Democracy Abroad

I just saw an interesting report on Channel 4 news here in the U.K. by their International Editor Lindsey Hilsum on contemporary Chinese students views of themselves, their country and what they think of the way China is viewed and treated by the rest of the world.

You can read the report and see the footage shot on the Channel 4 news World Blogs’ post, but I want to take this time to express my opinions on China, the value of democracy and how (and indeed if) the West should be trying to export it to the rest of the world.

This last might be a bit confusing to some readers but, I’ve always believed that if a people want a democratic regime in their country then they will eventually force their old leaders out and institute democratic reforms through a popular uprising such as happened throughout the former Eastern Bloc countries after the collapse of Russian communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Granted, such uprisings are invariably bloody affairs, but I believe that such events are an accurate gauge of just how badly the people want a change. After all, if they give up at the first sign of a government crackdown then the regime in question will never be changed. Governments in all countries tend to operate only in matters of convenience, not conscience even in democratic countries with purported beliefs in Human rights; witness the total lack of any prospect at intervention or regime change in Zimbabwe or the refusal to criticise Russia too much for its aggression toward Georgia or the fact that western nations complaints about Chinese Human rights violations tend to vanish into thin air whenever trade comes up.

By continuing their disobedience, even in the face of a police or army crackdown, the people are demonstrating their determination and desire for change and that they will not be easily silenced eg. the uprising in Tunisia. But if they back down at the first sign of trouble, we in the West can take it as a sign that democracy isn’t something they really want and that military intervention on our part would be a waste of time.

For example, in Iraq and indeed a great many Islamic countries, religion matters more to them than democracy. For example, the coalition forces in Iraq have spent a great deal of time trying to win the support of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani knowing that if he were to publicly support the U.S. led occupation most, if not all of the insurgents would cease fighting. However, if he were to publicly oppose the coalition armies, then things would get much worse indeed. Simply put, Muslims tend to value the word of their religious leaders more than their political ones which is why in Islamic countries the idea of the separation of church and state is widely ridiculed.

Also, it must be said that democratic countries haven’t exactly been doing a good job of living by the principles they preach.

Firstly, George W. Bush and the Republican party stole the elections which gave him his two disastrous terms of office and even after the facts about this were revealed, nothing was done. Indeed, the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the Florida state recount and ordered the democratic process to be stopped and that there was hardly any public outcry, pretty much makes a mockery of the American people’s supposed love of democracy. Also, the fact that in the last 20 years, election day turnout in the U.S. has plummeted to around 23-25%, raises a serious question.

In a country whose system of government is based on the premise of majority rule, how can any administration, Democrat, Republican or otherwise claim to have a mandate from the people if the majority didn’t vote?

Secondly, the fact that the majority of people here in Britain were, and still are, opposed to our involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and were completely ignored by the Blair administration again makes a mockery of the central premise behind democracy: majority rule.

At the time, Tony Blair justified his actions with platitudes such as, “Leaders have to lead and do what they think is best for their country.” Sorry Tony, but democracy means doing what the people think is best because this is our country and we elect governments to represent us and what we want to the rest of the world. I do hope the Iraq War Inquiry takes him apart tomorrow but I doubt it. As journalist and satirist Ian Hislop pointed out about Mr. Blairs’ last appearance before the Inquiry, “The only man trained in the cross-examination of witnesses was the one testifying!”

That last isn’t a direct quote from Mr. Hislop, but it conveys what he was saying at the time.

I would also like to point out that the main reason the British Empire collapsed is because we spent centuries forcing our views and beliefs on to other people who weren’t in the least bit interested. We did this because, at the time, we thought we were the be-all-and-end-all of Human civilisation and couldn’t imagine any other nation overtaking us.

Sound like anyone we know today?

The Americans have yet to learn that there is no such thing as a benevolent empire and whether they like it or not, hardly anyone sees things the way they do, or cares about the things they do. That’s why they’re almost always being out voted in international bodies such as the U.N.

From the collapse of Empire, we British have learned, if nothing else, how not to treat people; that it is not our place to tell others how to live, think, feel or what to believe. At least that’s what I’ve learned.

I remember my father telling me about the time he was living in Iran working in a power station northwest of Tehran. He told me that Iran does have elections but that, “they’re not exactly free and fair.” Now this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, nor should the fact that many Iranians want to change to a democratic system of government. What may surprise you, is that my fathers’ co-workers often said the West should intervene as they did in Iraq to which my father replied, “No. This is your country, you have to do it yourselves. Every time we get involved it just turns to shit.”

That pretty much sums up my philosophy. If the Chinese or any other people want to overthrow their current system of government, then they must do the work themselves. Partly so that everyone else can see that it’s what they truly want, as stated above, but mainly because it’s not our place to tell others what to do and whenever we try, it pretty much always blows up in our faces. Obviously that’s not always the case; Bosnia and Kosovo spring immediately to mind, but these seem to be the exceptions proving the rule.

If todays’ Chinese are content to keep their current system of government and politics then that, ironically, is a democratic decision they’ve made that we in the West should respect. If they don’t care, if they believe (as I’ve heard some Chinese students say) that the protesters at the Tiananmen Square protests were wrong because democratic reform would jeopardise China’s economic growth, then all we can do is wish them well.

 

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