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Jacob Sullum warns off policymakers from telling Palestinians which flag to fly.

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  • kromos||

    Yes to democracy when it serves to USA, no to democracy when it does not. The conclusion of the article however should have been, while mid-east politics are tied to US interests this way or another, there will be no peace...

  • ||

    Unchecked democracy is no different from any other dictatorship and is merely mob rule with roberts rules of order. A constitutional republic that recognizes an individual's right irrespective the current fashion of the mob is the only moral government. Yes, we've forgotten this here and so its not surprise we don't know how to export either.

  • ||

    A very fine article, tempered and thoughtful. I'm impressed Jacob. I also agree with rf. Democracy is the worst form of government, with the exception of all the alternatives. A government ordained to protect the individual rights of the people is the only just one. Wish we still had one.

  • ||

    You know just because a government is elected through a democtractic process does not make it a democratic government. Democracy is not made up only of a popular election, that is simply one process within the scope of democracy. Neither Fatah nor Hamas are democratic governments, Hamas is elected but not democratic.

    Also what is exactly is the expectation regarding US support for Hamas. They are entitled to receive foreign aid from the US simply because they won the election by popular vote? There is absolutely no other criteria they would need to meet besides that, and we should support Hamas even though it would fly in the face of decades of US foreign policy? No, Hamas' policies are not palatable for foreign aid providers, so the aid stopped, once Fatah took power again, and because its policies are 'better' the foreign aid resumed. Or should foreign aid only go to democratic governments now, cause Africa will be in trouble.

  • ||

    I think Hamas delegitamized itself when party members gunned down over 100 country men and forced Fatah members to flee. After all, if the mayor of Philadephia shot dozens of citizens in a week and exhiled Republican leaders, we wouldn't say "Oh well, the people have spoken." Still, if Fatah doesn't hold new elections soon the US shouldn't embrace them either.

  • ||

    I do agree that Bush has to stop embracing dictators. Clinton also had this habit. If the US decides to support a dictator in Pakistan for as long as he's needed to fight terrorists, then odds are he'll "accidentally" let enough get away too keep himself relevant.

  • ||

    Democracy in the Mddle East, What a pipe dream. Can I get some of those drugs?

    All kidding aside, Democratic/Republican forms of government only took root in the west after the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Scientific Rrevolution. The Arab/Persian world world has experienced none of these critical movements. Giving the vote to the masses in the Middle East will, for the foreseeable future, result in irrational and counterproductive governments. Imagine giving the vote to 14th century Europeans. It would have been an unmitigated disaster. Benevolent despots are arguably the best realistic solution. I have my emotional armor on so blaze away at all of my unPC musings.

  • ||

    In addition, Far East nations that have successfully transitioned to a modern enlightened form of democratic/republican government have done so after a period of benevolent despots. Think South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

  • ||

    iih, welcome to the board.

    I dont think J sub D, was suggesting that muslims as people are incapable of electing democratic governments but rather than the oranized Islamic religion at this point is not very compatible with democracy. When he refers too to reformation and enlightenment he is refering to the fact that since the begining the Christian had a central leadership, ie the papacy, which Islam with its many sects and imams etc, did not. Also Christianity by being so centralized and the various rulers in Europe provided a sorts of checks-and-balances to each other over the years. Which again you did not find so much in the Middle East as each caliphate etc, was bound to have a handful of religous leaders tugging the rulers and masses every which way. Democracy emerging from the Christian european countries is simply a matter of history and the result of the politcal/religous atmosphere in Europe during thos centuries not a testament to the failures of Muslims.

    Im guessing that if the Muslim world, at its infancy, had elected a singular 'holy' leader, and the various regional powers embraced him and supported through finances, and the submission of their people, while at the same time providing checks and balances, ensuring that he did not wrestle power away from them, the Islamic development would have parelleled the western more closely. Things simply did not work out that way.

  • ||

    "All kidding aside, Democratic/Republican forms of government only took root in the west after the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Scientific Rrevolution."

    SOme points to make:

    1) The Roman Republic and democratic Athens preceded all of these as did the Venetian republic and the Swiss Confederation.

    2) Germany, which invented all of the above, and Italy which contributed to much except the Reformation, had elections less than 100 years ago, that resulted in less than democractic or republican regimes.

    Without being a Marxist at all, I suspect economic and social/educational and local/geographical factors play are larger role than religious and cultural movements.

