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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Weighing Up Democracy

Everyone knows by now that Pakistan's president Musharraf has declared a 'state of emergency' and suspended democracy in his country, postponing elections and putting a stop to a court case that was deciding the legitimacy of his presidency. Pakistan has allegedly been an ally in the 'war on terror' and has been given billions of dollars by the U.S. to help fight it.

Philosophically it would be impossible for the purpose of the war on terror to be 'defending democracy' (as has been claimed) if it were a higher priority than democracy itself. If one is willing to put the means before the ends, this would be an indication that those means exist for something other than the stated ends - some other unstated ends.

What Musharraf has done in his country does not overly surprise most Americans. But it seems unimaginable to Americans that such a thing could happen in the U.S. What is more important to American president George W. Bush: the 'war on terror' or democracy? There's a good way to know where your president's priorities lie.

The Bush Administration has stated they are opposed to Musharraf's 'extra constitutional measures'. Statements are easily made. You can determine a person's priorities by where they spend their money. If Bush agrees to a suspension of funds to Pakistan until democracy is restored, then we will know that he values democracy more than the war on terror. If he does not suspend funding, then we will know he values the war on terror more than democracy itself.

And, what would the implications be for a country if its president, when faced with a contradiction between democracy and fighting terrorism, preferred the latter to the former?

In my haste I neglected to address another huge factor, which is the danger of extremists within the country taking over a democratic Pakistan with nuclear weapons. Here we see an example (like Iraq) of what democracy could unfortunately be when it isn't coupled with that other pillar of a just society: individual rights. Democracy without a doctrine of rights (and the cultural foundation that supports such notions) is merely mob rule. Among those rights; the separation of religion and state. So, it's not just the weighing of democracy but the weighing of democracy with or without individual liberties that must be considered. In that respect, it's possible Bush could have a logical 'out' in this case, regarding funding support.

This also really highlights the possible mistake of thinking that a people, if given the vote, will automatically vote themselves rights. The United States during its founding was inspired by a solid foundation of Western philosophers whose ideas helped shape the Bill of Rights. Without that cultural foundation, might a people unwittingly vote tyranny for themselves? Such is the madness of dogmatic religious fundamentalism that only a Western fundamentalist leader could fail to understand - and such is the danger we find ourselves in if we collectively lose that cultural philosophy.

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