Talk of “democracy” has become popular again. What with the revolution – or do we call them ‘demonstrations’? – in Tunisia and Egypt, democracy has become the topic of conversation across the political spectrum and across oceans.
In Israel, the politicians are openly saying they prefer dictatorships in the Arab world to democracies. Wise words, yes. Democracies in the Arab world would demand dignity, freedom, brotherhood/sisterhood – or, at the very least, a market price for the gas “sold” to Israel. Dictatorships, on the other hand, are easier to buy, and thus, find it easier to sell their people and to close borders, suffocating Palestinians in Gaza and repressing their own.
In the United States, though, people are less honest. It is wrapped up in patronizing talk (if I want to be gentle) and in orientalist, racist talk (if I want to be honest). Talk is about a “transition to democracy” or – even better – a “move towards a real democracy.” (Just follow what Clinton and company say.)
I hear them talk and I shrug, as I do when Israelis talk. Neither US politicians or Israeli politicians ever want democracy – arguably not even locally.
One can write books about US establishment’s efforts against the building of a “real” democracy within the US. How can there be a real democracy without fair information? Without allowing equitable access to all to be voted? Without allowing equitable access to all to vote? Come on, it means something that voting day in the US has historically been during the week – on a weekday (a Tuesday) and thus making it quite difficult for the working class to vote (isn’t that another great phrase: the working class – what does that make the other economic classes?)
As for democracy outside its borders, unquestionably: US politicians were – and are – not supportive of democracies abroad. Check out this timeline of CIA actions. (One time, I was debating on the topic of US support for democracies abroad, and the fellow I was debating – a former US ambassador in Morocco – said, as evidence of US support for democracies, that “we [the US] killed Che Guevara.” uh…yes…that was his argument in support of democracy.)
Regarding Israel, Israel’s position has been that it supports democracy within its (undefined) borders so long as that democracy is limited to Jews. Check this beginner’s guide to Israeli apartheid.
But I digress. Talk from US and Israeli politicians justifying dictatorships, or a “gentler” form of democracy is boringly predictable. (sorry for the redundancy.)
What is upsetting, though, is when the left, when activists for social justice, use the same framework of US politicians to support democracy.
“Some argue that Obama should continue to back the “devil we know” rather than gamble on a more representative government whose direction is unclear. But what do we think will happen if the U.S. continues to back a dictatorship against the will of 80 million Egyptians? Should we not worry that many will blame the U.S. for propping up their oppressor?”
The problem here is the logic used. I understand the reasoning: support democracy or they will hate us. So what happens is: the same framework used by the establishment is used by those seeking to create another world.
The issue is not: support democracy because of the consequences.
The issue is: support democracy because we believe in the individual’s right to be represented, because we believe in the society’s right to be represented. Regardless of whether or not we will be hated.
The reason is important. The framework is important.
And what is important is that the same logic, the same argument, be used to support human rights – regardless of where.
Those in the US: We would reject the notion of: “supporting democracy or the blacks/latinos/insert-minority-of-choice would hate us.” Those of us who worked for social justice in the US did not do it to be loved, or to be protect ourselves from harm. Rather, we worked for social justice because it was right.
So: use the same logic. Everywhere.