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Democracy and theocracy - Part II - from communalism to occupation and subjugation

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Democracy and theocracy - Part II - from communalism to occupation subjugation

Part II - looks at how theological considerations, meritocracy, and the fear of social democracy influence perceptions on democratic values and influence actions justified as democratic, from Palestine and Israel through to U.S. actions around the globe.

This is perhaps the strangest relationship within this argument but it is within this context, from an article written by Ramzy Baroud about the ability of democracy to fit within the Muslim system of beliefs, that my original thoughts started. In the article Baroud argued that an "entire school of Muslim thought was in fact established around the concept that democracy and Islam are very much compatible." Continuing through his arguments on the values of democracy and their fit with Islam - with the awareness of the damage done by the U.S. occupations and invasions and their bringing of democracy through the barrel of a gun to the peoples of the Islamic world - he notes, "However, these idealized assumptions missed the fact that Western democracy was conditional. And unconditional democracy can only be a farce." [2] I can only concur.

Most religions have within them the philosophical/moral basis for the establishment of a democracy. Most would fit a social democracy or even true communal communism if beliefs accorded to family and community were respected and implemented. The discussions about the umma within Islam, the communalism within Christianity, and some of the Talmudic traditions within Judaism, all carry strong elements of democracy. Most importantly as will be discussed later, is the attention to the weak and the poor within society, as well as care for society in general and the environment - and at the opposite end, the kings and rulers were not above the law. Unfortunately many religions - and certain sects within all religions - become dogmatically structured around a patriarchal system, or become entangled in some political philosophy that denies the communal-democratic basis of the religion.

Volumes could be written arguing from this perspective on the ins and outs and validity of democracy versus church regulations versus theological interpretations but there are two points I wish to make here. First is the concept of a Jewish and democratic state. Secondly, the semi-religious beliefs of Confucianism raise the idea of a meritocracy as a possible permutation of democracy.

A democratic and Jewish state?

Many problems occur around the idea of a state that determines its democracy on the basis of one particular religion. While Israel is not alone in this, it serves as an indicator of how far religious zealotry and dogma and political will based on that zealotry - through belief or simple utility - can deny democracy to its citizens and to citizens of areas that it controls.

It is obvious that there is nothing democratic about an occupation. Democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, both occupied countries, is essentially a farce. A government supported by foreign money, a country that has various warlords serving within its institutions, a government that would change dramatically if the occupiers withdrew cannot by any definition other than the lie of propaganda be considered a democracy. For Israel, its denial of Palestinian rights with the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself is a denial of democracy. It is a denial of democracy prejudiced upon a religious "holier than thou" belief system - in which the "thou" becomes homo sacer, the other, outside the law and thus subject to whatever treatment is accorded it without retort - and it is omnipresent in all areas of Israeli/Palestinian society.

The pure lie of democracy as a gift from the rulers, the elite, was fully demonstrated during the Palestinian elections in which Hamas emerged a surprise winner. This democratic victory was quickly denied by the U.S., Canada, and Israel, with the ongoing results being the continued subjugation of the Palestinian Authority to the Israeli political will and the demonization of Hamas and its enclave of Gaza, an enclave determined mainly by outside forces trying to entrap Hamas. Which is in effect what happened, again with results that demonstrate the full lack of democratic ideals of the Israeli government as it subjects the territory to ongoing containment - essentially a huge outdoor prison camp - and savage military attacks that are demonstrably against international law. Democracy has only been achieved by the people, the demos, standing up for their rights, fighting against the abuses of the elites and rulers - and that fight is at its most physical and savage in occupied territories such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and even more so in Palestine.

A democratic meritocracy?

With the rise of Chinese power through economic wealth, technological advancements, and increases in its military budget, most recent works on China as the rising power of the East contain arguments about the nature of Chinese society as influenced by its Confucian background.[3] While not truly a religion, its philosophical underpinnings and the manner in which it is used parallel in certain respects the philosophical structures of the other main religions. Part of the Confucian belief system is that of an ordered society, with a hierarchical structure, but it is not a completely rigid structure and is supported by the belief and application of the concept of merit as a means of advancement.

Historically the rulers and elites of Chinese society were supported by a bureaucracy that was determined theoretically by the merits of those doing the work. The merit was established by a series of examinations to determine the best candidates for the bureaucracy. The rulers themselves were perceived to be there on merit, and if they no longer deserved or earned the merit of the populace, they would be overthrown. These greatly simplified explanations give support to the concept of the intellectual rigor that the Chinese apply to their education. It can also in part help explain the demographic statistic indicating that the distribution of wealth within a meritocracy, in this case China, is not nearly as widespread as in the "democracies" - of which the U.S. has one of the largest spreads in the world. China's current economic growth is increasing the spread, but the idea of a meritocracy remains strongly within its societal structures.

It is hard to imagine a meritocracy in place in North America. Very few of our politicians would merit any of their positions or wealth if they had to pass tests in order to be in power. Many of our politicians are surprisingly ignorant of much of the world, its cultures and beliefs, its geography and life. Democracy in North America comes from the power of wealth and not from the power of common sense and merit. While a meritocracy is not necessarily democratic, it certainly has a level of appeal and would be a highly valid instrument to incorporate within a democracy. Perhaps China will become democratic after all, in a manner that most pundits observing China are not even capable of considering, a social democratic meritocracy.

Today's democracy

Another look at today's democracies and their achievement of wealth demonstrates that free enterprise had very little to do with that wealth creation. Rather, all countries that have harvested the world's wealth have done so by protecting their own industries and products at the expense of those from other countries. This applies to the British, French, Dutch, and Spanish empires, as well as to the American empire. It also applies to the current rise in the wealth of the Chinese. Protection can be afforded in many ways, from tariffs, to quotas, to tax laws, to rules and regulations imposed on imported goods. However it is achieved, most countries that have become wealthy have done so through some form of protectionism.

The authors of the books on China mentioned above relate how this is true of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, all but the latter being considered democratic and held up as exemplars of free trade capitalism. Neither concept holds. They all operate as quasi democracies, having succeeded economically with strong government support and interventions, while the democratic aspect is arguably much more in line with the Confucian meritocracy of China. Certainly the people vote, but it is the underlying bureaucracy and rules and regulations of business and the economy that truly determine the power of the government, not the people, the "demos'.

Examined in that light, many other countries become nominal democracies as well, with that paragon of self-defined enlightenment and freedom, the United States, presenting many aspects of its political culture that deny democracy to its people. The U.S. along with many other western countries are more correctly a plutocracy or an oligarchy, where the wealthy control the power structures of the country.

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Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles. His interest in this topic stems originally from an (more...)
 
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