Democracy between myth and reality

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Thani 16, 1431 2010-04-01

Main Stories

by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 2, Rabi' al-Thani, 1431)

Delivering democracy has become the all-purpose justification for every crime perpetrated by Western governments against other people.

Delivering democracy has become the all-purpose justification for every crime perpetrated by Western governments against other people. It is not only used to justify Western intervention in other countries’ internal affairs to subvert political processes but also used to justify invasion and occupation of their lands in order to “deliver” democracy whether they want it or not. Gunboat diplomacy of yester-years has been replaced by cruise missile democratization of today.

Before we consider the nature of democracy, let us consider some assumptions on which such projects are launched. From the effortless superiority of the British to the Manifest Destiny of America, the rest of the world is expected to comply with the demands of the West. In the past it was “British interests” that had to be safeguarded; now “American interests” have become sacrosanct even if in the process, millions of people are threatened with extinction. This is evident in Afgha-nistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen as well as Iran and the larger Persian Gulf bristling with American warships and armed with cruise missiles. There is not an inch of territory anywhere — on land or sea — that is not infested with American warriors armed with lethal weapons pushing US interests.

Several concepts have been peddled in the last two decades in pursuit of Western interests; some have had to be discarded because they proved untenable but others are still in vogue. All were and are intended to advance Western interests, made possible by America’s vulturistic military machine. With the demise of the Soviet Union, there was much talk about the peace dividend. It was depressing to hear even otherwise knowledgeable Muslims fall for such rhetoric. The “peace dividend”, however, proved short-lived as America, true to its militaristic nature, launched wars of aggression in various parts of the world. Puffed up by its quick military success especially against Iraq in 1991, American officials as well as media pundits started talking about the “New World Order” in which the “new world” will now give orders and others must obey them. The earlier rhetoric of an inter-dependent world was replaced by the new rhetoric of “might is right” since it was assumed that America is the sole superpower in the world. Pax Americana had dawned on the world; everyone must accept what it demanded. Even inter-dependency was narrowly defined: the resources of other people had to be made available to the US so that it could sustain its rapaciously extravagant lifestyle. Those that dared resist American demands were threatened with being bombed into the Stone Age. Both Afghanistan and Iraq have been administered a large dose of this medicine; Iran and Pakistan are threatened with similar treatment.

Two other concepts are worth mentioning before we examine the nature of Western democracy: Francis Fukuya-ma’s End of History thesis and Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory. With the demise of Communism, Fukuyama triumphantly proclaimed that Western liberalism underpinned by capitalism had won so convincingly that there was no need for any other ideas to order the affairs of the world. Mankind had finally achieved nirvana under Western capitalist liberalism. Hunting-ton, on the other hand, posited the theory that the West would face its greatest challenge from an alliance of resurgent Islam and Confucius Communism (China). Some Muslims, in their innocence, responded to the Clash of Civilizations argument with a counter-proposal for a “Dialogue of Civilizations”. Theoretically, it made sense but it was flawed on two counts: first, the West is not a civilization. When asked what he thought of Western civilization, Gandhi had famously said, “It would be a good idea.” Second, the West has never been interested in dialogue; it demands compliance. At a time when some Muslims were floating the dialogue proposal, the West was already engaged in egregious crimes against other people, primarily Muslims, in different parts of the world. The US-led West conducts dialogue through cruise missiles; just ask the Afghans and the Iraqis. Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, then US President George Bush had responded to a negotiations proposal from Taliban leader Mullah Omar with the statement, “we will see you in Kabul” as American high altitude bombers were on their way to obliterate whatever little was left of Afghanistan already living in the Stone Age. America conducts dialogue with 1,000-pound bombs.