  • iih||

    Dear val,

    I certainly agree with you and in fact to some extent with J sub D (i.e., that democracy as it is known in the West and its unique history will be implemented in the ME through a similar history). But remember that:

    1. Only after the Pope and the Church took away so much from the people did the people of Europe revolt against the church. It was because of the injustices incurred by the Church that the people/European governments had to come up with checks and balances, and only after a lot of bloodshed and infighting. Due to the lack of such a central figure that has the potential of abusing religion and the powers it can cater to religious leaders, the lack of a centralized leadership in Islam may have saved it from the far more brutal bloodshed that happened in Europe. (Historically speaking, and despite of all the talk about the violence in the middle east in modern times, while there was some infighting between Muslim empires/dynasties, it was mostly localized in geographic location and over relatively small periods of times, except for clashes between Sunnis and Shias after Ali's death and later within the Ottoman empire, which was more politically rather than religiously motivated).

    2. The fact that Islam is decentralized, devoid of a single leader, is not all too bad. It in fact is good vis-a-vis the small/local government is concerned. This decentralization causes (a) a lot of chaos within Islamic society in times of instability as we are experiencing nowadays (especially terrorism today), but (b) opens the possibilities for a more republican form of governance in times of stability. This narrative is not necessarily true for Shiite Islam, which does have a central religious figure (the ayatollah). Sunni Islam on the other hand is pretty much decentralized and has in it a great potential for a more stable world, if only the West (especially the US) knows how to work with and have a dialogue with Islamic parties and/or governments. Letting Muslims vent off the sense of oppression they are under will certainly give hope towards moderate and democratic/republican Islamic governance. But Western policies, especially that of the US is one of "either our way (i.e., secular) or no way". This is not a productive way to do business with moderates in the ME. Moreover, no Western government comes to the aide of moderate movements in the ME when they need them most (only some lip service by the secretary of state). Then people ask "why are the moderates so silent?"

  • ||

    If I am seen as implying that Islam is counterproductive to enlightened government, Mea Culpa. Christianity is equally counterproductive to enlightened government. I suspect that the the less religious people are the more tolerant they are. Witness the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, the civil rights movement, womens liberation, gay rights with more to follow. I am perfectly aware that religious people and maverick religious leaders were on the front line of all these causes. However, as religion has become taken less fundamentaly and given less respect, tolerance and for the minority and disaffected has increased. The fundamental religious position, both christian and islamic seems to be:

    We're doing this for your own good so you won't spend eternity in Hell. Therefore, because we have divine revealed truth on our side we don't have to respect or even tolerat differing opinions/lifestyles.

    Religios fundamenalism is rampant in the Middle East and growing in the United States. This leads me to a cynical but justified pessimism.

    Just to get one other thing out of the way, I am morally obligated to respect your freedom of religious beliefs. I am not thus obligated to respect those beliefs themselves. In fact I an intellectualy obligated to disagree with Deism in all it's forms. It is ignorant superstition that has caused more harm than anythng else that man has conceeved. Statements like these will get you killed or imprisoned in large parts of the world and almost all of the Middle East.

  • iih||

    Dear val,

    Thanks by the way for welcoming me to the board. I have discovered Reason Magazine only recently and ever since have been interested in reading its articles on a daily basis. I have lived in the US for about 7 years now and as a Muslim middle-easterner, I believe I can bring something knew to the table.

  • || a Muslim middle-easterner, I believe I can bring something knew to the table.

    I'm sure you will. And it will be greatly appreciated.

  • iih||

    Dear J sub D,

    And I pretty much actually agree with you on the abuse of religion to create wars, incite hate, and to also pretentiously assume the moral upper ground in telling people what to do and what not to do for "their own good" including on those people who do not subscribe to the religious doctrine in question.

    The crime of the Church, as is the crime of many "Muslim" religious/political figures (they should really be called extremist religious fanatics instead) today, is that it willed its law over all those subjected to it within its domain of power, whether they liked it or not, and oftentimes brutally implemented them through force. I personally believe that Christianity itself as a message is not cruel, inhumane, or unjust (at least in its original form as relayed by Jesus). It is the Church leaders (really it all started with the Roman rules who saw the dangers of popular Christianity) who sought power through religious pretentious, especially that religion, any religion, has a weakness of being easily manipulated by greedy, power-chasing individuals. The same can be said of Islam.

