September 15, 2014 § 6 Comments
I just got around to reading yesterday’s New York Times. I just read two stories that made me angry.
One reports that, when Secretary of State Kerry asked Mr. Sameh Shoukry, the Prime Minister of the Military Government of Egypt, to join the effort to stop the growth and spread of ISIS, he responded, ‘Egypt believes it is very important for the world to continue their efforts strongly to fight this extremism.’ But Egyptian officials declined to specify what help they would provide in the campaign against ISIS, and Mr. Shoukry made it clear that he also had in mind fighting Islamist militants at home and in neighboring Libya.”
Translation: “Oh, you mean those crazy ISIS people? Oh no, we wouldn’t be interested in becoming involved in that problem. After all, they’re in Iraq and Syria, aren’t they? We’re too busy with our own issues to help you out over there. Good luck, though!”
The other story reveals how ISIS picks up over a million dollars a day by selling oil they steal from Syria and Iraq and selling it on the black market in Turkey. When President Obama asked Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to crack down on that illegal avenue of funding, a Turkey “senior official” described the talks as “sensitive”. The real response came a few days later. Here is how it went:
“Turkey declined to sign a communiqué on Thursday in Saudi Arabia that committed Persian Gulf states in the region to counter ISIS, even limited to the extent each nation considered ‘appropriate.‘ Turkish officials told their American counterparts that with 49 Turkish diplomats being held as hostages in Iraq, they could not risk taking a public stance against the terror group.”
Translation: “We are grateful you guys decided to send your pilots over here to stop ISIS. They’re real scary dudes. We hope not too many of your young people are shot down. It would be terrible if they are captured by ISIS. But we think we may be able to make deal to save our diplomats. And besides, our people really like the bargain prices for that black market oil. Good luck!”
Yesterday I posted my reaction to Obama’s pledge to stop ISIS. I think he allowed himself to be bullied into making an unwise promise and violated the Constitution. After further thought, and after these two stories confirm what I expected to be the reaction of the countries located in the Levant [see yesterday’s post to find out what “Levant” means.], I have a sort of “Plan B” reaction.
If President Obama intended to declare war on ISIS, he, at least, should have negotiated with Middle Eastern countries who face more imminent threats from ISIS than we do, before announcing his decision. That would have given Secretary some leverage. By making the commitment first and recruiting allies second, he left his negotiator nothing with which to negotiate. Why should Turkey, Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia become involved in an expensive and dangerous conflict with ISIS when all they have to do is make encouraging but meaningless noises while American men, women and taxpayers do the all the fighting and bill paying?
Here is a link to the Egypt story: Egypt
Here is a link to the Turkey story: Turkey
To paraphrase President Obama, this was a dumb way to start a war.
October 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
First, a Correction Notice
I have made some corrections to my last post (www.bobsremonstrance.com “A Mind Meld, a Grok and A Couple of Reactions”). The substance has not changed, but I have removed two or three “that”‘s that escaped my notice when I originally edited it. “That” is a word almost always as useless in a written piece as “you know” in a conversation. I ordinarily excise the “that”‘s that creep in but, this time, I missed some.
Also, in memory of my high school English teacher, I cleaned up a sentence in the part about “Crime and Punishment”. I originally wrote: “The novel is an engaging description of a part of Russian society, set in St. Petersburg.” My only excuse is an aging brain. The sentence now reads, “The novel, set in St. Petersburg, is an engaging description of a part of Russian society”
Finally, I removed the redundant word “mental” from my effort to describe Styron’s long window into the mind of Peyton. I wrote that he described her “mental musings”, as if “musings” could be other than “mental”. So “mental” is now gone.
Is There A Conspiracy?
I have long considered those who interpret current events as the product of conspiracies to be CooCooBirds. So, with great hesitation, I present my version of the present struggle over funding our government and paying our bills. I hope I am wrong, but the evidence seems persuasive that we have among us a cadre of powerful and wealthy individuals who want to convert the democratic republican government of the United States of America into a plutocratic corporate oligarchy.
