Monday, February 28, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: What do Americans Know about Fighting for Democracy?

New York Times' Nicholas Kristof touched upon something that the Korean has been thinking about lately.
We Americans spout bromides about freedom. Democracy campaigners in the Middle East have been enduring unimaginable tortures as the price of their struggle — at the hands of dictators who are our allies — yet they persist. In Bahrain, former political prisoners have said that their wives were taken into the jail in front of them. And then the men were told that unless they confessed, their wives would promptly be raped. That, or more conventional tortures, usually elicited temporary confessions, yet for years or decades those activists persisted in struggling for democracy. And we ask if they’re mature enough to handle it?

The common thread of this year’s democracy movement from Tunisia to Iran, from Yemen to Libya, has been undaunted courage. I’ll never forget a double-amputee I met in Tahrir Square in Cairo when Hosni Mubarak’s thugs were attacking with rocks, clubs and Molotov cocktails. This young man rolled his wheelchair to the front lines. And we doubt his understanding of what democracy means?

In Bahrain, I watched a column of men and women march unarmed toward security forces when, a day earlier, the troops had opened fire with live ammunition. Anyone dare say that such people are too immature to handle democracy?
Unfit for Democracy? [New York Times]

To take one step further from Kristof's point -- what do Americans know about fighting for democracy? To be sure, Americans know a whole lot about running and maintaining democratic institutions and traditions. But do Americans know anything about creating democracy out of oppression? Do we know anything about reversing a millennium of un-freedom? In the last 30 years, has any American been beaten, tortured, broken for the sake of democracy? Are we not clumsily stretching the lesson from a bygone era over an inapposite situation of today? ("Founding Fathers had guns. Libyans should have guns too!")

As the Korean has explained before, America has previously engaged in successful democracy-building projects. But that does not mean we have the sole, or even superior, expertise about how democracy is created. The right thing to do is to lower ourselves humbly and assist the flowering democracy in any way we can, and not to spew garbage about who deserves democracy and who does not. After all, it's not like we know.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

5 comments:

  1. I would disagree with Kristof that they were fighting for democracy, instead it was/is a fight for independence. It seems to me, Americans have a tenancy to know a lot about shouting platitudes about democracy and fighting for democracy, but finds it hard to fight when it doesn't really see benefit for itself.

    Perhaps I might to more of the stance of how you wrote about learning another language. It is one thing to say you want to do it, it is one thing to gather your resources, but to actually do it takes a lot of work and cutting out other things to make room for it. The easiest thing to do after throwing out one tyrant, is to get tired of all the restraint that has to be shown and let another tyrant take over. Often times the most ruthless take over, and to dislodge that might take another effort, which usually is harder, because a lot of people will grow cynical and tired of the upheaval.

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  2. thanks for shedding some new light on the situation in the middle east. it is a view i, and i assume many others, have overlooked.

    very humbling.

    thanks tk.

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  3. I will address to problems with this line of thinking. First of all, many Koreans, Arabs, Latin Americans etc. cooperated with pro-American governments.

    In addition, people deserve sympathy only up to a point. For example, Koreans (along with all other people of this world) are full of big faults. For example, in Korea, a darker skinned or handicapped (or just unattractive) person cannot get a ESL job.

    Therefore, I can only feel sorry for people (of any nation) in a general sense but not too much. Basically the fault with this popular "Anti-American" logic is it ignores the evil of human nature.

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  4. Also I want to add that when I speak of "handicapped" or "unattractive" then I'm not referring to major problems. I'm talking about people who are just a little too thin or too fat or just mildly handicapped.

    Also, Egypt would be another example of "bad people". The Egyptians are very racist against Jews just like Latin Americans (and Filipinos) are very racist against black people.

    So the question is "Why should I feel sorry for these people"??

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  5. "In the last 30 years, has any American been beaten, tortured, broken for the sake of democracy?"

    Bradley Manning comes to mind.

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