Tuesday, April 11, 2006

In Praise of Democracy (kind of)

I don't believe that democracy is some kind of ideal to which we should all ascribe, but I can probably agree with Winston Churchill that it is "the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time". I personally reckon the test of a government is what it does, not what political system created it.

The recent Palestinian election demonstrates this point well. Some really positive points have come out of it. I think it's great that the people of Palestine have managed to hold what has been generally recognized as a free and fair election. It's also a credit to Israel that they chose to allow the elections to continue without interference, when many people urged them to intervene.

But the result has been troubling for pretty much anyone. It looks like the winners will be the political wing of Hamas, Palestine's equivalent of Sinn Fein - the political front of a bunch of terrorists.

I wonder how this will affect the US's attempts to bring democracy to the middle east? In Palestine, at least, they have succeeded; but is this a good thing? The US government have said that they will not recognize or cooperate with a Hamas-lead Palestinian authority. I can see why, but at the same time it seriously undermines their commitment to democracy. (A commitment which is already called into question by their treatment of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, also freely elected).

It raises another issue too. The US describe Hamas as terrorists. That was always true in the past. Is it now? They are a democratically elected government. Yes, they are killing people, mainly civilians, in another country. So are US forces in Iraq. And unlike Iraq, Israel has invaded Palestine and is still occupying parts of it. Can we still call it terrorism when a democratically elected government uses force to defend itself against invaders?

I have some views that many people would consider controversial. I believe anyone who thinks about morality in national terms is wrong and very dangerous (I'm thinking of the US, Israel and Hamas here, but also anyone who is prepared under any circumstances to say "my country, right or wrong"). I also believe it is wrong to go to war and kill people even when they are invading your country and killing your friends and family; I don't believe any war is ever just. But for now I'm in a small minority. For the rest of you - what other reason can there now be for failing to recognize Hamas as a legitimate authority and their fight as a just war?

Originally posted 2006-01-26


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