Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Freedom to Choose Sanity

Give democracy time to establish itself in countries where people haven't had the freedom to vote until recently.

Many on the Left who you'd think would champion democracy for the downtrodden, instead rip the Bush administration for pushing for democracy in areas where Islamists can get votes. That this runs counter to their complaints that we install puppet rulers in Iraq and Afghanistan in elections we establish just adds to my frustration with this complaint.

This is also a short-sighted complaint. Yes, when given freedom to elect their rulers, the Palestinians chose to use that freedom to elect the thugs of Hamas. And some in Iraq elected Shia Iranian sock puppets or terrorist-related Sunnis. Afghanistan, too, has some hard core Islamists elected to office.

But as I've written, the important thing is that the elections not be the first and last elections. As long as elections are held again, the people who vented long-suppressed frustration by voting in the most nationalistic and "pure" among them can reflect and change their minds. In promoting democracy, the process is all important and not the results in the short run. If results were all important, why wouldn't we just install puppets?

Strategypage has an interesting post on al Jazeera that shows changes in Arab viewing habits that I think could be a pattern for changes in voting habits:

Since Arabs were liberated from Turkish rule 90 years ago, they have largely had only a censored media. Until al Jazeera came along, most Arabs only got news their governments (few of them democracies) wanted them to get. Al Jazeera was different mainly because it presented many different views. These included religious extremists that rarely got air time on government controlled TV or radio. But there were also secular reformers, people calling for democracy and more freedom. Al Jazeera is famous for having debates between religious conservatives and secular reformers. Makes for great theater, and has caused al Jazeeras viewer numbers to skyrockets. Al Jazeera is must-see TV throughout the region.

Arabs like their news provided in a dramatic fashion. Even secular reformer type intellectuals will come across, to Western eyes, as demonstrative and over-the-top. It's the local style, and al Jazeera has to speak in that style, or be rejected as foreign. But the many new voices al Jazeera has put on the air has changed Middle Eastern culture in a fundamental way. Arabs are no longer as parochial, and with the addition of net access, are going after information they would have, only a decade ago, not only been ignorant of, but would have shunned even if they knew about it.

I hadn't considered this benefit of al Jazeera. Could Arab viewing behavior be a template for future voting behavior? I don't mind if Arabs and Moslems remain angry for a while as they get used to freedom. As long as the angry ones don't have nukes, we can fight the effects until new ways of thinking take hold in those socieities.

If it sinks in to newly enfranchised voters that their votes are no symbolic and have consequences to their every day lives, I think that Arab voters will choose to vote in a sane manner. Hey, admit it, some of you may have voted for Ross Perot back in the day. That was a vote of frustration, too. A non-violent vote of protest, sure, but how many voters repeated that feel-good moment of 1992 in 1996? Not many.

Do not judge democracy based on one vote, one time. That's what the thugs want you to do.