Thursday, April 06, 2006

Islam, Freedom and Democracy

In this post from yesterday, I argued the point made by the writer that democracy is not fit only for Western man with his base of Judeo-Christianity. The writer stated:

The problem with Iraq, Mr. Will said in a Manhattan Institute lecture, is that it "lacks a Washington, a Madison, a [John] Marshall--and it lacks the astonishingly rich social and cultural soil from which such people sprout." There is no "existing democratic culture" that will allow liberty to succeed, he argues. And he scoffs at the assertion by President Bush that it is "cultural condescension" to claim that some peoples, cultures or religions are destined to despotism and unsuited for self-government. The most obvious rebuttal to Mr. Will's first point is that only one nation in history had at its creation a Washington, Madison and Marshall--yet there are 122 democracies in the world right now. So clearly founders of the quality of Washington and Madison are not the necessary condition for freedom to succeed.

He is right. No culture nor religion guarantees or precludes sane democracy with elemental human rights. In fact, most religions and cultures do have some tenets which mirror our own. It is not these things that engender or block democracy.

Interesting, I looked up the definition of "democracy" in the heritage online dictionary. I thought it was interesting how many definitions exist:

1) Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
2) A political or social unit that has such a government.
3) The common people, considered as the primary source of political power.
4) Majority rule.
5) The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.

In truth, democracy, as described by a sixth grade social studies class, is the direct rule of the people where all people have a vote. There is no leader, per se, all decisions are communal. It is one reason that the United States and other modern democracies have "representative democracy". Because rule by majority is often the tyranny of the majority. In the tyranny of the majority, unlike the fifth description above, individual rights are not protected, but subject to the ideas of the majority. Individual freedom to practice religion, to be speak freely, to do business or study topics as an individual sees fit, these are rarely present in a "true democracy" or in democracies that lack that one essential item: the social contract between individuals that insures individual space and rights.

That's why democracy as we know it is not simply "democracy" as in the original Greek template that was hard pressed to survive, nor even simply a "representative" democracy which allows a representation of a cross section of the governed. Western Democracy, the democracy that we understand to mean "democracy" is based on individual rights that include the primary, unalienable rights to "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" wherein we understand that individuals have the right to live. This is the "primary directive" of all democracies based on humanist enlightenment.

From the western perspective, this includes the right to protect "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" whenever another member of our society threatens the individual's right to life. Even should one member take the life of another, we go further and insist on knowing the reasons and circumstances. Was their life or the life of another threatened by the member of our society that was killed. In short, the right to self defense to protect that holiest and most vital unalienable right to "life".

However, we place limits on ourselves to insure that people do not perceive every instance as a threat to "life" and thus limit the justifications for taking life of another member of our society. In otherwords, we hold even the lowest among us to have that right to "life" and that it is precious above all other things.

Still, we must consider that the threat to life, to end it, is not the only threat. Liberty and happiness, even "life", may be bound up in the concept that the health of the body, being damaged in anyway or threatened, provides the right to self defense or the right to be defended by another. This goes towards establishing the limits by which a Western democracy, understanding the basics of enlightened humanism and reasoning, can and will impose punishment, up to and including death. It also establishes basic concepts that insure the law and reason is supreme above the majority who may otherwise commit vigilante justice without the procedures of law that protect every citizen and insist that acts against another are within the procedures of law applied with reason.

So, how does this delicate balance maintain itself within society when any number of people may feel that their life or health is threatened and all out anarchy could exist?

It is the concept that every citizen must learn, the "social contract" which is beyond even the procedures of law, but insists on reason and reasonable understanding of the concept of equal rights for all and the balance of individual rights. It also insists that the individuals trust that the law, more often than not, will be just and fair in its actions.

The secondary directive of Western Democracy believes in individual freedoms and rights above the rights or beliefs of the group. This insists that, while the group as a whole must be secure against the loss of life, that security is limited to the physical danger. There is no loss of security or "life" expected in Western Free Democracy whould an individual believe in a different god than the majority. As long as the individual still believes in and adheres to the social contract protecting the primary right to "life" of the others as well as a few basic laws that maintain the thread of society, such as not stealing or cheating, their ideas, their religion, cannot harm the group.

It is this idea alone which is "missing" according to such great thinkers as Buckley or Fukyama. But, these go a step further in insisting that the development of this social contract can never exist or be grown because culture, or religion, has engrained such contrary concepts that this humanist enlightenment cannot be gained.

According to the writer of the WSJ article, and to which I agree, this is absurd based on all democracies that have come in existance today straight from despotic rule; and there are many.

I pointed to France as an example of similarity with Iraq and its struggle for democracy with sectarian infighting and "death squads". There is another similarity. In fact, France was ruled by a despotic king who, through ignorance or purpose, oppressed and starved the people. And, he had help. There were limited few at the top, nobles, who took as their privilege often what little those below them had through either corruption, extortion or outright theft. They routinely murdered or arbitrarily punished those without power without true procedure of law or equal justice.