American Business Community: Has It Been The Dog That Didn’t Bark?
I have a friend who never tires of rebuking his liberal comrades for claiming and assuming that the GOP is the party of business. He insists that the Tea Party insurgency within the Republican Party has separated it from the interests and policies of American capitalism. As he analyzes the issue it reminds me of the epic struggles within the labor movement in the 1930’s when factions allied with the Communist Party sought leadership roles. There were some unions in which they had some success but the newly organized CIO, notably the Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers, fought back in a series of epic convention battles. The Communists were effectively drummed out of the labor movement and never gained any significant power in unions. My friend contends that the relationship between the Tea Party and the GOP is similar to the Commies versus the CIO.
In the last week the press has reported that agents of the Chamber of Commerce and some representatives of Wall Street’s financial community met privately with House Speaker Boehner and other GOP leaders. They expressed alarm at the prospect of a government default if the “debt ceiling” is not raised. In apparent response, Boehner stated he will not allow that to happen. The Tea Party members, led by Ted Cruz continues to threaten a default. It remains to be seen how this will play out. Boehner’s statement is interesting. He is not promising that his party will not threaten a default; just that they won’t allow a default. How kidnapping extortion works when there is no threat to shoot the hostage is a mystery.
Those who insist GOP policies no longer align with those of the capitalists point to these reports as confirmation of their argument. I see the matter somewhat differently. I perceive the Tea Party as the latest iteration of a movement, attitude and set of policies that have roots planted long before they acquired the clever “Tea Party label . They can be summarized with three words: Hate the Government.
This history can be traced through rhetorical artifacts. In 1978, Alan Greenspan told a Finance Committee, “”Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” A Wall Street Journal article quoted a Reagan staffer who summarized the idea with a bumper sticker quip, “Starve the Beast”. St Ronnie, in his 1981 inaugural address, said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Grover Norquist stated the goal plainly: “I simply want to reduce it [the govenment] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bath tub.” The Great Communicator told his adoring followers, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”
These ideas, repeated and elaborated over and over by hate radio hosts like Limbaugh, Hannity and dozens of others scattered throughout the country, embedded themselves in mainstream consciousness and had powerful effects. I believe they relate to the present political climate and the outsize influence of the “Tea Party” in the same way that the Taliban’s ideas related to the advent of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. This “hate the government” policy is to our democracy as the dogmas of Sharia are to Muslim ideas of government. It is true that the Taliban does not represent the policies of the majority of Muslims. Most Muslims do not favor government run according to Sharia law.
Unlike the labor movement, however, the Muslim/Arab community, while some representatives have disclaimed allegiance to Al Qaeda, has mounted no vigorous public opposition to the growth of that extremism. Recent developments in Egypt reflect how timidly and ineffective such opposition has been.
And, also unlike the labor movement, the American business community, far from denouncing the growing political clout of these government haters, have favored, with generous financial support, candidates who have based their campaigns on these “hate the government” policies.
Why Did the Business Dog Not Bark?
I began by asking myself why the corporate business community would permit the Republican Party to threaten the stability of our financial system by failing to make timely interest payments on our debt. I assume the Koch brothers, the Club for Growth, the other controlling owners of Big Oil and the complex of Wall Street banks and hedge funds could exert a powerful influence on the policies of the GOP should they choose to do so. They have certainly paid handsomely for that kind of access. So, intimately involved as they are in the domestic and international financial markets, why would they allow a US default that would do immediate and long term damage to the reputation of U.S. bonds? To oversimplify, why would they want to damage the ability of the U.S. government to borrow money at low rates of interest?
When I stated the question in this simple way, I caught a glimpse of the answer: If their goal is to weaken and, if possible, destroy the ability of the U.S. government to create and maintain programs that protect ordinary working class citizens from the turbulence of unregulated capitalism, they would prefer that the funding of such programs be dependent on the power to tax, not the ability to borrow.
