Unfit for Democracy? [New York Times]
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?
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.
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