Sunday, 23 September 2012

Democracy in Crisis

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What started as an experiment in Athens over two thousand years ago eventually pervaded every continent and every land. Democracy, Democracy, Democracy is the repeated call that bellows from the four corners of the globe. It is the established order in a chaotic and unstable world, where every critic of democracy is viewed with heretical suspicion. For every political problem, we are told, lies a democratic solution. For every civilization, for every country for every tribe, for every time - goes the mantra - democracy is the claimed answer to all our ills. In the poetic words of a RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women in Afghanistan) activist, democracy will cure all wounds and bring a dawn of freedom.
O' freedom sun, Thrust in darkness, Democracy will cure the wounds, Which emerge from your blood-stained soil. O' saddened nation, Fight your antagonists. Take revenge for your martyrs, On the enemy of democracy and woman. We shall bring through knowledge, Through blood and smoke We shall bring the dawn of freedom, The morn of democracy. Meena's flag on the shoulders of women Who will sing she is our pride O' People, arise Fight the enemies of democracy In revenge for the blood of your beloved martyrs. And as a message for your fighters.
Yet recent events conform to a remark by John Adams, the second President of the United States. "Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." Adams' remarks were true then and are fast becoming true now, especially in the Western world, the heart of the democracy's home turf.
Corruption, incompetence, growing debt and a feeling that politics just doesn't work for the ordinary man is now prevalent in most if not all major democratic countries.
Moreover, since 9-11, democracy has slaughtered so many sacred cows, plunged to ever-deeper moral lows and increasingly become what it was, theoretically, supposed to oppose: corrupt, paranoid and tyrannical rule.
Yet before we get into a detailed discussion around the merits and demerits of democracy, it is important to define precisely what we mean by the word democracy - for it means many things to many people.
Some use the term in a linguistic sense: to characterise consultative behaviour. A company boss is considered democratic if he or she consults their team on a regular basis, in contrast to those who are considered dictators when they bark orders and expect to be followed. Others refer to any type of election - from the school council to high political office - as democratic.
Also, liberal secular societies do not have a monopoly on claiming democracy as their own. Many communist countries during the Cold War era described themselves as democratic republics; and even Saddam Hussein's Iraq had Presidential elections. But those for whom free and fair elections are the key characteristic of a democracy would not give democratic legitimacy to those held in communist states or in dictatorships, where only one party exists.
Others view democracy as more than just elections - that democracies should be characterised by other values and institutions. That alongside regular elections there must be liberal values, a functioning legislative chamber, a vibrant opposition, a free media, civil society and an independent judiciary.
For some, especially from the libertarian viewpoint, democracy should not be equated with liberalism; the latter considered to be the end goal, whilst the former needing to be limited in order to avoid a nation becoming illiberal through the passing of authoritarian legislation. That is why many would describe the United States as a republic rather than a democracy.
For the purposes of this pamphlet, we have defined democracy as the political system that institutionalises legislative sovereignty - in either the people directly - or in their elected representatives.
This pamphlet seeks to address the democratic system as articulated and implemented in most of the well developed and emerging democracies in the world today. Another key assumption we make is that we believe that democracy cannot be separated from secularism. Though many have argued that religion and democracy are compatible, this may be right in the private arena but cannot be the case in the public space - where either religion or democracy can enjoy primacy, but never both at the same time. Religions inherently believe that laws and values are the product of divine revelation without human involvement whereas democracy is about subjecting everything to human scrutiny and passing laws by numerical majorities.
This short pamphlet is divided into three chapters. The first chapter seeks to present the theoretical weaknesses of secular democracy and articulate a deeper critique of the core pillars that underpin the secular democratic model. The second uses brief case studies of secular democracy in practice to illustrate the theoretical weaknesses highlighted earlier - the United States, United Kingdom and India - as well as an emerging secular democracy in Afghanistan. We will illustrate the growing gap between the rhetoric and reality in these democratic states. In the last section we use a Q and A format to present a summary of the Islamic Caliphate system. Though no one is suggesting that is an imminent alternative for non-Muslim countries, the same cannot be said in for the Muslim world, where the Caliphate has tried and trusted solutions and certainly a practical alternative. Of course, human implementation within the Caliphate will not be perfect in any way, but for those who believe that the sources for its legislation emanate from a divine entity (whose existence Muslims should rationally prove as a precursor) that fully understands the huge complexity of life and the nature of human beings; something human beings on their own could never comprehend. Islamic principles are by their nature less subject to personal whim, constant change, political expediency or public fickleness while at the same time remaining flexible enough through the process of Ijtihad to deal with new emerging realities.

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