Government, like private enterprise, cannot grow if it lacks access to borrowed money at reasonable interest rates. Powerful corporate businesses are intuitively and invariably opposed to taxes and government regulation. The Supreme Court has enabled such interests to wield virtually unlimited power to favor obedient politicians and to punish disobedient ones. Thus armed, they probably are confident they can prevent large tax increases. And, if taxes must be raised, they have shown impressive ability to insure they are levied against the middle class, not the corporate ruling class.
I believe the silence and indifference of the business community to the growth of these ideas has resulted, in part, from changes in the nature and makeup of that community. The wealth and power of American capitalism has become more concentrated in the financial system. Engine Charley Wilson’s claim that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” seems quaint in today’s America. General Motors owes its existence to a Democratic Party president and a financial life preserver tossed by the government. Wall Street banks have become so powerful and so capable of capsizing the American economy that the Attorney General has pronounced them “too big to fail and too big to jail”.
I believe the present conspiracy is the result of a very long train of events that were engineered by a relatively small group of people who were active in business, but who did not comprise the mainstream of business leaders. They created think tanks, institutes, foundation-funded university and college chairs and fellowships. They promoted candidates whose rhetoric identified the federal government as the enemy.
The complicity of the mainstream business community consists, I believe, in its enthusiastic embrace of the results of these political tactics. They have eagerly applauded the destruction of the labor movement. They have railed against fair taxes. They have bitterly opposed reasonable regulations. They have contributed large amounts of money in support of candidates who preached hostility toward the government in which they sought elective office . The business community has, like Dr. Frankenstein, created a fiend they did not fully understand or expect.
We will soon discover whether American capitalism will forswear its Faustian bargain with the Tea Party and force a return to rational politics. Regardless of the brash claims of independence by the Tea Party office holders, I believe if they were told that pursuit of their destructive policies would net them a few hundred million dollars worth of opposition when they run for re-election, their devotion to principle might wane. So long as the opposition of Wall Street is limited to “tut tut” and “shame on you”, I agree with the Tea Partiers: “These guys are not for real.”
Safe Havens for Domestic Political Terrorists
During the past ten years, using arcane political ploys, too complicated to attract the attention of ordinary voters, the corporate plutocrats and their client state office holders have created a network of what the British once called “rotten boroughs”, voting districts composed of like-minded constituents who would return representatives to Congress regardless of how dramatically their views differ from those of the majority of Americans. These were and are safe havens for the Tea Party caucus. They are the American Afghanistan. In Texas this was engineered by Tom Delay, a creation of corporate lobbyists.
Who Are These Terrorists? What Do They Want?
The carefully crafted political climate in those districts has enabled the election of a group of Congressmen who regard government as the enemy. They are not anarchists. They favor government policies that protect property rights, provide for an expanding military force and other services that facilitate business activities. So far as concerns such functions as the “safety net” and promoting the “general welfare”, they regard such expenditures as charity, inappropriate for taxpayer support.
The above described political strategy and policies have been accompanied by an effective media campaign powered by Fox News and talk radio. An echo chamber has been created in which a significant percentage of our citizens live and work. There they are relentlessly bombarded with reasons for hostility toward their government, especially the federal government. So-called “social issues” like abortion and gay marriage are featured. The Bill of Rights is interpreted to be important as protection of gun ownership and property rights, but as a hindrance to apprehension and punishment of suspected criminals. Above all, taxation to pay for relief from poverty is denounced as theft and an invitation to moochers and lazy loafers. Government regulation is blamed for interfering with the pursuit of profits and healthy competition.
Federal laws enabling workers to bargain through labor unions have been gutted. There is no “labor movement”; only a few vestigial survivors of the struggles that occurred during the first half of the twentieth century. The only effective organizations capable of exercising significant influence on national political policy are private corporations. Political party organizations are generally ineffective. Political candidates create ad hoc organizations that disappear after elections.
What If They Prevail?
