Monday, January 12, 2009

Hamas and Democratically-Elected Governments

One further thought while I'm thinking about Gaza and Hamas. I've been hearing from a lot of people ever since the Palestinians elected Hamas and Israel, the US, and the EU put sanctions on the Palestinian Authority, since Hamas has not renounced its stance that Israel does not have the right to exist, and the US considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization. I hear a lot that this is wrong, that this is a rejection of democracy, that the West shouldn't have asked for democracy then rejected the results. Since the West wanted the Palestinians to have a democratic government and Hamas was elected to power democratically, the West is hypocritical not to "accept" the decision of the Palestinian people and be willing to deal with Hamas.

Regardless of the merits of whether Hamas should, indeed, be considered a terrorist organization and whether or not the refusal of the US and other nations to deal with Hamas (the organization, apart from the government) is appropriate, the basic argument, that by promoting democracy the US and EU somehow commit themselves to deal with whatever government another nation elects, as long as it is elected democratically, is, in my opinion, absurd on its face. A democratically-elected government can take all sorts of forms and shapes, all sorts of positions, and can be an enemy or friend of other democratic states. I see no reason that support of democracy as a concept and a governing principle automatically must include support for every choice made democratically in every democratic state.

Further, I reject the notion that the US, EU, and Israel choosing not to deal or have relations with a Hamas-led, democratically-elected Palestinian authority government is a "rejection" of democracy or a rejection of the choice of the Palestinian people. It is simply a consequence of the choice the Palestinian people have made in choosing their leaders. Nothing about the concept of democracy compels other democratic nations to ratify or support the choices of the people of another nation. Witholding aid and support, which is the main US policy adopted in response to Hamas' electoral victory that I have heard criticized, is the US choosing not to ratify or support the particular choice of leadership the Palestinian people made when they chose Hamas to lead their government. It is not an idictment of democracy in general, simply an indictment of this particular democratically-made choice. Getting to choose your leaders also means having to live with the consequences of those choices. If you get a whole shitload of foreign aid from a nation that considers one of the parties running in your election a terrorist organization, and that foreign aid will probably stop if you elect that party, then you, the people, as voters, are choosing to accept that consequence when you choose to vote for that party.

That doesn't mean it isn't a sucky choice when there are only a couple of legitimate choices and the other one is hopelessly corrupt (as was apparently the case Fatah, which was one of the main reasons Palestinians voted for Hamas). But democracy also sucks sometimes and involves hard choices. And I don't mean that in a flip way: I don't think democracy works all that incredibly well in the US, either, and there are lots of things that should be changed here that never will be because the system won't allow it. But, nevertheless, the Palestinian people had the choice whether or not to vote for the party that was considered a terrorist organization by other nations that provided critical aid to Palestine and its people. They chose to do so. It would be a perversion of democracy to take away their right to make their own choices and live with the consequences for the US and EU act as if the Palestinians were little children who didn't understand the consequences of their own actions and act as if they didn't elect leaders who did not recognize the right of Israel -- Palestine's putative partners in the peace process -- to exist and were (according to the US) terrorists.

The US, EU, and Israel did not "reject" the results of the Palestinian elections. They accepted the results and reacted accordingly. They did not "reject" the democratic will of the Palestinian people nor did they "reject" the democratic process. They accepted both and reacted accordingly. As nations do when other nations act and change governments.

Democratic nations can and do clash. They can and do have competing interests. If someday the entire world had only democratic nations, we would not see an end to conflict and strife between and within nations. We would not see an end to repressive regimes, terrorism, religious persecution, racial intolerance, or wars of conquest. All those things can happen in democracies. If North Korea became a democracy but one still bent on conquering the South and threatening the US with possible nuclear strikes, should the US really change its policy toward it just because it became a democracy? Would that make sense? Would failing to engage with a newly-democratic but still meglomaniacal North Korea mean the US was hypocritical an anti-democracy and didn't "respect" the choice of the North Korean people?

When/if we leave Iraq, there is, in my opinion, an excellent chance that they will establish a democratic Muslim theocracy. That's what the Shi'ite majority wants, I think, and what many of the Kurds and Sunnis are afraid of, and one of the reasons they aren't excited about democracy. Because democracy doesn't have to be Jeffersonian. It can come paired with a lot of things Americans wouldn't, by and large, recognize as democratic: theocracy, communism, radical authoritarianism, etc., etc. Lots of people here in the US would like the US to be a Christian theocracy. Still a democracy (well, a republic, technically), but one ruled explicity by Christians by Christian tenets. Democracy doesn't forbid that. Democracy is fine with that. The Constitution and the First Amendment forbid it. Not Democracy.

Democracy comes in lots of forms. Expecting the US and EU to support them all is naive. And, if the Palestinians truly expected to be able to elect a group like Hamas into power and there to be no consequences, well, they got a chance to learn a lesson in democracy: elections, votes, and choices have power, and consequences. Use them wisely, because you will have to live with the results.


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