BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
THE CASE FOR DEMOCRACY: The power of freedom to overcome tyranny and terror, by Natan Sharansky
, December 17, 2005
From the Gulag to the KnessetTHE CASE FOR DEMOCRACY:
The power of freedom to overcome tyranny and terror
by Natan Sharansky
with Ron Dermer
Allan & Unwin
Paperback RRP: $29. 95Do you sometimes feel there is an inconsistency, or a lack of "moral clarity", when groups and organisations describe Australia as being akin to a fascist or police state, only then to praise some despot for the work he is doing in promoting world peace?
If so, this is the book for you. Natan Sharanksy takes a no-nonsense approach to defending democracy, arguing that its best expression is when a citizen is able to walk down the street and say what he or she thinks.
The author brings his extensive personal experience to this work. Originally a citizen of the former Soviet Union, he became a famous Jewish dissident and human-rights activist. For this, Soviet authorities jailed him for 10 years on trumped-up charges of treason and passing secrets to the CIA.
In 1986, Sharansky succeeded in emigrating from the USSR. Ten years later, he entered the Israeli parliament, served as a Cabinet minister in the Israeli Government and played a key role in negotiations with the Palestinians.
The author divides his work into two sections. In the first, he contrasts democratic states with non-democratic states. He argues that citizens under the latter do not believe unquestioningly everything the régime espouses, but they lack the courage to engage in dissent and risk being punished. Instead, they have to engage in "doublethink" - that is, act as if they believe and support the rulers' agenda, thereby living in constant tension as a consequence.
Despotic states also maintain control over people through creating external enemies, real or imagined. By contrast, democratic states regard the public's scrutiny and criticism as a vital element of the functioning of the state. Citizens are free to come and go as they please.
Although democracies may have disputes with each other, they are less likely to be as belligerent as despotic states.
Sharansky concludes the book's first section by arguing that democratic states contributed significantly to the fall of the USSR and its affiliate states by linking human rights with aid, thereby making these non-democratic régimes more accountable for their actions.
Significantly, he also challenges the myth that democracies do not work in some cultures. He cites examples, such as Germany after World War II and Russia after the collapse of the USSR. In both of these countries, there has been an absence of democracy prior to the establishment of a democratic style of government.
The second half of his work is more controversial, as Sharansky applies his democratic theories to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Central to his analysis is the contention that, in the wake of the Oslo accord, there has yet to be a successful resolution because Israel and the West have not demanded of the Palestinian authority true democratic means of government and significantly improved human rights.
Instead, money has been spent in promoting Palestinian propaganda that incites hatred against the state of Israel, to the point of suicide bombing.Terrorist cells
Indeed, Sharansky challenges the thesis that suicide bombing is a legitimate response to Israeli oppression of Palestinians. He points out that, whereas Israeli raids specifically target terrorist cells, Palestinian suicide bombers kill the innocent indiscriminately.
This is an interesting and a challenging read, particularly for those in Western nations such as Australia who are all too inclined to take democracy for granted, to the point of grumbling about having to vote.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is Sharansky's call for a re-think on foreign policy which would have Western nations apply far more pressure on despotic régimes to become democratic and cease their human rights abuses.