Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sharansky's Town-Square Test

Identifying Genuine, Peace-Promoting Democracy

I was stirred by President Bush’s identifying the advance of liberty as "the mission that created our Nation" and “the best hope for peace in our world" in his Second Inaugural Address. Yet is another of his firm beliefs true: namely, that free -- that is, democratic -- nations do not fight each other? The electoral victory of Islamofascists such as Hamas in Palestine does not promise peace with its democratic neighbor Israel; and the potential for electoral victory by similarly anti-Western forces in Afghanistan and Iraq makes me wonder if freedom as “democracy” by itself guarantees international stability in any way. If a nation elects a leader with the vile anti-Semitism of Iran’s Ahmadinejad, why should Tel Aviv sleep peacefully?

Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and tireless agitator for global human rights, addresses precisely this concern in his June 2006 inaugural Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom Lecture “Is Freedom for Everyone?”. His key point? “Elections Do Not Democracy Make.”
In America, I came here to [Washington], to this White House to discuss with the Vice President and with everybody who wanted to listen that you cannot start democratic reforms with elections. You can have elections, but they will have nothing to do with the democracy. Democracy is not elections; democracy is free elections and free society. The test of the democratic state is not elections; there are elections in every dictatorship. The test of dem­ocratic states is the town square test, where you can go to this square to express your views and you will not be punished for it. Palestinians [in the recent] elec­tions had to choose between a hated corrupt dicta­torship [Arafat’s], a mafia which was taking from them protection money for everything on one hand, and a few honest terrorists [Hamas] who wanted to kill a lot of Jews but who were taking care of the weak and poor on the other hand.

Other key points: While President Bush rightly promotes universal democratic freedom, US foreign policy simultaneously undermines the goal whenever it props up tyrannies and fails to support dissidents, who are themselves the key to regime change. Examples: past support of Arafat in Palestine, which paved the road for the present Hamas victory; continuing support for the tribal dynasty of Saudi Arabia and the injustices of Mubarak’s Egypt, which discourage reform leading to genuine democracy; and neglect of dissidents in Iran while appeasing the ayatollahs:
Iran is a unique example of where on one hand you have this awful regime which now is threatening to black­mail all the world with nuclear bombs, and on the other hand, a country where in one generation, a country of true believers of overwhelming sup­port to this regime turned into a country of dou­ble thinkers, of people who don’t accept this situation. And they started expressing it. The opposition movement in Iran is not a dissident here, a dissident there. It’s a powerful movement of different trade unions, of student organizations, and of women’s organizations who started two years ago to speak loudly and openly and appeal to the free world to support them, saying, “We are your allies, not the ayatollahs.”

. . . .

[Yet this] movement in Iran . . . is receiving almost no support. Not only is it receiv­ing almost no support, but the America which took such a strong position on Iran at the last moment declared that they have new proposals for the aya­tollahs and, in fact, by starting this new page, undermined immediately the inner strength of [its] position. I am saying this with pain, because I have great admiration for the President. When I met him I saw how deeply he believes in these ideas of promoting independent democracy. But when I look at the policies of the United States of America at this moment toward Iran, I don’t see any differ­ence with the policy of the previous administration toward North Korea. And that administration had a very different philosophy. But suddenly, take their approach to North Korea and this approach to Iran and it proves the same.

Sharansky concludes:
The democratic agenda is in danger and I believe of all the reasons, first of all it is in danger because President Bush is very lonely in his struggle. You know, the fact that he has so few allies overseas is bad; but the fact that he has so few allies in Washington is much worse.

Of course, dissidents are always lonely. But now, in this confrontation between the world of freedom and the world of terror, it is crucial that the Presi­dent of the United States will not be alone on this. But second, to stay the course is very difficult, it’s very important. Before we start saying the demo­cratic agenda failed, let’s first sincerely try this agen­da. And then we’ll see whether it will fail or not.

I believe it will win.

(See also the FrontPage interview with Sharansky.)