‘Democracy’ is not an absolute

I never thought this would have to state this so specifically:  rape is not acceptable, ever, ever, ever – not even within marriage!

Yet, not everyone seems to understand that!

Let me explain:  the new law proposed in Afghanistan would make rape within marriage perfectly legal – at least among its Shi’a minority. In addition, it would strip mothers and grandmothers of all parental rights, and deny the women freedom of movement (they could only leave their houses with their husband’s permission).

That is bad – very bad.  It is a law that contravenes human rights – obviously – and it contravenes the treaties to uphold these human rights which the Afgahni government has entered into.

What is even worse is how so many people here, in ‘The West’, have reacted to this proposal.  From radio call-in shows to all kinds of other fora where people express their opinions, the reaction I hear is rather frightening!

So many of ‘us’ are saying things along the lines of:

‘Well, it is their democratically elected government which is passing this law, so we must not interfere!’

‘It’s their culture, and if they democratically decide to make these rules, it would be wrong for us to stop them.’

‘We must not criticize this law.  We brought them democracy, and they are democratically choosing to do this, so to criticize this law would be hypocritical of us.’

These sentiments are SO outrageous, I don’t know where to start…

Fist and foremost, let me start with ‘democracy’, as it was originally concieved of by the ancient Greeks:

Brought to us by Athenians in the 4-5th century BCE (though there were earlier proto-democracies as far back as perhaps 2000 BCE), democracy was a straight ‘rule of majority’.  Only free males were considered citizens (women and slaves were excluded), and could vote.  This was a major advance over the previous systems, but…

The problem with this type of democracy is that majority opinion rules.  It can easily become a ‘tyranny of the majority‘ – and tyranny in any form is a bad thing. (Sad that I have to even state that…but, it seems, in today’s world, I do.)

Let me give an example:

Imagine there is a small village of only 5 farmsteads.  They have an ‘absolute democracy’ – meaning, whatever the majority votes, goes.  On one of these farmsteads, there live 4 beautiful, very intelligent young women – their father has saved and scrimped, and is proudly planning to send them off to the big city to get a University education.

This is not to the liking of the other 4 farmers, each of whom has a son – and each of whom would like to see his son marry one of these beautiful, intelligent women.  So, they hold a vote:  unsurprisingly, the vote is 1 for letting the girls go to school, and 4 for letting the 4 young men marry them instead.

Majority rules!!!  Instead of buying textbooks, the funds are used to celebrate 4 weddings…

That WAS democracy in action!

Or, let’s consider another example:

A country has ‘absolute democracy’.  Most of the people in this country are Christian.  About 40% of the population belongs to other religions:  Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Budhism, Sikhism, or some other religion.  Some of this 40% may practice no religion at all.

Still, 60% of the population is Christian.  One day, a radical preacher introduces a bill which would force the conversion of every one of those 40% of the population to become Christian – no more Mosques, Synagogues, or any other temples.  No more questioning of the Christian dogma – by anyone, anywhere!

It’s put to the vote:  and, surprisingly enough, 59% of the population votes to pass this bill into law!  Now, everyone is forced to become a practicing Christian.

Again, majority rules!!!  This was decided democraticly!

I sincerely hope that you found both of these outcomes unacceptable!

Why?

Because they oppress a part of the populace!

That is why we do not practice ‘absolute democracy’.  Instead, we have improved on this ancient concept in some very, very important ways.  I suppose it started with the Magna Carta…  (Or, if you are a history buff, with Cyrus the Great!)

Cyrus the Great (even more than King John – who was forced into it) recognized and stated a really important principle – later paraphrased by my favourite philosopher, Theodor Seuss Geisel:

‘A person’s a person, no matter how small!’

In other words, Cyrus brought us the idea that there are some rights which are inherrent to each individual – and which no ruler – monarch or democrat or anyone else – has the right to strip from him or her.  Considering that at that time, Cyrus was an absolute monarch, that is a rather enlightened thing to say.

Yet, Cyrus did not just say it – he codified it.  We have ‘the cylinder’ which was Cyrus’s constitutionindividual rights are inherent to the individual, and nobody can strip one of them!!!  Oh, how we need ‘a Cyrus’ now!!!  It was in the very area where Afghanistan and Iran is now, that this cradle of democracy and human rights was located.  So, please, do not let anyone tell you that recognition of and respect for inherrent human rights is not part of the Afghani cultural heritage:  it originates there!!!

From the first declaration of human rights by Cyrus the Great, to the US constitution, to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms – we all recognize that while we may be ruled by a democracy, it is a constitutional democracy:  it is only allowed to pass laws which do not violate basic human rights!!!

If you are up on the UN’s document, you will see that my first example violates Article 16.2 of the UN’s declaration, while my second example violates Article 18.  That is what makes these scenarios unacceptable to us – and rightly so!

Now, the proposed Afghan law also violates a few of these – specifically, it violates Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5, Article 6, Article 7, Article 13, Articles 16.1 and 16.2, Article 18, Article 20.1, all 3 sections of Article 21, perhaps Article 22, Article 23.1 and 23.4, perhaps Articles 25 and 26, Article 27.1 and 27.2, and, finally, Article 28.

That is quite a score – for a single law!!!

Please, I invite you to follow the link to the UN’s declaration of Universal Human Rights and Freedoms, and verify that I have indeed listed the breeches of the UN’s declaration accurately:  if anything, I erred on the side of not listing an Article or two which might also be breeched!

And, the fledling Afghani government HAD signed a treaty, which binds it to respect and not breech these human rights!  Therefore, any laws it DEMOCRATICALLY passes MUST NOT BREECH these basic human rights and freedoms.

This is not a question of denying the Afghanis the right to rule themselves democratically.  This is a question of demanding that they only pass laws which respect the basic rights and freedoms of its citizens – something the Afghani government has legally bound itself to do!

Hiding behind the word ‘democracy’ does not permit ‘tyranny of the majority’ – yet, that is what those who would accept this Afghani law which strips its Shi’a female citizens of their fundamental rights and freedoms are willing to accept.  People in our own culture lack the ability to differentiate between ‘tyranny of the majority’ and a ‘constitutional democracy’!

Shame on us all!!!

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