Sunday, February 27, 2011

Leaps in logic and hoary propaganda techniques

The Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist, now to be found on the frontlines of the Middle East, covering himself covering himself with glory, wrote this piece yesterday, titled “Unfit for Democracy” (, challenging the almost-racist (according to none other than the Eton-educated Prime Minister of the UK) view that Arabs, Chinese, Africans et al (i.e. presumably anyone who has been wallowing in tyranny for a while) are unfit for democracy.

Long live freedom, but we have learnt that the ends do not necessarily justify the means and let us not let our intellectuals get away with breaking the norms of argumentation only because we live in tumultuous times.

The first line, in this article exploring readiness for democracy, is:

> Is the Arab world unready for freedom?

A lumping together of democracy and freedom, two terms that often hobnob at the watering hole but are by no means the same. Unready is a pleasant choice, though – so, top marks as far as literary style is concerned. It is generally fifty times rarer than “not ready”, if one may go by hits on

But this grouping together is no slip of the pen.

> I’ve been humbled by the lionhearted men and women I’ve seen defying

> tear gas or bullets for freedom that we take for granted. How can we say

> that these people are unready for a democracy that they are prepared to die for?

Again, the journalist juxtaposes “freedom” and “democracy”, implying that they are the same. (boldfacing not in the original text)

Not only that, the article has numerous references to the courage of “ordinary” humans; people defying torture, the threat of rape and death etc..

> I watched a column of men and women march unarmed toward

> security forces when, a day earlier, the troops had opened fire with

> live ammunition. Anyone dare say that such people are too immature

> to handle democracy?

The virtue of courage (personal and that of a massed group) is translated, apparently, into political maturity.

Courage, we are informed by Philip Mason in his “A Matter of Honour” is always worthy of admiration, and is independent of any analysis of causes for which men suppose they are fighting for. This would mean that the courage of a mob, of a suicide bomber, of Oliver Twist and of Horatious are all good things. But courageous or not, possessed of excellent dental hygiene or not, skilled in the pleasanter arts of the Kamasutra or not – none of these things necessarily have any influence on political maturity.

These brave men and women deserve freedom, certainly. Whether or not they will want to, or can, replace tyranny with a liberal democracy (in the manner of the West, say) cannot be extrapolated from how they behaved under stress when massed together in a public square.

> I’m awed by the courage I see, and it’s condescending and foolish to suggest that people dying for democracy aren’t ready for it.

Agreed. But that does not imply that the converse is true, that people dying for democracy are ready for it.

And let us not forget that a democracy is not automatically liberal. Freedom is worth striving for; a slighter different form of bureaucracy is probably not worth dying for. So let us treat freedom and democracy as distinct terms and socio-political features, and insist upon freedom as the inalienable right of all those currently fighting against dictatorships in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Freedom equates easily into overthrowing of the current tyrant. Whether the revolution leads to greater personal liberties, perhaps via democracy, is not a logical consequence of said revolution. It may, or may not, take place. Therefore, those fighting against old tyrants and helping to bring down unjust regimes are certainly being lead by Freedom (as Delacroix so beautifully put it) but are not necessarily fighting for democracy.

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