Let us now look at democracy. The dictionary definition of democracy is a “(State having) government by all the people, direct or representative; form of society ignoring hereditary class distinctions and tolerating minority views.” Western democracies claim their governments represent the will of all, or a majority of the people. There is a fundamental flaw even with this definition because people’s thinking is based on personal interests rather than on any higher values. Thus, if one ended up in a colony of cannibals, then by definition, one must accept cannibalism as a legitimate form of living. One wonders whether the champions of democracy would accept ending up on somebody’s dinner plate. There are many other examples such as alcohol consumption. It is known for its harmful effects yet a majority of people in the West insist on the right to consume it not only causing many accidents on roads but also adding enormously to healthcare costs. The same holds true for smoking and its ill effects on health.

What is the reality of democracy in practice? Political systems in all Western societies are tightly controlled by the elites. People with money manipulate the system to their advantage. The masses are simply used as a vote bank to endorse whatever policies are put forward by competing elites belonging to the same class. In the past, feudal elites controlled the system and used it to advance their landed interests; with industrialization and development of the banking sector, a new class of people emerged. Now multinational corporations manipulate the system so that their interests are protected and advanced. People are asked to choose between the same set of elites that represent elite interests, not those of the masses. This has been compared to mice being asked to choose between different colors of cats to rule them: black, white, brown or other.

Political systems also need to be looked at a little closer. While it is claimed that people are free to choose, only a tiny minority of people do so in reality. For instance, political parties are controlled in such a way as to make it impossible for outsiders to enter or represent the wishes of the people. Theoretically, political parties are open to everyone but since their operations depend on money, they must pander to the wishes of the rich. Politics being an expensive sport, the moneyed classes are able to influence party policies to suit their interests. Western political thinkers have been quite candid about what must be done. Walter Lippmann, a leading American journalist and political philosopher of the 20th century, wrote, “The public must be put in its place,” so that the elite may “live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd,” whose “function” is to be “interested spectators of action,” not participants. Lippmann’s worry was unfounded as the 18th century British philosopher David Hume had already observed two centuries earlier. He could not contain his surprise “to see the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and to observe the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.”

The rulers in turn are subservient to the corporate elite. While the masses’ “interest” in the political spectacle is maintained by a dutiful media, owned and controlled by the same corporate elite, politics has been turned into a sport. It has become a circus where each player responds to the crack of the ring master’s whip wielded by a member of the elite club. The masses are made to believe that they are free to “choose” their leaders but these have already been chosen for them by the corporate elite that control the system. The masses are asked to choose between competing elite representatives. In any case, after elections, unelected advisors and other parasites surround “elected” leaders to ensure they comply with the demands of the elites. Even when the masses are opposed to some policies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, their wishes are ignored. A clear majority of people in the US, Britain and Canada are opposed to these wars yet their rulers continue to pursue militaristic policies by offering banal explanations that are projected as profound statements by the same media that is owned and controlled by the elites. Elections make little or no difference because no political party or leader has the courage to stand up for truth. They must do what the elites demand.

An entire industry of lobbyists has also emerged. Lobbying is an expensive undertaking. A small group of people with money is able to manipulate the political system to their advantage. In the US, the Zionist lobby, the armaments industry and more recently the banking industry have all shown how the system is controlled and manipulated. No US leader has the courage to oppose the demands of the Zionist lobby. While millions of Americans are deprived of the right to a decent job, housing and healthcare, billions of dollars are funnelled to the Zionist State of Israel each year. America’s global wars are waged on the backs of ordinary Americans whose sons and daughters die in distant lands so that the armaments industry barons can make tidy profits. The gnomes of banking lost billions of dollars in Ponzi schemes but then demanded that the government bail them out otherwise the entire system would collapse. Nearly $1 trillion were handed to them while millions of people lost their jobs and homes. How were people’s interests safeguarded? The banking executives should have been put on trial for fraud and handed long prison sentences. Instead, in America’s democratic utopia, they gave themselves billions of dollars in bonuses while ordinary people were thrown out of their homes and forced to live in tents.

This is how democracy works. One must express sympathy with ordinary people but this does not put bread on their plates.

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