Monday, April 14, 2008

deepening democracy

The Forum polity is comparatively rare in the history of government, where the Palace polity and its variants are overwhelmingly the most common type. Only in the last two centuries has the Forum polity become widespread. Before then its appearance is, on the whole, limited to the Greek poleis, the Roman Republic, and the mediaeval European city-states. Furthermore, most of them for most of the time exhibited the worst pathological features of this kind of polity. For rhetoric read demagogy, for persuasion read corruption, pressure, intimidation, and falsification of the vote. For meetings and assemblies, read tumult and riot. For mature deliberation through a set of revising institutions, read instead self-division, inconstancy, slowness, and legislative and administrative stultification. And for elections read factional plots and intrigues. These features were the ones characteristically associated with the Forum polity in Europe down to very recent times. They were what gave the term ‘Republic’ a bad name, but made ‘Democracy’ an object of sheer horror.

- S. E. Finer


“All democracies are good.
America is a democracy.
Israel is a democracy.”
I leave the reader to draw his or her own conclusion.
This is the message of the latest UN Human Development Report: Deepening Democracy. The erotic nature of the title owes more to the sexual mores of Greece – where democracy originated – than to modern times. Plato felt that such penetration was immoral and unnatural; Socrates disapproved because, in his opinion, it was exploitation by the man of the boy (“the boy does not share, like a woman, the delight...but looks on sober at another in love’s intoxication”). Nevertheless, that is the title of the UN report. Perverse.
(The erotic nature of ideas has been obvious ever since Plato wrote the Symposium. In that same dialogue, the relationship between sex, love and democracy is also expounded – apparently the love of Aristogeiton and Harmodius was responsible for the overthrow of the tyrants, leading to democracy!)
The report argues that development requires democracy. Yet we all know that Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia did not develop under democratic rule. We also know that Western European nations, chief among them Germany and France, did not develop as democracies. Only the Anglo-Saxon countries developed democratically. Why, then, this tissue of lies? Why has the UN deployed its considerable financial firepower to promote an ideology that is wreaking havoc across the world?
More and more people are voting – and more and more are voting with their feet. Several hundred thousand people have been fleeing South Africa and Latin America for the last decade. All my friends have left Bangladesh (which is why they are still my friends). If democracy is God’s gift to man, why is the US busy shoring up monarchies and dictatorships throughout the Middle eastern crescent? Clearly, the Americans don’t feel safe with democratic regimes in the Middle East – and that’s understandable. Clearly democracy is good only if some countries are democracies. The rest of the world can then be treated as subhuman barbarians to be treated like a herd of cattle fit only for slaughter.
That is how the democracy of the United States spread across the continent from the east to the west – murdering the Native Americans in pursuit of a God-given right to the entire land. And that is precisely how the democracy of Israel was founded, expanded and is being preserved – at the expense of three generations of Palestinians, rendered refugees in their own country. And when these people, out of sheer exhaustion and desperation, try to defend their country and reclaim what is rightfully theirs, they are branded ‘terrorists’, not martyrs or patriots. After all, the Palestinians are not a democratic people; Israel has its Knesset, and America its Congress. These institutions serve to justify violence against unrepresented people – from Afghanistan to Iraq. 1,700,000 Iraqi children have died as a result of western sanctions. According to Madeleine Allbright, “It was worth it”.
This then, is the real purpose behind the UN publication – to legitimise an ideology that justifies the use of force. The western world has never tried to conquer the world without an excuse. Prince Henry the Navigator – the father of the Atlantic Slave Trade - sought money to build ships to Africa ostensibly because he wished to convert these people to Christianity and counter Muslim influence. Hogwash and balderdash! All he was interested in was gold, and when he didn’t find it, he plumped for the next best thing – black gold! Thus began the misery of the black Africans – it is incredible that religion was used as an excuse to enslave 11,000,000 human beings! And then came more secular theologies – such as, commerce and civilisation. In the novel Heart of Darkness, the narrator Marlow is told that the Company – whose sole purpose was to rob the Congo - exists to wean “those ignorant millions from their horrid ways”. When Marlow hints that the company is run for profit, the retort takes the form of a Biblical quotation ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire”.
The historian Norman Davies observed: “Hitler’s democratic triumph exposed the true nature of democracy. Democracy has few values of its own: it is as good, or as bad, as the principles of the people who operate it. In the hands of liberal and tolerant people, it will produce a liberal and tolerant government: in the hands of cannibals, a government of cannibals. In Germany in 1933-4, it produced a Nazi government because the prevailing culture of Germany’s voters did not give priority to the exclusion of gangsters”.
This explains why democracy has been abandoned where it was born – in Western Europe. Europe today is run by the European Commission, a bureaucracy of unelected wise men. The attitude of the European elite towards democracy was summed up by Louis Michel, the foreign minister of Belgium, when he said that voters can be “naive” and “simple”. Of Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party, he said that to be a democratic party “you must work by democratic rules, you must accept not to play on the worst feelings each human being has inside himself”.
In India we recently witnessed the slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat just because an election was approaching. According to the Indian magazine, Frontline:

