Conflict in Gaza: Democracy’s moral recession

Get out the vote

I have, for years, been a strong advocate of the democracy, primarily inspired by my experience with American freedoms. As a Muslim who speaks his mind and asks critical questions, I am routinely threatened and maligned by those, who unable to cope with my reason and critique, seek to silence me. American democracy gave me the protection and the opportunity to live life as God intended humans to – as thinking, reflecting and expressive beings.

I helped form an organization to promote democracy in the Muslim world and wrote a book making the argument that democracy was essential for good Islamic governance. However in the past few years, democracy has repeatedly let advocates like me down. Let me give you a few examples.

Tony Blair, George Bush and Dick Cheney invaded a country and caused the death and destruction in the face of opposition by millions of their own citizens. The invasion of Iraq was a grotesque war crime the democracy could not prevent. Over a million Iraqis died as a direct consequence of the War. Today many thousands of children would be alive, many thousands of families would be intact, and we would not have a quarter million homeless refugees strewn over three continents, if the US and UK – both democracies – had not invaded Iraq. Iraqis have suffered in many ways.

Today thanks to our “democracy promotion” there are hundreds of Iraqi women forced into prostitution to just feed their children. They surely have been liberated. Now they meet “new people” on a daily basis for $8 a day!

Laws have been passed in Britain and the US which make a mockery of the idea of freedom. Discourses have been advanced that have distorted the very idea of morality. Leaders who have repeatedly lied to their own people have been repeatedly elected to office. Killing civilians by the hundreds, torturing people, kidnapping, bribing have become the standard operating procedures of democracies. Democracies are operating as mafias and behaving just as brutally.

Today citizens of democracies cannot even distinguish between a war criminal, a thug, a mass murderer and a statesman. In India, Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, orchestrated genocide of minorities in 2002. The state machinery worked with thugs to kill over 2000 people, destroyed thousands of businesses and rendered over a hundred thousand homeless. He was condemned worldwide by human rights organizations but in the world’s biggest democracy — he was reelected to power. In fact an Indian-American, Sonal Shah, who was closely associated with him and his group, is on President-elect Obama’s transition team.

Apparently, democracies today have no problem with leaders with bloody hands. This moral decline of democracies is the direct consequence of the war on terror. Citizens have been told that the enemy is so evil that any evil means used to battle the enemy is justified. The egregious acts of terror that continue, accompanied by the global media which magnify and dramatize them, have blunted the moral sensibilities of citizens to the point that they not only accept whatever their governments do but also applaud them for it.

This week, the Holy land saw some of the most deadly of days in its history, as Israel massacred over 450 Palestinians in Gaza. Palestinians have not experienced anything like this since 1948 when two Jewish terrorist gangs, Irgun and Lehi, massacred 254 Palestinians in a village called Der Yassin.

For a week before Israeli retaliatory strikes, Hamas fired over 100 rockets into Israel, without killing anyone but providing the necessary justification for Israel whose rockets and missiles have now killed over 450 and injured over 1000.

As I listen to the statements from the Bush administration, who blames Hamas alone for all the violence, and the Messiah himself holidaying in Hawaii, I am amazed at the complete lack of humanity in their response. There is absolutely no iota of sympathy, or regret or grief for those who died. It is as if their hearts are made of stone.

Whether in the US or even in Israel, terrorism is not just threatening lives but is slowly destroying the humanity of these nations.

Hamas shot a few rockets into Israel; but that is who they are and that is what they do – they are a terrorist organization. Israel and the US, however, are supposed to be democracies that care about human rights. But when they massacre hundreds of people and their citizen’s watch in silence, no protests, no shock, then there is something fundamentally wrong.

I still believe in democracy. I think it is a great system of governance. But I also fear that today democracies are not only experiencing economic recession but also a moral recession. We are gradually accepting things which until recently were taboo. In combating terrorist organizations we have steadily lowered the moral bar with which we have traditionally judged the worth of democracies. Torture, kidnapping, assassinations and now massacres have become justifiable – what next?

Unless we wake up and change course very soon, there may be no difference left between democracy and terrorism – and that will be the ultimate victory for terrorism.

(Photo courtesy of Amir Farshad Ebrahimi via flickr under a Creative Commons license).

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. His work and writings can be seen at

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