It has been twenty years to the date when a single event sent shockwaves which resonated around the globe. South Africans were finally freed from the yoke of Apartheid and the People stepped into the light of democracy. No longer were the ANC or as the punters of Apartheid put it, ‘die swart gevaar’ terrorists. They were the freedom fighters and liberators of the Nation and the ruling government.
However, twenty years on as a young South African the concept of democracy, the workings thereof and the true essence of governance for the people by the people have come into question. Perhaps the disillusionment with the concept of this utopian idea emanates from my home, South Africa. Perhaps it emanates from the resentment towards those that have used the concept of democracy that our people once held close to their hearts during the dark days of Apartheid, to maim, plunder, subjugate and murder innocent people. It is a tedious task to peg the genesis of this disillusionment, yet the conclusion remains a constant.
I reflect on the words of Imam Ruhollah Mostafavi Moosavi Khomeini when he said albeit within the context of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 – “Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy.” As to why I choose to reflect on this leader’s advices as a South African is simply due to the fact that the Shah of Iran was the largest supplier of crude oil to the Apartheid regime. It was only once Imaam Khomeini lead the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that the Iran divested from Sasol. An active step to support the global efforts to liberate the People of this land from the tortures of Apartheid.
The concept of democracy is an ancient concept that dates as far back as 431-404 BC, to the funeral oration of Pericles. It was this oration that gave rise to the nucleus that would be democracy as we understand it today. Notably he said, that power would be in the hands of the people; equality before the law; life to be free in both public and private; obedience to the law; be tolerant and keep to the law. These were only some of the elements Pericles in his wisdom highlighted. However, it is my belief that the core elements such as power to the people; equality; freedom & privacy and the rule of law defines a democracy. It should be noted that the power in the hands of the people as per Pericles meant only males above the age of 20.
However, it became evident as democracy evolved, reflected in the works and thoughts of Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, that democracy was not as wonderful as it was presented to be. His model of democracy excluded women, labourers and dependents.
A brief consultation of the history of democracy shows a duplicitous usage of the concept of equality. It therefore comes as no surprise, considering the discriminatory nature prevalent in early democracy, that women only obtained the right to vote in 1920 in the United States of America.
Fast forward to November of 2003 when George W. Bush gave a speech at the twentieth anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. He said:
“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.
Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace.’’
It seems ironic that a man who won an election by court ruling to stop a recount and went on to win a second term through coercive electoral malpractices and national ‘malfunctioning’ electronic voting machines as indicated by authors Abid Ullah Jan and Rory Winter; stands preaching about democracy. The greater irony is that George Bush and his demonic sidekick Tony Blair elected themselves arbitrarily the speakers and representatives of democratic Peoples around the world, empowering themselves to spread this fraudulent idea by the barrel of a gun. This poll-less election of these representatives in itself runs contrary to the precepts of democracy and democratic functionality. Under the Bush regime we witnessed the occupation of two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. We witnessed the brutalisation of an entire people, the murder of civilians and night raids like the one in Chahar Bolak district of Afghanistan’s Balkh Province in which US Special Forces separated the men and women of about 15 families and raped several women. In Iraq we have witnessed an entire war launched on the premise of ‘weapons of mass destruction’, the existence of which has never been proven to begin with. Under this illegal war to liberate the people of Iraq from the tyrant Sadam, an estimated 1,455,590 people have lost their lives. It is ironic as Sadam was an ally of the USA and was ignored as he conducted chemical attacks against the Kurdish Iraqi population and attacked Iran. The murder and mayhem supported by the Order 17 issued by Paul Bremer in Iraq and commented on by the President of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, who said “The fact that they have immunity means that there is not even the possibility of them facing any consequences for acts of killing and brutalisation.” This Order 17 immunised US forces & mercenaries from prosecution and accountability and has turned the region into the Wild West. This lack of accountability rubbishes the notion that the aim of the occupation was to bring democracy to the Middle East. If that were indeed the case, surely Pericles did not envisage the complete lack of accountability when discussing the rule of law and equality.
A further stain on the annals of history is the emergence of Guantanamo Bay. The idea of imprisoning men with little or no evidence, stripping them of their legal rights, as would be enshrined by any democracy, the perversion of definitions of torture into ‘harsh interrogation methods’ is in itself grounds to declare these so-called democratic ideals of equality, rule of law and freedom fraudulent. The New York Daily News ran a story in April of 2010 with the header “George Bush, Dick Cheney ‘knew Guantanamo Bay prisoners were innocent’: report”. This comes as no surprise as 86 men that have been cleared for release, having committed no crime continue to languish in the Guantanamo torture chamber under Obama’s watch. This begs the question, what hope can be vested in democracy or these valiant fighters of democracy when they disregard every core ideal of the concept.
The dark abyss that the world appears to be slipping into seems even bleaker at the close of 2013 than it did after Bush launched two large footprint wars. It would seem that the mighty Texan had ushered in an age when the USA and its ‘democratic’ allies were becoming more Spartan than democratic Athenians. However, the hopeful slogan of “yes we can’’ inspired the belief that democracy was indeed a true concept, that a black man with roots to Africa would understand that war, murder and colonialism was to be a thing of the past; would steer us back to democracy. As the global population became disillusioned by this orator par excellence, it was evident that he was more colonial then his predecessors. During 2012 and 2013 the United States had Special Forces operations and projects in 106 countries. It would seem that Obama managed to do what the ancient colonialists could only dream of, a military presence globally.
The most disturbing element of Obama’s anti-democratic tenure was the expansion of the drone campaign. These unmanned combat aerial vehicles according to Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and member of the armed services committee, have been murdered 4,700 people. However, the true tally of corpses appears to be far higher. The case of 16 year old US citizen Abdul Rahman Awlaki who was blown apart due to Obama’s assassination program is an example of same and when Obama’s re-election advisor was asked why an innocent, minor, with no charge was murdered the answer from Robert Gibbs was “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children.” It becomes hard to mask one’s disgust when so flimsy an excuse is utilised to justify the murder of children. Even more so when Abdul Rahman’s father, Anwar was never charge in a court of law, no tangible evidence lead and his only crime was to exercise his right to freedom of expression.
The Western World’s most heinous crime however is their muted condemnation; lethargic steps and in the case of the United States, support for the ‘democratic’ apartheid state of Israel. A state which provides automatic citizenship based on ethnicity but inhibits Israeli citizens from marrying a Palestinian from the Occupied Territories forcing the Israeli citizen to either move to the Occupied Territories or live in separation from their children and spouses. This Apartheid is enabled through the July 2003 Citizenship and Entry Law, the effects of which is no different from the Mixed Marriages Act of the Apartheid South Africa. From Freedom of Speech, to the new law that would seek to eliminate parties like the Arab Balad Party because of their criticism of State policy, only bolsters the existence of Apartheid in Israel. It becomes preposterous to believe in democratic ideals when the United States and the Western World continues to support an Apartheid State that administered birth control to Ethiopian Jews without the consent.
The concept of Democracy, the rights and obligations that underpin this concept and the application thereof is evidently subjective. To the West, they are democratic when the concept appeals to them. When murder, lack of accountability, occupation, no human rights and apartheid is convenient for them, the values of democracy are dispensed with. Perhaps my disillusionment would have been misplaced had it not been for the dismal application of democracy. It is my belief that Imaam Khomeini was indeed correct when he said “Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy.” Democracy has been violated and perverted by those whom we have put in power. It is my sincere belief that the only way to remedy the rot that has set in is to become an active citizenry with people power. To create a situation of active participation were accountability to the People is paramount, and the interest of humanity and not the military industrial complex, banking world and megalomaniacs are the order of the day. The alternative is to look beyond democracy and to acknowledge that other regions of the World have solutions beyond that of the West. However, until such a time I hold no false hope in this perverse concept of democracy preached by the West.
Zaakir Ahmed Mayet
Chairman of the Media Review Network South Africa