Democracy is a frightening thing. In a democratic state, politics and society as a whole is something akin to a leaf on the wind. Politicians in Democratic states invest a huge amount of energy into establishing mechanisms to ensure a degree of control is possible, simply because the entire purpose of Democracy is to limit that control. Hence they cultivate the attention of those self appointed arbiters of right and wrong the media.
After living under democracy for some time it is easy to forget just how scary it is, for all we can always find someone to blame when things don‘t work quite right, the government, bankers, Judges, Police opposing view points, politicians, in the end the people are making the big choices, every 5, or 4, or 7, or however many years the particular democracy has decided on.
Because through the democratic process we delegate the authority of the people, to elected politicians, who we have decided we trust, or distrust least to run things, we are able to get on with the important business of creating, playing, raising families ect. Doing so safe in the knowledge that if something goes wrong, that there are rules, regulations, policies, and strategies that stand a reasonable chance of identifying who was supposed to be responsible for things running smoothly, holding them accountable and identifying someone to take over if they failed in that responsibility.
Even if the ultimate responsibility lies with us, the people.
Dictatorships, and Oligarchies, however do have one advantage over Democracies, at least in the short to medium term, they allow direct control of the apparatus of government. For the governing, this creates a short to medium term predictability about how to make things happen in the way the ruling class desire or like, for the governed it absolves them of responsibility, anything and everything that goes wrong (Or for that matter right) is the fault of the government, precisely because of the mechanisms of control they have established.
In many ways a revolution is an act of taking responsibility. For those involved it is a direct and personal responsibility for building the kind of society they want to live in. For those outside, looking in, a revolution it is a frightening time, there is so much chaos, which way will the wheel of fortune turn? Will the fear of the chaos create a new dictator, or Oligarchy to restore order and establish control? Or out of the chaos will new democratic systems emerge, ensuring the power of the people is enshrined in law, and protected from those who would usurp it?
In Libya it seems highly likely that an end game is approaching, (I’m about four paragraphs on from this as I add this note and the end certainly looks as if it’s already here.) and if things there seemed confusing up to now, they are almost certainly going to get a whole lot worse. But at least the really dangerous shooting war will be over, for the time being at least.
Gadaffi, has various options about how to respond to his contracting circle of influence. He can tough it out to the end, as he has implied he will do. He can fold, and throw himself on the mercy of the revolutionaries and hope for the best. He can make a tactical retreat from systemic power and attempt to re-assert himself through a guerrilla war, in the coming months, making the new governments life as difficult as possible in the hope that as things don’t get better as fast as the public wants they will become nostalgic for his rule and demand/support his return. Or he might just simply cut and run.
I suspect he will opt for a guerrilla war, the success of which will depend to a great extent on how his support holds up as the revolutionaries establish control in Tripoli. If his support implodes, as I suspect might be likely, it is likely to be a short terrorist campaign, ending with his own capture or death. If his support in Libya shows any resilience in the face of defeat, then there could be a very nasty guerrilla war lasting for years. As I write there are various reports suggesting that at least two and possibly three of Gadaffi’s sons have been taken into custody by the Revolutionaries entering Tripoli, which suggests that Gadaffi’s support is indeed disintegrating.
Then of course the real confusion will start, there are many western voices that are clearly anxious that the wrong kind of people will be voted in to power under a democratic system. There are of course different factions among the revolutionary forces, a conservative wing, a liberal wing, and a number of tribal based groups. The anxious western voices seem to imagine that the conservative wing of the popular uprising, will institute a Islamic state identical to Iran, and no one else will get a look in.
The problem of course is that these western voices will imagine they have some kind of say, because NATO air support was without a doubt crucial in the development of the campaign. This is a big problem, and frankly the west should enforce the no-fly zone until it is clear that whatever remnants of Gadaffi’s army has been rendered ineffectual, and then ground It’s planes and keep it’s collective mouth shut.
The arguments for western involvement were Moral, the emphasis in UN Security council resolution 1973 was on a moral objective. There was a sense when the resolution was passed that this was because we could not stand idly by. To imagine that acting according to our conscience then, gives us any say now, in how the Libyan’s now organise their country is a fallacy. If the Libyans ask for help and advice, then it should be available, otherwise we should keep our noses out.
Western democracies are quick to promote the idea of Democracy around the world, but forget that we have been travelling the road to democracy for at least a couple of hundred years, we are certainly a lot better at it now than when we started, but we still have lessons to learn. I hope the Libyans will look at our example, and question those things the west got wrong at least to begin with. The immediate aftermath of the French revolution was not a pretty sight. The treatment of minorities in the fledgling United states left a lot to be desired. The British struggle to define it’s self as a democracy without a clearly defined constitution.
I hope as well they will learn from the other great revolutions, the difficulty of power struggles in a new state experienced by the Russians first time around. The dangers of a return to authoritarian style leadership, such as happened in China. The lessons of transitioning too quickly from one mode of government to another as happened in Russia second time around.
Mostly however I hope that they can bring an objective eye to the struggles of the Iranian People. I hope they will recognise the widespread discontent that exists in Iran, and consider that the noble experiment in religiously informed Democracy has not worked out as well as would have been hoped by many of those who were involved in the original Iranian Revolution.
I am not one of those that believes religion and politics should be kept separate. In truth I think to imagine such a thing to be possible demonstrates a lack of understanding of what either is. Politics and religion overlap and intertwine. In Britain there is technically a state religion, one political party harks back to an idea of religious values which probably never existed in the first place, Another was built almost in equal measures by atheistic socialists, and devout Methodists. There are articles of faith in political perspectives just as strongly held as in any religion.
The west needs to have faith in Democracy, believe that the power of Democracy is to limit the excesses of any particular view, and to empower those who would be marginalised under other systems. If the Libyans don’t get it right this time around, then they will have tried, and hopefully learned. If they do get it right, it might well not look quite like what we in the west imagine a democracy to be, and we might end up learning something about our own forms of government in the process. The last thing we should do is imagine that Libyan Democracy will look like western Democracy overnight, if at all.
M.K. Ghandi once reportedly said that ‘there is not a nation on earth that would not prefer it’s own bad government, to the good government of a foreign power.” I would paraphrase this a little and say, “there is no nation on earth that would not rather work out what Democracy is for themselves, than have foreign powers dictate to them what their Democracy should be like.”
The Libyan revolutionaries are excited at the moment, it seems very likely that they have won what was essentially a civil war, so they have a right to be. Excitement without fear is merely anticipation, freedom is frightening, both to those attaining it for the first time and to those watching others attain it for the first time. I wish the Libyans luck in their fearful anticipation, the problems can be worked out, different views can be accommodated, and despite it all, freedom is worth all the struggles that will be encountered.