  • iih||

    Thanks J sub D. Of course I meant "new" not "knew". My views may sometimes be simplistic or naive, but I am here reading this magazine and am on this board (and others) to also learn and understand perspectives different than mine.

  • ||


    Christians did not have a single leader "from the beginning". True, the Bishop of Rome (ie, the Pope) did have special status in the early Church, but until about AD 1000 he had little real power outside of central Italy. Not to mention the fact that the eastern half of Christendom explicitly rejected the Pope's claims of authority centuries earlier.

    An interesting argument could be made that the presence of two independent powerful local authorities (ie, the bishop and the king or prince) in medieval Europe contributed to the idea that no ruler should be omnipotent over all spheres of life. But I don't know enough about the state of affairs in medieval Islamic society to compare.

  • ||

    matthew hogan,

    You have a point. After all, it's hard to dispute that the trend toward liberal democracy began with the English, who were far removed from all those events, with the possible exception of the Reformation (though TBH, the transition from Catholicism to Anglicanism was more of a power transfer than a theological change).

    I think the development of liberal democracy was entirely due to accident, and its spread likewise (which should caution those who think our foreign policy must depend on spreading democracy). Think what would have happened if the French or Spanish had taken control of North America instead of the English, and there had never been a USA. I think it unlikely that most of Europe would be liberal democracies now.

  • iih||


    And I think a similar process will happen in Islamic countries, though not necessarily following in the same footsteps of the Europeans and not necessarily for the same reasons (i.e., checks and balances between individual states and the Church).

    I guess co-existence in liberal democracies or in similar forms of governance happen due to three main reasons/ingredients: (1) people being oppressed, (2) after a long state of warfare and civil wars being get tired of fighting, and (3) governments getting too tired of oppressing people, or the people take over after a struggle. I see all of these easily happening in the Muslim world. In some sense, the Muslim world is undergoing the early stages of this process. The Muslim middle ages if you will.

  • ||

    You'll fit in nicely here, I think. And not just because you and I agree. Rational, polite and sometimes humorous discourse is why I love this site. And did'nt Hit & Run just win some no account award for that?

  • iih||

    J sub D,

    And I certainly look forward to the experience. But I guess I do not understand what you mean by "And did'nt Hit & Run just win some no account award for that?".

  • ||

    After all, it's hard to dispute that the trend toward liberal democracy began with the English, who were far removed from all those events, with the possible exception of the Reformation (though TBH, the transition from Catholicism to Anglicanism was more of a power transfer than a theological change).

    I did include the scientific revoulution in my original post, didn't I? I kinda think England might have some claims there. Your point about the Anglican Church is apt though.

  • ||

    J sub D

    disagree with Deism in all it's forms. It is ignorant superstition that has caused more harm than anythng else that man has conceeved

    The biggest mass murderer of all time was the atheistic philosophy of communism. Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao - any one of them racked up more corpses in pursuit of that philosopy than the religious conflicts put together. All did their best to discourage any sort of religion - Mao even going as far to destroy most of the monastaries in Tibet. Stalin happily tortured priests.

    When it came to tolerance and imposing their belief systems on others, the atheists were no better than the Deists, in fact, they were far worse.

    People in politically mature societies don't impose their personal beliefs on each other. As history shows, religion or lack thereof has no bearing on that.

  • ||

    The Los Angeles Press Club's 49th annual Southern California Journalism Awards. Hit & Run won the prize for best group weblog.

  • ||

    I Blame the Parents:
    You won't find me defending communism or the despicable people you mentioned. But remember, religion has been around and committing atrocities since before recorded history. A hundred here, a thousand there, over 10,000+ years, kind of adds up. I think communism, while on a hot streak right now, is still looking up in the atrocities standings to religion.

  • iih||

    J sub D:

    Oh I see.

  • ||

    People in politically mature societies don't impose their personal beliefs on each other. As history shows, religion or lack thereof has no bearing on that.

    Very well said,I've got to add.

  • libertreee||

    jih-welcome to the lists.

    But, I am the kritarchist/anarchist in the group. I wish I could still believe that Constitutions and limited Republcs work, and I will work for Ron Paul, but the goal is still not a Republic or Democracy, but a contract society. Maybe next century, when people realize there is no global warming worth worrying about, they will turn to abolishing politics altogether.