“In less than 12 months, Gujarat's Hindu Right will face Assembly elections. Discredited by its record on the economic front, and its less-than-creditable handling of the 2001 Kutch earthquake, few people had given the Bharatiya Janata Party a serious chance to retain power. Now, after February 28, the Hindu Right is again on a roll. It has learned the lessons of the 1998 Lok Sabha elections when a string of attacks on Christians and Muslims in south Gujarat helped the BJP wrest key seats, including Godhra, from the Congress(I)....”

George Fernandes, the Indian defence minister, has gone down in history as the man who asked “What’s new about rape?” to defend the Gujarat pogrom. In Bangladesh, we have got used to the fact of ruling party boys raping our sisters and butchering our brothers. Democracy unleashes the worst feelings each human being has inside himself.
What both Louis Michel and Norman Davies were referring to were the “the worst pathological features” of democracy pointed out by S.E.Finer in the quotation at the head of this essay. What could be more pathological than to burn Muslims to win an election, or to test nuclear bombs to garner a few more votes, or for a man who led the rath jatra to the Babri Mosque, initiating its destruction and unleashing violence across the nation, becoming the Home Minister of India? What could be more pathological than for Slobodan Milosevic to recall what happened 600 years ago to launch a pogrom against Muslims in Bosnia? What could be more pathological than for 10,000 people to be murdered in Nigeria by politicians stirring up ethnic and religious hatred to win votes? What could be more pathological than for a man to win the presidency of Russia by bombing the Chechens? One could go on and on....
Those who find democracy an attractive form of government should keep in mind those who are not represented, but affected, by such a form of government – the victims of democracy. Highly efficient pressure groups, on the other hand, can wield the entire apparatus of the state against an unrepresented people. The Jewish lobby comes readily to mind; so do the farm and steel lobbies, for instance. Blacks in the United States, however, have had to riot on many occasions to make their presence known to the majority – notwithstanding the efforts of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. The under-representation of African-Americans in the American political decision-making process is underscored by some stark statistics: though only 12% of the population, by 1990 blacks had come to represent over 44% of prison population - in 1994, 7% of all black men were behind bars, compared to less than 1% of white men. Since incarceration deprives one of the right to vote in the most populous states, and since prisoners are usually prevented from voting, African-Americans have been significantly disenfranchised.
Blacks, therefore, are not ‘effectively’ represented. And neither are most foreign peoples. As James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute observes: “When we do focus groups, Americans say, ‘I know who the Israelis are, I don’t know who Palestinians are.’ And they sympathise and identify with the one they know.” Consequently, the following hair-raising passage from a respected international weekly, The Economist, comes as no surprise:

‘The last presidential election saw about 4m evangelical conservatives, once reliable Republican voters, staying at home. Mr Bush may be able to re-engage evangelicals by getting cloning banned. But this will count for nothing if they conclude that he is putting pragmatism above principle on Israel, a country evangelicals revere both as a home for God’s chosen people and as the scene of the “end of days”. The stakes are particularly high because the impending ban on soft money, which will kick in after the November elections unless it is ruled unconstitutional, will make the Republican Party far more dependent on the sort of small donations that come from grass-roots activists.
‘The make-or-break issue for Mr. Bush, however, will be Iraq. Mr. Bush aroused huge expectations on the right when he promised to confront the “axis of evil” and extend the war against terrorism into a war against heavily armed toxic states. He has repeatedly stated his determination to mount a war against Saddam Hussein to damp down criticisms of his Middle East policy.’