The end result of these developments is easy to envision. If the policies they represent prevail, the decisions affecting the lives and fortunes of ordinary Americans will not be made in the halls of government in Washington D.C.. They will be made in the board rooms of a few corporations with enough power and money to control lower tiers of lesser corporations whose success depends on access to capital and favorable treatment by the tycoons of finance. The profit motive and free market capitalism will replace any thought of empathy, compassion or fairness as determinants of government policy. Workers with no bargaining power, facing fierce competition for jobs, will be forced to accept whatever employers choose to offer. The “Iron Law of Wages”, rejected as morally unacceptable by Ricardo, will become the hallmark of American labor policy.
We’ve Seen An Earler Version of This Movie
Our history offers a preview of how this looks. In the early 1900’s a few powerful business giants controlled the railroads, the coal, the iron and the Wall Street banks that, in turn, operated the United States as a corporate subsidiary. This was the age of the “Robber Barons”.
That earlier period of institutionalized selfishness and greed did not permanently change our country because its victims fled westward into the still sparsely populated frontier of our vast land. Also, in the 1920’s, the Wall Street casino, operating without any significant regulation, created a gigantic bubble of exuberant greed that finally popped. FDR and his brain trust cleared away the wreckage and established a new system based on a balance between capitalism and government. That effort was aided by the financial stimulus required by our mobilization to fight WWII.
How Did Domestic Political Terrorism Become a Political Strategy?
Fifty years later, led by Ronald Reagan, the government began dismantling the balance established by the New Deal. He began by attacking labor unions. He used his office to demean and discredit every government program designed to alleviate poverty and enable the underprivileged to enjoy a reasonably comfortable middle-class life. He used his skills as an actor to spin yarns about “Welfare Queens”. He inspired a generation of government haters to follow his example and design ways to foster distrust and hostility toward the United States government.
This effort, in the past five or six years, has emboldened a group of angry ideologues, calling themselves the “Tea Party”, to claim the right to set minimum standards of political purity for the Republican Party. Like Al Qaeda, they are so loosely organized that identifying their responsible spokesmen is difficult. They have an agenda, but no formally elected or appointed leaders. They operate like free-ranging enforcers of their ideology. They have demonstrated their ability to intimidate members of the GOP holding public office who, if they stray from the dictates of the Tea Party, find themselves opposed by primary candidates more aligned with its dogmas. Ted Cruz, a first-term Senator from Texas, is their Supreme Leader. His current fatwah requires a jihad against the Affordable Care Act.
In 2011, the President and the leadership of this terrorist group made a deal. It was in the form of a promise to make a deal. They promised to reduce the federal deficit by a stated amount by January 1, 2013, and, to insure that they would bargain in good faith on ways to achieve that goal, they agreed that, if they failed to keep that promise, a group of budget cuts would be imposed in ways thought to be so irrational as to be unacceptable to either political party.
The negotiations that followed revealed that, contrary to expectations, the domestic terrorist group declared they were agreeable to the irrational budget cuts and, hence, would not agree to any reasonable alternative. On January 1, 2013, an impasse occurred and the damaging budget cuts took effect in March, 2013. The domestic terrorists were emboldened by what they regard as their successful strategy aimed at weakening and crippling the federal government, thus fulfilling their promise to the electorate in their Afghanistan districts. They learned that, by focusing on sabotage rather than governance, they could not only survive, but exercise power.
The similarity of this recent history to the strategy of the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Russian revolution is remarkable.
What Happens Next?
I think, during the next few weeks, this domestic terrorist group will mount an assault on the financial system of the United States by forcing a default on our bonds. If they are successful, the economy may gradually slide into a new form of recession. This time, weakened by the debt default, the government may not have the ability to counter the faltering economy with financial stimulus money. Any chance of moving forward with gun safety laws or immigration reform will disappear. The wish list of America’s most powerful and ruthless corporate enemies of the federal government will become the agenda of the Tea Party’s next fatwahs.
