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Are Western democracies really democratic?
By Buthaina Shaaban
The Daily Star:
"Say work, for God, His Prophet and the believers shall see your work." My inner mind was repeating this verse from the Koran while watching Friday's news last Friday. I listened to the latest British news on the initial defeat of Labor and their consequent Cabinet reshuffle and images of British citizens protesting the war on Iraq blurred my sight. I thought of the British men and women who came from all over Britain to London carrying their baby children on their shoulders to tell the British government that war is destructive to childhood and humanity at large.
It was hard to believe that those intense public demonstrations failed to change the government's course of action. I asked myself what "democracy" was, when the government's political decision is hostage to one or a few politicians' opinion. The public in Spain, Italy, the United States, as well as in many other European countries, stood firmly against the war. Yet their "democratically elected" governments went to war.
It is quite hard today to define the extent of the disaster that has befallen Iraq. The war has set it at least a couple of hundred years. A byproduct of the war has also been letting the Israeli government go unrestrained with land confiscation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians who have been there for thousands of years.
Who could possibly compensate the Iraqis and the Palestinians for what they have been going through when international legitimacy is continuously violated in both countries? The United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel's apartheid wall in found its way into the drawers along with Resolutions 194, 242 and 338.
Since those days, and up to May 5, 2006, the Spanish people have succeeded in forcing their government to pull the Spanish forces out of Iraq. The Italians followed suit by voting for anti-war Italian politicians. The American public continues to say its word against the war, even when their government is not paying heed.
The resignation of Porter Goss, head of the CIA, is one timid step to alleviate the crisis in the U.S. instigated by the great losses suffered by so many American and Iraqi families in the war. There is increasingly more American awareness and determination to stop the war, which only resulted in tragedies for both Americans and Iraqis.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released its report on the American torture of prisoners, stating that "most torture and abuse have directly resulted from officially sanctioned procedures and policies, including means of torture approved by the American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld," which only revealed the feebleness that plagued American "democracy."
Torture in Israeli prisons has been the model followed by the American forces in Iraq. Similar to what happens in Israeli courts, a five-month imprisonment is the sentence imposed on an American soldier who tortures or kills an Iraqi prisoner, equal to the sentence imposed on an American who stole a bicycle in the United States.
While almost every official of some international status turns a blind eye to the crimes committed against Iraqi and Palestinian civilians, none hesitates to condemn any statement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hizbullah or the democratically elected Palestinian government. No one would even meet with the democratically elected Hamas government. Lieberman, in the meantime, can publicly call for "executing Arab-Israeli Knesset members who made any contact with Hamas."
One can only stand amazed at these models of "democracy" and "civilization" sent to us by Western governments. It might be a good time for the West to rediscover the messages of democracy sent by Arabs and Muslims to the West. Fourteen-hundred years ago, the Prophet Mohammad ordered his followers: "No priest shall be driven out of his church. No Christian forced out of his Christianity. No traveler out of his way. No minister out of his monastery." This is the "democracy" preached by the Prophet a millennium ago, far much more civilized than the distorted model of the West.
Bouthaina Shaaban is the Syrian expatriates minister
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