  • Libertarian Determinist||

    I have to say that I am not very fond of the original article. As we all know, "Democracy" is more than rule of the majority.

    And, as we all know, "Rule of law" is more than applying the laws as they are written; the example of Abbas superceding his legal authority in order to reign in a whacko Parliament is FAR from a breach of the rule or law - or at least it is FAR from being the ONLY breach of the rule of law within this particular equation.

    I'm frankly tired of seeing Democracy referred to, time and again, as simple majority rule. Fair laws, respect of individual rights, and the rule of law are all critical parts of a Liberal Democracy, a Liberal Democracy being quite clearly what GWB was referring to all along.

    Now I'm no fan of the now laughingstock neo-con theory regarding the spread of Liberal Democracy at the edge of the sword. But damnit, GWB is RIGHT when he says that the more Liberal Democracies we have, the better off we are.

    And as for the Musharaf counterexample? The despotic leader who gets America's support? Well doesn't Musharaf have the best track record for supporting Liberal principles - if not Liberal Democracy itself - in that region? Now I'm not Musharaf apologist. Nor am I a GWB apologist. But foreign policy isn't about achieving perfection.

  • ||

    In spite of the many good comments above, there's one link here that everybody seems to have missed.

    By supporting Abbas, then, the U.S. government has chosen peace and stability over democracy and the rule of law-just the sort of tradeoff Bush said we'd no longer have to make.

    If you recall, this is precisely the first mistake we made that got us into Vietnam. The communists would have won any popular election in 1945 (!), and they certainly would have won again in 1954/55. The US decided not to respect that result. And yet val is right,

    You know just because a government is elected through a democtractic process does not make it a democratic government.

    If you want to look at this from a strictly moral point of view, there are no easy answers. Do you let an entire nation slide under the communist yoke, just close your eyes and turn your back?

    OTOH, if you look at it from the standpoint of rational self interest (which I believe should be a major component of US foreign policy), a lot of things get clear in a hurry.

    First, we would not have been in Vietnam. Second, we would not be in Iraq. Third, we would not be messing around with the Hamas/Fatah problem. Fourth.......

  • ||

    btw, libertarians are generally opposed to foreign ventures and yet to my surprise, many of them have criticized my suggestion that the basic philosophy behind our foreign policy should be rational self interest.

    It's rational self interest, more than anything else, that tells you "don't mess with that fire over there".

    Can anybody help me understand what's wrong with applying rational self interest to foreign policy?

    btw, getting some input around here from a Muslim is really really cool.

  • iih||

    Libertarian Determinist,

    Unless I misunderstand you, I think you are contradicting yourself. If "Fair laws, respect of individual rights, and the rule of law are all critical parts of a Liberal Democracy" (and I certainly agree), in particular in regards to "the respect of individual rights", how can one impose a liberal democracy on *another* nation that does not want liberal democratic rule (at least for the time being because they may simply don't like it *now*, or may be because they don't understand it *yet*, or may be Western democracies have not made a good job at projecting to the world why liberal democracies are good [e.g., by the support of dictators who cater certain *services*, such as cheap oil?] ) because *we* think that it is good for them. Sounds like the same imperial rhetoric, when France, England and other European nations decided that the savages of the middle east, north Africa, and the rest of Africa are backward and do not know what is good for them.

    In short, by *imposing* liberal democracy we, or at least GWB, is violating one of the basic tenets of a liberal democracy, which is the respect of other individuals' rights to reject liberal democracies. The only good reason for "imposing" such ideals -- peacefully or forcefully -- is when such nations/peoples attack one's own liberal democracy through an act of war. But otherwise, I do not find it legitimate, no matter how distasteful we may find it.

    Moreover, a liberal democratic or a republican system can not be imposed, especially by force. May be through cultural exchanges, but certainly not force as GWB wishes to do in Iraq, and potentially Iran, too. The people have to will it. Remember, it took the Americans some 200+ years to finally decide to revolt against the British and get their independence. As I hinted earlier, I would rather have a liberal democracy in Egypt, Pakistan, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Palestine in 200 years time where people derive this democracy themselves, than have it imposed by force in 10 years, because if it is imposed within 10 years, it will most likely be a phony democracy (e.g., Iraq?). If within those 200 years a liberal democracy is attacked (and each such liberal democracy should do everything it can within the bounds of the rule of liberal democratic law) by a non-liberal democracy entity (e.g. Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan), it has every right to fight back (e.g., the US's response in 2001).