This was society based on post fuedal Europe which could never in it's wildest dreams be refered to as a group of countries or peoples with any proclivities towards democracy or humanist enlightenment. Fuedal connections through marriage (like modern Arab tribal relations) and allegiance, maintained the ruling elite with their military and economic power, but also provided the fabric through which the local populace was protected. Individuals who went outside of that fabric or did not conform were considered to be dangerous to the security of the whole and were punished with everything from public stocks to horrific execution. The church was not, at that time, a leader in humanist enlightenment or champion of the individual. The success of the church depended on conformity and perpetuated the rule of nobles by re-enforcing the necessity of conformity, not just in religion, but in every aspect of life. The nobles in turn provided protection for the church in a quid pro quo.

How and why did this change? Simply put, the idea that conformity protected the security of all began to disappear. It could be linked to a number of indicators. Economic development that created a wealthy burgeois that provided tax revenues to cities and fuedal lords alike and sustained the nations. It could be the advancement of weapons where the lowly serf once could only afford and was only allowed simply tools for farming that he used as defense, now could afford swords, axes, bows and arrows and other weapons. Or, they were supplied in order to fill out the ranks of ever greater and larger armies, providing the means for equality. In fact, this can be seen in the complaints of knights about bowman being "unchivalrous" and "cowardly", but was really about the knight becoming the victim of the "low".

In the Islamic Arab world, the concept of the group security overriding the rights of the individual still exists. This group security, for centuries, is based on conformity. This conformity came from tribal blood relations and religion; the concept of the Umma. This served the Islamic nation from its birth to growth into an empire, providing the ties and wealth to pursue empire, even into it's decline when the empire nations broke into smaller mandates with borders that did not recognize the suzereignity of tribal locations. Groups became the aliens within these states and their security depended on the tribal and the Umma of Islam.

The difference here may be the speed in which ideas and material development, including improved living conditions, economics, industrialization, technology and even weapons can be assumed into a culture. In a global world, this increases exponentially over every development. It would be inappropriate to assume that these developments need to be simultaneous or equal. It would be helpful if economics, industrialization and improved living conditions developed faster than the acquisition of weapons. But, as the Umma or tribe or other unit leaves security from conformity, the sense of or physical requirement for security through other means, including weapons and military increases. It may not be necessary to use them, but it does provide even the sense.

In Iraq, this security was not only provided through tribal and sectarian relations, but through the auspices of the totalitarian government that suppressed all but a few equally. There was uniformity and conformity on the pain of death. The instant release of this conformity through the state of Iraq into anarchy. There were no controls, no slow release from the pressures and there were instant need to redefine the parameters of security. Where the ideology of the social contract did not exist or was held in place through brutality, not society, the inability of the government or invading military forces to exert security across the broad spectrum required groups to fall back on known security patterns: tribe, sect, umma.

It does not stand to reason that the government or invading forces were automatically going to need to provide additional force to provide security. In this case, outside forces that threatened security and well developed demands for revenge due to past grievances internally, promoted the feeling of insecurity. Further, political grievances that did not provide for political resolution (which continues today) increased the insecurity. While it was likely that some killing would take place during the transition and while society determined their security needs along with their personal demands, it was not necessary that sectarian strife begin. Even with external factors. Yet, it was a matter of power shift with the existence of massive amounts of weapons that provided two of the developments for "equalized" society.

Does this mean that there is no chance for ideology and economy, among other things, to develop into democracy? The answer is no because these things do not preclude that development. One thing that might provide the idea of security for the group without conformity would be a large outside threat that was a threat to all groups. This would have existed in Iraq with Al Qaeda, but the Sunni minority made a mistake in allying themselves with these terrorists in the hopes of recreating their power base. This was an obvious mistake considering their minority numbers. However, it is not a death knell for the development of democracy in Iraq.

Eventually, the growth of economics and improved living conditions can outstrip the sectarianism as long as government and ideology develops apace (though, again, not necessarily equally or simultaneous; jumps in either one can provide the stabilization or attrition against the violence.

The question is how to promote ideology? Education. The printing press of the Renaissance was a great equalizer. Economic growth provided the ability for the middle class to educate their children. It's a matter of all of these things. Truly, history, culture and religion do not preclude or engender attributes for the development of democracy.

History has proven this effectively. History has proven that sectarian strife or even civil war will not preclude democracy or the advent of freedom. And, it is not simply democracy as a process that will instill stability or free democracy as we perceive it.

Individual rights and the sanctity of human life as the primary unalienable right included in the social contract must come to exist.

This is why some place like Iran is not a free democracy however they may style themselves a republic. They do not respect individual rights, they demand conformity, it is the tyranny of the majority that are conservative Muslims.

And this is why, despite what must be common sense, they feel that they can punish a woman with death for killing her husband who tried to rape her 15 year old daughter from a previous marriage. While I would not condone cold murder without the procedure of law, in this society, there is no protection for women. There is none because this society, this security depends on a male dominated, sectarian, tribal association. To maintain the power structure, they must insure that women have no value. Thus, it would have been acceptable for this woman's daughter to have been raped and she would have been killed for adultery. It's a no win situation.

So, what is left for a woman to do in those situations?

Support this woman please.

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