Tina K. Russell

August 18, 2008

Safe for democracy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:54 pm

Memo From Somalia – Anarchy-Cursed Nation Looks to Bottom-Up Rule – NYTimes.com
Many Somalis have grown suspicious of a strong central government, especially after the dark years of Maj. Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre, the dictator who ruled from 1969 to 1991. “The state has never had any legitimacy,” said Tobias Hagmann, a Somalia scholar at the University of Zurich.

Clan-based warlords toppled General Siad Barre, then turned on one another. In some places, limited local governments sprouted to fill the authority vacuum. They called themselves “administrations” and provided some services, like resolving property disputes or trying theft suspects in courts based on Islamic and customary Somali law.

By the early 2000s, several of those local courts began to gain strength, and in 2006 they united under an Islamist banner to fight warlords being paid by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Islamic courts won and disarmed and pacified much of south-central Somalia, following their own version of the building block approach. But the United States and Ethiopia considered the Islamic courts a terrorist threat, so the United States helped Ethiopia invade Somalia.

The result today is an ascendant Islamist guerrilla force, a wounded and divided transitional government and an increasingly impatient Ethiopia. Stir in Somalia’s war profiteers, including gunrunners and importers of expired baby formula, and the country seems to be a recipe for long-term disaster.

I strongly condemn any attempt to bring religion into government, as such a confluence spoils both institutions almost past the point of salvage. That said, I’m also not a fan of any attempt of ours to force other countries to adopt our way of government. I hope that, in time, the people of Somalia will see that Sharia law, while in some ways useful, is inhumane and hopelessly outmoded. I also hope that, in time, those who run our government here at home will recognize Somalia’s very real need for law and order, something that’s not being brought by Ethopian tanks backed by United States money.

If we think that any government that brings religion into governing is beyond the pale, we may want to consider that the government-in-exile of Tibet, which which deep Western sympathies rightly lie. The Dalai Lama is the head of the church and the head of state, and his succession is achieved through reincarnation. That means he’s been in power for centuries; I can’t think of any dictators that can top that. China has no right to impose their system of government on Tibet, just as we have no right to impose our system of government in Somalia; and if we were sincere about democracy being the right way, the peaceful way, the only way, then we would accept it when other countries elect leaders we don’t like (say, in Chile, in Nicaragua, in Palestine, etc.).

Don’t get me wrong; I think that democracy, be it American-style presidential or European-style pariamentary (or that interesting… thing they have in France) is the best thing ever to happen to systems of government, and I hope every country in the world sees that before long. I think a government is only made legitimate by the uncoerced consent of the people. However, we ought to be leading by example, showing the greatness of democracy and why foreign leaders should trust in their people. Instead, we’ve worked hard building an unfortunate image of the US as a bully, tarnishing the image of democracy by making moderate opposition leaders targets of public humiliation (a common slur is that reformers in the developing world are too “pro-Western”) and raising an obvious question: if democracy is so great, why has it created a country that clearly does not respect the rights of foreigners?

I think they’re wrong; I think we do respect the rights of foreigners. But, we must show that with concrete action to replace our bellicose chest-beating and military arrogance.

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