There was a lot of talk this past week about cruel and degrading punishment. Not in the context of Alberto Gonzales hearings. The man who okayed torture for some under US jurisdiction, was confirmed as our Attorney General. There was however, reflection on torture and man’s inhumanity to man, in Europe, where Global Notables and a few death camp survivors gathered to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.
What made that holocaust possible? A lot of things, but one was this: the world’s willingness to accept that human lives come with different worth. We in the US know it from slavery days – the powerful can persuade themselves pretty easily that those they’re exploiting are different from them. That those others, have a need for happiness and tolerance for pain that’s lesser and greater than our own. Their dreams are different, their aspirations, their needs. Alberto Gonzales clearly accepts that view to some degree. Would he approve of his son or daughter’s torture – I doubt not. Over the ages, those on the receiving end of US supremacist policy have had cause to ask -- Are our lives not worth the same as American lives?
To some extent, we all buy into the notion of difference. None more so, right here, than all those hardcore religious conservatives who condemn humanists as "moral relativists." Morality is absolute, they say, not relative. But they sure don’t act that way.
In all the discussion of Iraq's election this week, we've heard a lot of what you might call "democratic relativism." We know what we mean by democracy – Iraqis don’t have that, exactly, but they have something and they should be grateful for that, we're told.
We know what we consider indispensable in a democracy: convenient access to polls, safe ways to cast a ballot, full counting, fair accounting; candidates who respond to the populace, a population that’s educated enough and interested enough to care.
Genuine democracy has to do not with numbers, but with meaningful popular participation. People can be empowered by casting ballots, but creating an empowered and engaged population requires a lot more besides. Rolled into all the above are certain basics we tend to take for granted. Voters with free will -who are neither too scared nor too hungry, nor too ill educated or angry to vote, and a political system that permits the representatives that are elected to act in what they consider to be the best interests of their constituents.
I suspect that we mean by the term "democracy" isn't so different from what Iraqi men and women have in mind. It’s a process, not a moment and it's measured by the faith of the people involved, not statistics.
Genuine democracy hasn't yet been achieved right here. Did Democracy come to Iraq today? You tell me.
Commentary from Laura Flanders radio show on Sunday, January 30, 2005. Radio, books, articles, appearances -- want to know more? Check out LAURA FLANDERS.COM
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