Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saying the Un-sayable I

The democracy debacle in Afghanistan should cause serious politicians and diplomats the world over to develop strict criteria before staging elections in countries they would like to see emerge as democracies.

Afghanistan clearly isn't ready, nor is Iraq. They are both still involved in civil wars with massive outside intervention. This isn't the breeding ground for democratic government.

Colonialism is out of favor at the moment, but the reality is that the United States was a colony for more than 150 years before it made its move for democratic self-government. During that time, agriculture and manufacture were allowed to develop. Trading links were established, roads and bridges built, local mechanisms for justice established, and a desire for coming together as an independent state grew.

The American people weren't subjugated by the British, who in fact showed amazing tolerance to our growing restlessness. The accepted the Continental Congress, an essentially free press, the establishment of schools, religious diversity. The British government did not enslave or run the lives of American colonials. Nevertheless, the need for self-government was formed.

We had the time for the desire for democracy to gestate; for American-born thinkers and leaders to develop until that desire bubbled over and we decided to fight for a democratic state.

The same happened in India, which also had a period of about 150 years as a colony. During that time, that vast population was united, given a common language and brought under the rule of law. In time, the power of the war lords diminished and that of the thinkers, writers and leaders grew. Independence was achieved - at some cost, as always - but real respect and friendship between India and the United Kingdom remain.

Where, then, are the Afghan thinkers, radical democratic journalists and leaders? If they are there, the electorate in the US hasn't heard of them. They get no media attention. The same question goes for Iraq.

I am not suggesting that these countries should become American territories, or territories of any other nation. Rather observing that our own history could not have coped with what we are expecting of Afghanistan or Iraq, and that we, quite simply, should stop expecting it.

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