Thursday, March 23, 2006

Turning the wheel

Athenae made these observations on a comment by Mark Helprin (a fine novelist, by the way):

Helprin hits on something here that I think is important, and I'm just rambling away, but bear with me. We seem to have lost, among the many things we've sunk into the sand in Iraq, any concept of what our national interests are. He quite rightly points out that we now seemingly have a foreign policy which says that we will enforce representative democracy at gunpoint in every country around the world. Bush's speeches talk about freedom as if we have freedom in a box, and can hand it out to whoever we want, forcing it on those who don't want to take it.

It's radical and it's infantile, either of which qualities would be dangerous enough on its own. As Helprin points out, there have been many, many times in our nation's history when propping up authoritarian regimes has been deemed to be in our national interest. If we need another nation for money, or goods, or security purposes, do those concerns automatically take a backseat to whether or not they have elections? Has anyone stopped to think whether making this or that country adopt this or that system of government will actually be good for us? Let alone whether it'll be good for them.

And then, here's the other problem. You force people to have elections, you tell them to vote, and then ... they elect some anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-freedom nutball who offers Osama a wing of his house to set up a TV studio in. Then what? They did what you asked, you can't exactly bitch at them, but now you've got democratically elected crazies you can't work with, and you did it to yourself. Nice job, Slick. You want fries with your theocracy?
She made me think, again, about the problem of democracy and rogue states. And then, before I could post my thoughts, there was this, today:

Q Scott, you and the President both have said in the past that democracies in other countries, especially in the Middle East, may not have -- may not look like America's democracy. Is that what we're seeing in Afghanistan?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are certain universal values that all democracies have. And the President has talked about that, as well. So I think you're confusing two issues. There are certain universal values that you see in any lasting democracy. And those are ones that I've talked about earlier: freedom of worship, freedom of expression, freedom of the people in this room, tolerance. Those are all universal values of freedom.

And we made it very clear that -- the President did yesterday -- about what our expectations are, that we fought and sacrificed in defense of freedom and to provide freedom to some 25 million people in Afghanistan. Great sacrifices have been made. And we have reminded the Afghan government of that.

Q Is it reasonable, though, for -- to expect that non-Muslims would be treated the same as Muslims in a government that's based on Islamic law?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you should look at the Afghan constitution. It was a constitution that was widely praised for how forward-looking it was and the values that are enshrined in that constitution. And it's important for the government of Afghanistan to reaffirm the bedrock principles in that constitution, one of which is freedom of religion.
Abdul Rahman faces the death penalty for converting to Christianity while living for 9 years in Germany. Tremendous pressue is bearing down on Hamid Kharzi, who has reportedly assured the Prime Minister of Canada that Rahman will not be executed. The escape clause seems to be "insanity":

"We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person," said prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari.

Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination.

"If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him," he said. "He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped."
Unfortunately, it may not be that simple:

However, senior clerics warn that if the government caves into Western pressure and frees him they will incite people to quote -- "pull him into pieces."

One cleric, who is considered a moderate, says "this man must die."
So the Afghan government may be painfully aware of the sacrifices made by the U.S. and the rest of the Western world to bring freedom to Afghanistan; but the people may have their own idea of what democracy means.

Bush seems convinced that democracy consists merely of the holding of elections. Iraq's government met last week for 30 minutes, but since they were elected, that's all that matters. Afghanistan would fall into complete chaos tomorrow if U.S. forces pulled out, but since they had elections, all is well. Except, of course, Palestine had elections, too; only, they elected Hamas. Which everyone still seems to agree, is a real problem. Everyone, that is, except the Palestinians who voted for Hamas. So elections solve things, except when they don't. And elections bring Western ideas along with them; except when they don't. The problem is not the idea of democracy; or the idea of elections; it's the guy in the White House who thinks that is the magic solution to every nation's problems. Except when it isn't.

Let freedom reign.

Addendum: I read through some of those articles last night in too much haste, and mised a few points. I looked again when Holden found this quote:

Hamidullah warned that if the government frees Rahman, "the government will lose the support of the people. What sort of democracy would it be if the government ignored the will of all the people?"
So I went back to the Canadian report, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but these quotes:

Franklin Pyles, president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, said his organization is appalled Rahman's life is at risk for converting to Christianity.

"If we are not going to fight for all freedoms, then what are we doing (in Afghanistan)?"
Rahman's neighbours in Kabul showed little sympathy for him.

"For 30 years, we have fought religious wars in this country and there is no way we are going to allow an Afghan to insult us by becoming Christian," said Mohammed Jan, 38, who lives opposite Rahman's father, Abdul Manan. "This has brought so much shame."
I would note, too, that Rahman's parents turned him in to the police, for the crime of being Christian.

As Ernest Hemingway reportedly asked: "How do you like it now, gentlemen?"

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