Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Exporting Imperfection

I’m going to start out with a few questions:
How many people here think the United States of America has a perfect government?
And, how many people here think that our government has always been perfect?
Do you agree that America has achieved separation of church and state?

My answer to all of these is unequivocally: No.

I’m not saying that America is a failed state, but it’s taken us over 200 years to get where we are. Why would we expect a country with no history of Democracy to be able to establish a constitution in a matter of years?

Neo-cons and Bush supporters always find it so convenient to gloss over the history of Democracy in the US. It helps their arguments. However, I like to start with the fact that before we had the glorious and ground breaking Constitution, we had the Articles of Confederation. Oh boy, that failed miserably! So, America struck out at its first attempt at self-governance (don’t mention that to the lemmings. They don’t like to hear things that contradict what they already believe). The Constitution was definitely a hit, but it wasn’t a home run. Remember that whole part about only white, male, land owners over the age of 21 could vote? Hmmm, doesn’t sound very representative to me, but that’s just me. Not to gloss over the issues of slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, voting age, income taxes, citizenship, etc, but the 27 amendments to the Constitution prove that Democracy in America is a continually evolving process. Democracy in America will never be perfect (in part because there is a strong push by the neo-cons to keep it imperfect). And, in the past few years, we have seen legislation that actually infringes on our Constitutional rights; our rights to privacy and protection from unlawful search, our freedom from torture, our freedom of religion, are all being legislated away by a neo-conservative government with a not-so-secret agenda of consolidation of power.

Additionally, I will argue that America has never completely separated church and state. After all, we have federal holidays on Christian holy days, right? And Truman added “under God” to the pledge in 1954, right? While this is minimal, and America is a mostly Christian nation, I believe that it makes forcing another nation into separation of church and state a “do as I say, not as I do” argument. I find Sharia law difficult to stomach, but that is because I do not believe that it is an honest interpretation of Islam. Again, that’s just me. Who am I to say that no nation is allowed to use religion to shape their laws? I can’t. In different cultures, they may be comfortable with the idea of church and state as one.

So this begs the question (and I’m really directing this specifically at Iraq, but also Afghanistan and whatever countries may be next): What makes anyone believe that America has some sort of right to go around the world and establish democracies without regard for that country’s ethnic and historic background?

This is where I like to use two arguments. One, the region of Iraq is one of the oldest regions of civilization in the world. It has seen more wars, nations, and governments than any other place on earth. This is war is just one in a long history of war and conflict. I have no doubt that their culture will persist, no matter who attempts to interfere. Two, we all know about the Domino Theory that was used to justify Vietnam (as in, if one country falls to Communism, the rest will follow…just like dominos). As history has shown, this theory has not played out. Communism did not spread rampantly throughout Asia. So then why would we expect Democracy in the Middle East to be any different? Why would we expect that Democracy to spread like dominos falling when Communism didn’t?

I don’t expect any two governments in the world to be the same. I don’t believe that what works for us will work half way around the world. I expect that people will govern themselves as they see fit. I expect that people will make mistakes in the process, but come to solutions that fit their needs, not ours. I think we need to respect our differences and, instead of forcing change through imperialism, we need to guide change through diplomacy. In a country with a 5000 year history, five years is the blink of an eye. Why not have patience and encourage change over time? War has accomplished nothing, let’s give peace a chance.

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