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Volume 70, Issue 147, Thursday, June 16, 2005


Democracy can bloom in any soil

Tyler Nelson
Opinion columnist

In wake of the events that have transpired in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, a complex question has arisen: Can democracy work in the Middle East? This isn't a question of left or right, conservative or liberal. It is a matter of whether you believe that the same rights we and many other free societies enjoy can ultimately thrive in the Middle East.

The first part of the two-pronged strategies to win the war on terrorism starts with the end of state support for terrorism. President Bush made it very clear that we will "make no distinction between the terrorists who committed the acts and those who harbor them." The second and more controversial part of the strategy is to replace terror-sponsoring regimes with democratic governments.

But many argue that democracy can't work in the Middle East for several reasons. They claim that Islam is not compatible with democratic rule because they see the treatment of Muslim women in many of these countries, as well as the widespread poverty and illiteracy that plagues them. While democracy may be a work in progress and will not happen overnight in the Middle East, it can -- and will -- triumph if given the opportunity. Look at countries like Japan, Italy, Germany and Russia. Although it is not easy and many of these countries, such as Russia, are still struggling from the transformation, it is definitely possible and worthwhile.

In the summer of 2003 in a joint session of the U.S. Congress, British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed this issue:

"There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don't; that our attachment to freedom is a product of culture; that freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values, or Western values ... " 

On many occasions, Bush has reiterated Blair's words. These two men, and many other leaders, agree that freedom is for everyone, and when given the opportunity, people will choose to self govern rather than live in fear under a dictator, despot or tyrant. The national elections held in Afghanistan, and most recently in Iraq, support this notion. It was amazing to see the Iraqis turn out and vote even under the threat of terrorism and death; it proved what Blair and President Bush believe. Given the opportunity, people will choose freedom over tyranny.

It is hard for me to believe that if a democracy had been the regime in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 the terror attacks would still have occurred in Washington, D.C., and New York. A democratic Middle East is our most important ally in the war on terror. Leaders who are held accountable for their actions by their citizens, and who respect human rights and the rule of law will only aid in this difficult, but necessary struggle. 

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