If this happens, it is difficult for me to believe that it will occur by accident. It will convince me that there has, indeed, been a well thought out and deftly executed conspiracy to take over our government by a corporate plutocracy. I know this sounds like Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society in the 1950’s railing about the “communist threat”. I only hope it proves to be as goofy as that.
August 21, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’ve been thinking about the use and misuse of words.
According to press reports I’ve read, there is a federal law that appropriates foreign aid for Egypt. There is another federal law that prohibits granting foreign aid to a government that results from a coup. A few weeks ago, the Egyptian army ousted the democratically elected government of Egypt, placed the democratically elected President in jail and assumed authority for governing the country. Most reports of this event acknowledged the obvious: This was a military coup.
President Obama declined to label it a coup. Although he canceled joint war games to begin next month, he did not cancel scheduled grants of foreign aid to Egypt.
Then the Egyptian army slaughtered people during a public demonstration. In response, President Obama announced that he was considering suspending foreigh aid to Egypt.
So, to recap the bidding: First, in obvious violation of the anti-coup law, Obama claimed it was not a coup. Second, after having chosen to ignore the fact that it was a coup, still contending it was not a coup, he is considering suspending foreign aid to Egypt, raising the obvious question: “By what authority could you withhold foreign aid to Egypt if there was no coup?”
I know this is an inconsequential observation. Nobody apparently cares whether the President pays attention either to federal laws or the English language. I just think it is interesting and, to me, somewhat disturbing, because redefining words can have serious consequences. Remember the John Yoo memo that redefined “torture”? That had serious consequences: hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were tortured and those responsible were not held legally responsible for their crimes. Also, our government is based on a written contract, the Constitution. Its words are all that stand between us and government based on fear and military might.
The second reason for these musings is the present trial of Doctor Hassan, the Ft. Hood psychiatrist who gunned down several of his fellow soldiers as well as one civilian who tried to stop the slaughter. Email exchanges between him and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim preacher in Yemen, show that Hassan accepted the Bush and Obama administrations’ designation of the conflict that followed the bombing of September 11,2001, as a “Global War on Terror”. He reasoned that the “war” was being waged against Islam and that, as a Muslim, he had conflicting loyalties: He was in the US Army and, hence, owed allegiance to the United States but, because the “war” broke out during his period of service, he was like a soldier from South Carolina serving when the Civil War broke out. After thinking about the matter for some time, he concluded that his religion required that he take action against the enemy soldiers with whom he was serving. So, he shot them.
During his trial, he chose to represent himself and has made no semblance of a defense. This, from his point of view, seems logical. He is in an enemy court, presided over by enemy soldiers. What sense would it make for him to argue with them? I assume that he expects to be executed and probably understood that before he fired the first shot.
If I were representing him I would argue that he is a victim of the US government’s decision to treat the 2001 bombing as an act of war instead of a crime. We are the ones who began the GWOT, not the criminals who flew airplanes into the NY buildings and the Pentagon. Because we decided to call it a war, the enemy forces are entitled to treat it as a war. In a war, enemy soldiers are fair game wherever they can be found. In WWII, we bombed troop trains and sank naval vessels carrying enemy troops where ever we could find them. War gave us the right to kill enemy soldiers on the battlefield and off the battlefield. So, when Hassan killed soldiers in Ft. Hood, it was an act of war, not a crime. He should be put in a prison camp pending the end of hostilities, just like the Guantanamo prisoners.
Now, before you conclude that I’ve lost my remaining marbles, I hasten to assure you that I will shed no tears when they hang Hassan. I think he is a murderer. I also think, however, that there is no “Global War on Terror”; that the whole concept is a willful misuse of the English language that has caused, and continues to cause needless and lawless killing.
