Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Establish Individual Rights

Some months ago, when I heard President Bush talk about establishing a democracy in Afghanistan or Iraq in the style of "their own traditions", warning bells went off in my head. Here in Texas, folks like Bush use terms like "traditional" and "patriotic" as code words for the blurring of church and state. I imagined a new democracy without freedom from religious law where women would not be allowed to drive cars and homosexuals and atheists would be jailed.

My suspicions were confirmed when in March an Afghani man was prosecuted for converting from Islam to Christianity. Under the law of the new constitution of Afghanistan as established under the supervision of the U.S., he faced the death penalty for a decision he made over 14 years ago. Surely this is now what our Christian president had intended.

I hope this incident impresses upon our president the importance of separation of church and state here in our own country. I suspect the current violence between the Shiite and Sunni religious sects in liberated Iraq is due to the lack of any assurance of minority religious rights in the new government. In his speeches, President Bush should focus less on the replacement of dictatorships with democracy. Instead, the leader of the free world should emphasize the establishment of individual rights -- as protected by a democratic form of government.

We should not feel guilty about imposing an "American-style democracy" in countries previously enslaved by dictatorships. An "American-style" or "Western" democracy is one in which individuals are protected by a Bill of Rights. No matter what their traditional dominant cultural background is, everyone deserves to be free.

We know we can do it successfully because we did it in Germany and Japan after World War II. I have become concerned about Germany recently, though, as it appears from news reports in April that the German constitution is not quite "American-style" when it comes to individuals denying the Holocaust. In America, individuals can say exactly the same thing without going to jail as we consider our freedom of expression to be a sacred right. Why then, is our American government cooperating with Germany in violating human rights by extraditing these individuals to stand trial?

On National Public Radio (NPR), I listened to a representative of a Jewish organization state that while she is normally an advocate of complete freedom of expression in other nations, she felt that the the history of Germany and Austria merited a special law limiting this freedom. While to my knowledge, the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) has said absolutely nothing about this violation by a government of the freedom of individuals to publicly deny the historical validity of the murder of millions of Jews, they have launched a free speech campaign with a focus on recent efforts by Muslims to censor cartoons of Mohammed through threats of violence. I hope ARI will expand its campaign to include an expression of their moral outrage over infringements on free speech in Germany.

The other reason I mention ARI is that my writing this essay was inspired by the release today of the op-ed by Peter Schwartz entitled Freedom vs. Unlimited Majority Rule. Mr. Schwartz brings to clarity my ruminations on our misguided policy of permitting liberated nations to establish democracies without individual rights. He reminds us that America was the author of the post-World War II constitutions of both Germany and Japan.

After you finish reading this article, I also encourage you to read or re-read "Collectivized Rights" by Ayn Rand in The Virtue of Selfishness. Although it was written in 1963, I find her essay to be quite topical.

No comments: