Monday, January 21, 2013

Myriad Ways to Pelt a Feline

"The Arab Revolutions: It's not about Democracy, it's about Freedom." It's a simple title to a straightforward article by one of LinkedIn's "thought leaders," a man by the name of Saeed Muntafiq.

But on the Internet, nothing is ever simple.

The number of comments that challenged Mr. Muntafiq on this basic premise was unremarkable. Neither was the tone, generally one of questioning how one could have "freedom" while at the same time eschewing "democracy." What struck me as interesting was that people would openly go on the record (after all, LinkedIn is a professional network) outing themselves as either not having really read, or actually understood the article. That English is a tricky language is unsurprising to anyone who has attempted to learn it as a second (or later) language. How easily it trips up native speakers, on the other hand, may raise some eyebrows.

"At the heart of the Arab uprising is freedom in a broader human sense; not democracy – a political culture and ideology which by itself satisfies very little of what the protestors want and need now.

Democracy will not put food on the table or provide for jobs. The protestors, you and all of us must focus on freedom."
To say that the various uprisings that are collectively termed "the Arab Spring" are about freedom rather than democracy is actually make a fairly obvious point. It's about the end, rather than the means.

Here in the United States, Democracy and Freedom are often considered synonymous terms. It's not hard to find people who will say that we are free because we are democratic. But the Constitution, placing as many restrictions as it does on the activities of the duly elected representatives of the public, is a decidedly un-democratic document. While it's true that a properly placed minority of the overall population of lawmakers could amend it, thus changing its provisions, the fact of the matter is that it takes many more than that to have a realistic chance at it, exactly as was intended. Democracy isn't necessarily about promoting and protecting freedom for the entire populace - otherwise one wouldn't have the phenomenon of "the Tyranny of the Majority," in which a democratic majority forces everyone else to dance to their tune. Indeed, democracy is often likened by Libertarian/Anarchist critics to a group of wolves and a lamb deciding what (who) will be eaten for lunch. Or, perhaps more disturbingly as a gang rape. In such formulations, freedom is likened to the party of one being able to hold off the majority by force of arms.

The saying "there is more than one way to skin a cat," is about a simple point - the idea is to get the job done - exactly how one manages this is secondary. It is perhaps time that we in the United States become less convinced that we hold the One True Way to peace, opportunity and prosperity, and allow others to decide for themselves how to get the pelt off the cat.

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