I remember well the law school class in criminal law presided over by Professor Stumberg, one of the best teachers I ever knew. He taught with hypothets and merciless questioning of students. One morning, he posed a hypothet: “Suppose a long-time professor of English History here at UT became delusional and convinced that he was Napoleon. One morning, as he strolled toward the Tower, he encountered another professor whom he identified as the Duke of Wellington; drew a pistol and shot him. Would it be murder or self defense? ” [Before you leap toward “not guilty by reason of insanity”, consider whether, even granting the delusional reasoning, it justified the homicide. Like a lot of Stumberg’s hypothets,this one had wheels inside of wheels.]
That would be the basis of my argument in defense of Hassan. I don’t think it would work, but if I had to defend him, I would try to pin the killing on Bush instead of him.
July 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
This week’s developments in Egypt illustrate the dangerous side-effects of a dose of democracy. In this essay I will offer my reaction.
When medicine is prescribed for a patient, it comes with a label or a pamphlet containing advice about potential hazardous side effects that must be understood and preventive measures that should be taken. I think if democracy is adopted as a form of government, it should be accompanied by the same kind of cautionary warning.
Empowering the governed to escape the oppression of tyrants, oligarchs and vestigial neocolonial puppets looks like a trend toward freedom. Recent technological leaps in the realm of communication and social networking have been like a dam-breaking flood that has loosed centuries of pent up rage and frustration as well as the exhilarating thrill felt by rebels who perceive the possibility of toppling a citadel of power theretofore thought to be impregnable.
I find it interesting and, in a way, encouraging that, when these cultural and political seismic events occurred, the model of choice for the rebels has often been the American Declaration of Independence and our form of government generally, though imprecisely, known as democracy. [The conservatives are technically correct in insisting that the United States, as its name implies, is, in fact a republic, not a democracy like Athens. The distinction, however, deserves notice only from academic purists and has not prevented America from being identified as a democracy. After all, Athens had a large component of slaves who did not participate in its “democracy”. Except for New England town meetings , true democracy is, and has ever been, a rare form of government.]
Our Declaration of Independence has, as stated, become the inspiration for many, in the words of Emma Lazarus, “yearning to breathe free”. It has proved far more popular and influential than its main competitor for rebellious inspiration, the Communist Manifesto. Personally I find the latter document to be a stirring affirmation of economic justice, worthy of comparison with our Declaration of Independence. Its focus, however, on the oppression of capitalism, does not fit the aspirations of rebels whose enemies are not private property and capitalism, but the oppression of government. For that kind of oppression, there is no better license for rebellion than these radical words of Jefferson:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights,governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” Ideas are the true weapons of freedom and justice and those words, expressing those ideas, are a powder keg waiting for a lit fuse.
Democracy’s Side Effects
When, following a rebellion, a new government is formed based on the outcome of a democratic election, there are some inevitable and serious side effects. The losing side or sides, representing significant fractions of the population to be governed, are at risk for unjust treatment at the hands of the victors. In the Middle East, the Near East and some parts of Asia, where Islam is the religious choice of large segments of the population, there is a long history of violent conflicts between different sects within that religion. The Shiites and Sunnis as well as sects within those two branches of Islam have intermittently killed each other, either based on fear of future violence or revenge for past violence.
Of course, Islam is not unique in this regard. Jews and Christians , in the past, have engaged in similar violent conflicts. One part of the twisted and brutal ideology that led to the Holocaust was based on Christian antisemitism that had been latent in varying degrees for centuries in Europe. The Crusades represented the self-righteous hostility of Christian Europe toward Islam in the Middle East.
This kind of irreconcilable hatred based on religious belief should be part of democracy’s warning label. Democracy means that government will be administered by representatives of the faction that wins the most votes in an election. Every election will involve only a plurality of the population. Thus it will almost always be true that elections will be won by less than a majority of the population to be governed. When there are more than two competing groups vying for votes, the winner may represent only a fraction of that population.
These two facts: First, that religious conflicts are often impossible to mediate peacefully; and Second, that democratic elections, even when they are fair and honest, will seldom empower a majority of the governed population; strongly suggest the first necessary warning:
“Enforcement of religious conformity must not entrusted to a democratic government.”
