friends. The good Lord knows what would have happened to them if they had decried us as "illegitimate" and some how disdained our assistance in Europe in 1941. Of course, let us not forget that starting in 1939, our money and armaments and even some of our men were apparently still good enough for them. "Legitimate" government by their current standards or not.

Do I need to go on? Cries of "illegitimacy" are the weakest arguments yet. My favorite cries are from people, particularly government agents or politicos, in countries where the words "freedom" and "democracy" will get you 10-20 in prison if not your head cut off for even thinking it.

News flash for AP, AFP, BBC and all the rest of you nimrods, men who are not free nor have ever participated in a democratic election are not considered a good judge on the legitimacy of an emerging democracy. Mullah Farid Aziz Abdullah Muhammed al Islamiya Suicide who is preaching that democracy is a sin has...oh..I don't legitimacy himself.

On any other day, our liberal friends wouldn't give a rats ass what this guy had to say and yet, they will interview him on whether elections in Iraq under the current circumstances is legitimate. If anyone is looking to this guy to declare the legtimacy of the Iraqi elections, all I've got to say is..."here's your sign".


Let's go by sheer numbers. These folks are claiming that if only 50% or 60% (somewhere around those numbers) are the only ones to show up and vote in Iraq, this will make the new assembly "illegitimate". In the US 57% of eligible voters turned out in 2004 to vote. We called it a "record". That was somewhere around 117 million people. Which means 70 million (give or take a few million) stayed home and did not vote. Were they threatened with guns and bombs, death and destruction? Nope. Some were too old and infirm. Some were just lazy. Some just didn't care. Some didn't because it was cold or raining or snowing or whatever the excuse was.

France had 60.32% voter turnout in their last elections (2002). That's 22 mil out of a possible 36 mil.

Germany had a whopping 79% voter turnout in 2002. That's 48 mil out of a possible 61 mil registered voters.

I don't see any reports on the web regarding the disenfranchisement of minorities in their political processes. Who knows? By their standards, they may be illegitimate, too and we just don't know it.

Speaking of violence around the ballot box and imperfection, let us not forget the French Revolution, so well represented by the words "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite". I think those would be "democrats" had the corner on beheading people in the name of ideologies. It was quite a fashion for people to wear a little red ribbon around their throats to signify they were relatives of a victim. Some 25k victims of the "terror" by the French "Committee for Public Safety" were murdured and another 300k were imprisoned, many without even evidence.

Robespierre ring a bell?

So, all of those who cannot recall history, or somehow think that their lofty place in democracies around the world came to them through some magical moment of peace and perfection, should take a long look in the mirror. Freedom was never free nor perfect. Men and women have bled for it since the first time the word "democracy" was even thought in a Greek philosophy forum much less put in to practice.

On January 30th, the most perfect thing will happen in Iraq. It is the perfection that comes the first time someone of their own free will and standing against the forces of tyranny and terror, will vote in Iraq for the first time in over 50 years in a free election.

It doesn't matter how many vote, from what group or what city. The first to vote will have won the title "perfection" for the election, even if some crazy guy with a bomb or a gun storms another polling station. It is not about a single moment nor a single man. Men will muck it up as is their want because that is man: imperfect. Yet, it will be perfect because it is the idea that is perfection.

I have no illusions about who will or won't participate. None regarding numbers nor potential deaths from those that would try to shut the process down. No, the perfection is in the moment. After that first ballot is cast, there is nothing that can mar it.

Make sure that you continue to read Friends of Democracy. Also see their blog ad to the left.

Who needs perfection when we have elections? That is all the perfection one could ever need after 30 years of oppression. I'm pretty sure, based on the history of some of the more "upstanding" democracies of our time, that Iraq has more than a fighting chance at reaching this mythical perfection.

Wouldn't you agree?

1 comment:

Kender said...

I love this post. Perfect. You hit it dead on yet again.