Monday, April 4, 2011

Beware the Democracy that Isn't

DAY 27 OF 46

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Jesus Christ first uttered this warning to the Pharisees of His day.  Abraham Lincoln incorporated Christ's words in his 1858 speech arguing for national unity among those sewing political rancor.

And with dueling spending bills warming up for a partisan brawl in the Beltway bullpen this week, plus the likelihood of a long-overdue debate over government spending over the next few months, perhaps now would be a good time to remind ourselves that what unites us is still greater than what divides us.

At least, I sure hope so!  Because while we twiddle our political thumbs here in the United States, world events continue to march on.  Events that also need our undivided attention.

Egypt's Islamic Revolution?

Consider the decades that American presidents have called for democracy in the Middle East.  We've fought wars, we've battled terrorists, we've hosted countless political summits, and we've deployed legions of diplomats to protect and promote one of our country's core founding principles: a people's free and unfettered choice of those they want governing them.

We tried to achieve some measure of success in Iraq and Afghanistan, but continued corruption and violence in these two war-torn countries have made genuine democracy elusive.  Then, this past February, out of the blue, Egypt's populist uprising splashed the likelihood of democratic elections in this prominent Muslim nation into the realm of possibility.

But in a cruel twist of irony, the government Egyptians democratically elect to lead them may actually be worse for freedom than Hosni Mubarak's autocratic regime it will replace.

Surprisingly, radical Muslim clerics have begun to embrace democracy in Egypt, but not out of an altruistic objective to guarantee civil rights.  They're not interested in all the elements of democracy that Americans of both Democratic and Republican stripes take for granted, such as equity between genders, ethnicities, and religious persuasions.  No, Egypt's radical Muslims now see democracy as a less violent way to politically enshrine their brutal Sharia law.

In a stunning refutation of all that makes Western democracy such a civic and economic liberator, compromising the valor of America's war dead from involvement in military action against Islamic oppressors, Egypt's militant Muslims may try to re-write their own definition of democracy, installing rulers with a mandate for enforcing one of the strictest forms of persecution the world has ever known - by a popular vote.

One Word - Two Worlds

Wow - who saw that coming?  None of our presidents, that's for sure, of either political party.  And certainly none of the "nattering nabobs" of the right-wing radio circuit.

And, at least for this one time, I'll defend their right to be caught off-guard.  Both President Obama and Rush Limbaugh.  Because, whether they'll like it or not, we all share the same value of democracy here in America.  So much so, in fact, that it never dawned on us that the democracy we champion for oppressed peoples across the globe could be so ludicrously compromised.

Granted, "democracy" has already seen a tenuous precedent in the Middle East.  To the consternation of the West, Lebanon's Hezbollah and Gaza's Hamas both claimed electoral victories in these perennially war-torn areas within the past several years.  But these two travesties of political non-freedom have taken place on a far smaller scale than what is shaping up in Egypt, with one of the Middle East's most important economies and largest populations.

This past weekend, the New York Times became one of the first mainstream news organization to confront this pending paradox for the West.  Few non-religious agencies have bothered to report on the pro-democracy religious activists marching under a facade of political freedom in Egypt.  Perhaps one reason is that, on the surface, Egypt's clerics incorporate all the right buzzwords in their speeches, talking about peace, freedom, and letting the people choose their leadership.  But under the thin veneer of Western choice, Egypt's sinister radicals are plotting to replace political reform favorable to conventional freedom with their own version of Muslim perfection.

Islamic Economics Could Make Harry Reid Look Ultra-Conservative

Anti-Muslim activists in the West have been preaching for years that Islam isn't so much a religion as it is a system of world domination.  Now more than ever, can we begin to realize the fallacy of letting Islamic fundamentalists subscribe to our prized virtues, such as democracy?  Obviously, political freedom turned against the people who voted for it by imposing harsher restrictions than what the actions of the society necessitate isn't what we consider to be a true democracy.  But technically, if not practically, voting for oppressive rule is still democracy.

Not only could radical Islam's push for democracy in Egypt be as big a victory for its hard-line clerics as it would be a loss for the very voting rights they claim to champion. But it could also set up an impressively large domino, with the potential effect of flattening what civil rights still exist across the Arab world... and even beyond.  We're not talking about political differences like those over which Republicans and Democrats bicker.  Medicaid becomes chump change in the face of the Zakat tax, and the Islamic imperative of wealth redistribution.

Indeed, Washington's legislative combatants will ignore Egypt this year at their own peril.  As they do Christ's teaching on divided households.

The United States is not alone on this planet.  And plenty of people across the world will be only to happy to prove that to us if we don't pursue a united front here at home.

After all, if what divides us is stronger than what unites us, what does that say about our own democracy?

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