If this warning is not heeded, government becomes a vengeful mob and those whose religious beliefs are challenged and discounted become outraged. Maintenance of order, a basic function of every government, becomes impossible without brutal suppression of dissent.
This first warning implies a second, correlative, warning:
“Limits on the power of government must not depend upon or be subject to the outcome of democratic elections. Those limits must be enforceable in courts whose impartiality and integrity are accepted by a majority of the total governed population . And the procedure for securing the judgments of those courts must involve an adversary process implemented by lawyers free to advocate all sides of every issue.”
This corollary warning, if vigorously enforced, will obviate resorts to violence by those who feel victimized and harmed by governmental policies. They will see that their protests are fairly and fully presented to judges whom they trust. They will not feel hopeless if their arguments are not successful. They will realize that their interests may prevail in future elections and that changed circumstances may demonstrate the validity of their positions. The enforcement of government’s limits will assure them that they need not fear their government. They will be able to trust it to protect them from their neighbors who may disagree with some or all of their beliefs and preferences.
The third warning insures the effectiveness of the first two:
“Freedom of expression must be guaranteed to all, regardless of how repugnant to elected officials or to most of the population that expression may seem.”
Democracy cannot safely be adopted unless competing views are not only tolerated, but vigorously protected. If majority views are the only ones allowed, democracy becomes as oppressive, if not more oppressive, than government by a dictator or an oligarchy. The losers in democratic elections must be free to continue efforts to persuade potential voters in future elections to approve the policies they favor. Otherwise, they are left with no alternative but violence and disorder.
The Egyptian Constitution
A friend of mine, Nivien Saleh, an Egyptian scholar, has translated the 2012 Egyptian Constitution into English. Here is a link: Constitution
I confess that I have not read, much less studied this long document. I have, however, read enough of it to understand how fundamentally it fails to pay attention to anything I have advocated in this essay. Far from omitting religion from the proper concern of government, it proclaims Islam as the “State religion” of Egypt. True, the next section provides: “For Egyptian Christians and Jews, the principles of their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of their spiritual leadership.” (emphasis added) This section, to me has a sinister unstated premise: The State is granting to Christians and Jews an exception to the general application of the State Religion. I have no idea what “Christian Law” or “Jewish Law” consists of. The Bible’s book of Leviticus contains a lengthy description of laws observed by Jews thousands of years ago but, so far as I know, the State of Israel does not countenance slavery or punish blasphemy with a death sentence. [‘See Leviticus 24: 10-23.]
Part One, entitled “The Elements of the State and Society” contains three sections: “Political Elements”; “Societal and Moral Elements” and “Economic Elements”. The second of these sections, in Article 11, declares: ” The state promotes morality, decency, and public order, as well as a high level of education and religious and patriotic values, scientific truths, the Arab culture, and the historical and civilizational patrimony of the People.”(emphasis added) This kind of language, to one knowledgeable about historical experiments involving government prescribed morality , prompts an intuitive reaction that, roughly translated, is “According to who?”
So far as concerns freedom of expression, Article 215 establishes a “National Body for the Press and the Media” and empowers that agency as follows: “The permissions and standards it creates ensure that the different media abide by norms of professionalism and decency, preserve the Arabic language, and observe the values and constructive traditions of society.” In other words, “We will be watching you and you better behave in a way that does not offend our ideas of “decency” and “constructive traditions of society”. Keep in mind that some elements of Islam believe it is not only permissible, but obligatory to kill a man who draws a cartoon depicting Mohamed.
Conclusion and Summary
I think President Morsi’s brief and limited tenure was predictable when he permitted a religious faction of Islam to en-graft religious doctrine into the fabric of government. I doubt that the Egyptian people who successfully ousted Mubarak will be content to be ruled according to Sharia law or to conform to religious strictures that do not fit their beliefs. The successful effort to end the oppression of Mubarak was a hopeful sign to me. I hope it will finally be followed by democracy in which warning labels are heeded.