The bombing of Afghanistan and the future bombing of Iraq are aspects of what can best be described as ‘democratic theatre’. Democratic theatre consists in the use or threat of use of symbols of power – bombs, processions, marches – both to cow the victim-populace as well as to display the might of the victor before the electorate. Thus even ‘communal’ violence must be construed as democratic theatre. The anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983, the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 and the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 are examples of democratic theatre, as was the slaughter at Sarajevo by Serbians. It is the psychology of the mob, as Plato pointed out 2,500 years ago in the Republic, describing it as ‘the madness of the majority’. Here is a description of democratic theatre:

“In 1990, there was a procession to build the platform (Ram mandir) of the temple. The most dramatic features of this campaign was BJP President Lal Advani’s 10,000 kilometre rath yatra, planned to start at the Somnath temple in Gujarat and conclude at the disputed Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya.....
“On December 6, 1992, as mahants, pandits, and sadhus were getting ready to start the puja on the newly built platforms for the temple to Ram, the Babri Masjid was demolished by karsevaks....All the leaders of the movement – Advani and Vajpayee of the BJP, Joshi of the VHP, and leaders of the RSS, the Bajrang Dal, and the Shiv Sena – were present.”
Today, L. K. Advani is India’s Home Minister and Atal Vajpayee its Prime Minister!
As Stanley J. Tambiah has observed: “The Indian media have been effectively harnessed and deployed in various ways to propagandize causes such as the Ayodhya temple issue, notwithstanding that India is a country in which 65 percent of the population are illiterate (and only 2 percent know English)...Aside from radio and films, followed by television, perhaps the most sensational recent development is the use of VCRs and audiocassettes, by means of which both villagers in remote rural areas and the unlettered in cramped urban slums can hear messages and see visual images propagated by leaders and ideologues from metropolitan centers. Moreover, the further import of these new cassette media, widely available and cheap to acquire and distribute, is that they can serve as a counterweight to, and a subverter of , governments....”
What is true of the Indian media is even more true of the American media. CNN has brought the destruction of Afghanistan straight into American living rooms; and Americans can expect many more hours of horrific footage directed at them from the smoldering ashes of Iraq.

Amartya Sen’s remarks remind me of the learned theses presented by the scholars of Europe to defend and justify slavery. John Locke, for instance, said that slavery was justified in war – never mind that Britain was not at war with Africa! John Locke, you see, had shares in the Royal African Company. Thus I was not surprised to see this quote from Amartya Sen at the head of chapter three of the UN report: ‘In earlier times there were lengthy discussions on whether one country or another was yet “fit for democracy”. That changed only recently, with the recognition that the question was itself wrong-headed: a country does not have to be judged fit for democracy, rather it has to become fit through democracy. This is a truly momentous change.’ Just as John Locke had a stake in slavery, so Professor Sen has a stake in democracy – after all, nobody criticising democracy can expect to win the Nobel prize. I don’t expect Dr. Adrian Leftwich of the University of York or Dr. Stanley J. Tambiah of Harvard ever to win the Nobel prize for their critical views of democracy.
I would recommend any reader of the UN report to skip the formidable graphs and charts (very sexy, no doubt) and go straight to chapter four. At the head of that chapter is a quote from a Nigerian tailor, a man at the receiving end of the ‘deepening’ of democracy, like Socrates’ boy. His name is Muhammad Umaru, and he condenses more wisdom into one line of observation than all the Nobel laureates combined:

“When we were in the military regime, we didn’t get anything from the government, but we had peace. Now we are in a democracy, we don’t get anything from the government,
and we don’t have peace.”

The title of the UN report, “Deepening Democracy” is very erotic – but then some people find rape erotic, don’t they?

1 comment:

Telefone VoIP said...

Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Telefone VoIP, I hope you enjoy. The address is http://telefone-voip.blogspot.com. A hug.