    Regarding "GWB is RIGHT when he says that the more Liberal Democracies we have, the better off we are." I assume that by *we* you mean the West in general and the US in particular. So for us to be better off, it is okay to violate other peoples' rights to reject liberal democratic governance. Something is very wrong/dishonest with this argument -- at least I disagree with it and it is the kind of policy that makes the US not well-liked by many peoples in the world in recent years.

    Finally, while Musharaf may have been good for the war on terror, he has not been good for democracy. For God's sake, he got to power through a coup-d'etat, overthrowing a democratically elected government when Benazir Bhutto (the first woman to lead a post-colonial Muslim state) was actually heading the Pakistani government. That pretty much defeats the argument that Musharaf had any "record for supporting Liberal principles". Same can be said of US's support for Mubarak, the Saudi princes and King, and unfortunately most other US "allies" in the region.

  • iih||


    Thanks. It actually feels good to be here.

    Of all the current presidential candidates, Ron Paul sounds the most rational and the most honest. With the current status of campaign rules, he has no chance of winning though. Of all the remaining candidates, I like Obama since he seems honest and forthright, but may disagree with him on many policies, and I still do not have a clear idea of his foreign policy (other than Iraq). I totally mistrust all the GOP candidates.

  • Genghis Kahn||


  • ||

    There can be only one. And you ain't it.

  • iih||

    Genghis Kahn:

    Ha Ha. That was an honest mistake -- I pasted in "Genghis Kahn" under "Name" instead of pasting it under "Comments" to address you. But, there is indeed only one Genghis Kahn -- last time I checked he was dead 800 years ago! :)

  • ||

    shhhh, don't tell anybody that I'm a ghost, they won't take me serious anymore.

  • ||

    First let me say this was a good article.

    Now, for my own thoughts. The US should not be supporting anyone in this area. Neither Palestine or Israel. None of our business. That simple. But since it seems impossible for the insane people in Washington to stay out of it then the US should be backing Palestine in what ever goals they have. If this includes wiping Israel off the face of the map so be it. We must back the eventual winners in this conflict if we are to back anyone for our own good. It makes no strategic sense to back Israel. I mean really, what do they have to offer us? Maybe some dates (the fruit) and some sand?

    By the way I am an American Jew so don't give me any of that anti-semantic crap. I have absolutely nothing against the people of Israel but if forced to chose I would go with Palestine for the simple reason of my own and my own peoples safety. The US is pissing off a very large population of peoples with our insane support of Israel. This support led to 9/11 and the reason we are fighting "terrorism" now.

  • iih||

    On the other hand, I am for withdrawing US aid to Egypt, not only Israel. The money there ends up buying weapons for no apparent use (I thought they signed a peace treaty), and/or they end up in the pockets of a corrupt government. Another perverse effect of the US aid is that many local industries (e.g., wheat industry, which used to flourish in the land of the Nile) went out of business because of US products delivered for free as part of the aid (wheat being one of the critical products since it is a basic staple without which people can not survive). Withdrawing aid to other regional countries, will make all players in the region stand on an equal footing. Only then that the extremists on both sides of the conflict will return to reason or fight a bloody and messy conflict and will still end up figuring out that reason and reasonable negotiations being the only way out.

    Only then that the rhetoric of wiping out another established country and the eradication/open-air imprisonment of a disenfranchised stateless peoples will be abandoned. Eventually there will either be (a) two states with Jerusalem having the status of Washington DC, jointly administered, or (b) one democratic state over all the land with Jerusalem as capital of the state.

  • ||

    Jtuf it's more like if the people the people of Philadelphia elected a mayor the Feds didn't like who was elected and the Feds decided to not recognize the mayor, blockade the city, cut off all Federally owed funding, and shut down the Federally funded highways. Would we be surprised after a year of such behavior on the part of the Feds if the people of Philadelphia would rise up with a citizens militia in favor of the mayor?

    Now I personally don't really like EITHER the Palestinians and their tolerance of suicide bombing of civilians OR Israel and it's airplane bombing of civilians, and I think the U.S. ought to adopt an isolationist foreign policy and get the hell out of the middle east. Having said that next time please chose a less biased metaphor that presents the whole story and not just the U.S./Israel spin, thanks.


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