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Kristof on Ending Double Standards on Democracy

A crude stereotype lingers that some people — Arabs, Chinese and Africans — are incompatible with democracy.

Nick Kristof disagrees.

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14 Comments

  1. Brett wrote:

    I agree that it’s a stupid, wrong stereotype.

    That said, I don’t know whether the recent revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and (hopefully) Libya will lead to democratic regimes. We could get anything from a different form of authoritarianism to full-blown parliamentary democracy in some form.

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  2. William Easterly wrote:

    Let’s not decide on the validity of the stereotype based on what happens in the next 6 months

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  3. Jacob AG wrote:

    *claps his hands approvingly*

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  4. Achiba Gargule wrote:

    Agreed! But lets be real Bill. The truth is democracy – the way its been prescribed to the so called ‘third world’ – is nothing worth crying over even if Africans, Chinese and Arabs were to go another two thousand years without it!

    Realistically, Africa in particular have too many problems to even think of democracy. If we can have a dictator (yes Bill, a ruthless dictator) who can fix the economy, make Africa reliant on its own resources and NOT aid, stand up to IMF & WB (the evil twins of destruction) and refuse to pay all the ‘debt’ accumulated by the continent – i’ll rather that than anything else.

    Lets face it, if democracy is holding back US and International community from intervening in Libya – WE DONT NEED IT!

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  5. south wrote:

    I would argue that democracy is not really compatible with the Western world either over a long period of time (say for more than a few hundred years). Just watch how easily democratic processes and institutions have been subverted when convenient under the guise of ‘security’ in the past two decades and you realize: democracy’s values and benefits are easily forgotten or regarded as luxuries even in places where it has flourished.

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  6. Kevin Rutter wrote:

    I think its to early to see whats really going to happen. Time will only tell.

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink
  7. Adam Baker wrote:

    It’s a straw man. The question is not whether a “people” are capable of democracy or not, but whether democracy even makes sense within their cultural framework, i.e., whether people would want it in the first place. People like Harry Triandis have written about these questions, specifically whether participatory democracy makes sense for strongly collectivist cultures. This is a more fundamental question than, “Is Africa too far gone for democracy?”

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  8. Christos wrote:

    It is amazing how some people are conditioned to compartmentalize the human sprit to inflate their own self-worth by undermining others.

    Democracy is way beyond many in the so called democratic countries believes they practice. If they truly understand and internalize Democracy they would not make reckless statements and vote for leaders who coddle-up with tyrants. Simply being lazy from following-up what is done in the name of democratic countries’ interest does not qualify anyone to spew a fly by statement just for the sake of saying it.

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink
  9. Christos wrote:

    It is amazing how some people are conditioned to compartmentalize the human sprit to inflate their own self-worth by undermining others.

    Democracy is way beyond many in the so called democratic countries that believe they are practicing it. If they truly understand and internalize Democracy they would not make reckless statements and vote the leaders who coddle-up with tyrants.

    Simply being lazy from following up what is done in the name of democratic countries’ interest does not qualify anyone to spew a fly by statement just for the sake of saying it.

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  10. Roger McKinney wrote:

    Kristoff’s defense of his thesis: Arabs are courageous. But what does that have to do with democracy? No one says they’re not courageous. But so communists. Was Che Guevara not courageous?

    The issue is culture. A Pew poll showed that 85% of Egyptians want the death penalty for Muslims who convert to any other faith. Political freedom is not possible without religious freedom.

    Iran has a democracy of sorts. If all you want is a democracy, that’s the easy part. Iraq has a democracy, too. But immense corruption keeps it from doing any good.

    It’s clear that Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other will get democracies of some kind, but they will be much more like Iran’s democracy than anything we recognize in the West. And it has nothing to do with courage or stereotypes or bigotry; it has to do with cultural facts on the ground.

    If Kristoff wants to deny the differences in culture between the Middle East and the West, fine. But the rest of us shouldn’t.

    Posted February 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  11. Vivek Nemana wrote:

    Sorry Roger, but I have to disagree.

    This is depressing. I feel like we’re allowing our Western biases to fool us. Kristof’s thesis doesn’t end with just “courage.” Rather, it’s about the courage to fight for your right to participate in government. Che was certainly courageous — I was one of those high school kids with a Che flag in his room — but his courage was ultimately about something else entirely. Even before being corrupted by power, he may have been fighting for the rights of the poor but he wasn’t fighting for democracy. Socialism is centralized and is ultimately undemocratic.

    The protesters in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia were/are fighting for their right to political representation. It’s a completely different battle, but one that’s as difficult as any. And that’s the kind of courage that shows they’re ready for democracy.

    Sorry, but I don’t quite understand these cultural arguments. Isn’t it inherent in the nature of true democracy, representation, decentralization and what not, to fit the complexities of a local culture? And isn’t that what these people are fighting for, and what they will keep fighting for?

    Hasn’t there been enough evidence already that autocracy is just plain bad? I don’t see how one could point to Iran and say, “Oh hey, democracy isn’t working.” I’m sure any protester would respond, “Oh hey, that isn’t democracy.”

    Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink
  12. Roger McKinney wrote:

    Vivek: “The protesters in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia were/are fighting for their right to political representation.”

    That’s the typical Western interpretation, and it may be true for the majority of protesters. But keep in mind that the protesters represent less than 1% of the population.

    From my understanding of Arabs, I would say that most hated Mubarak personally, just as Iranians hated the Shah personally, and wanted him out of power. I doubt that thoughts of democracy ever entered their minds. One reason I think that, among many, is that Arabs distrust each other more than they distrust a powerful leader.

    And keep in mind that the protesters in Iran in 1979 were fighting for democracy, too. Khomeini promised the people democracy and all kinds of wonderful things until he consolidated power. Then he began murdering them.

    I’m not saying that no one in those countries want real democracy. I’m sure that a tiny percentage of Western educated people do.

    “Isn’t it inherent in the nature of true democracy, representation, decentralization and what not, to fit the complexities of a local culture?”

    I don’t think so. Western style democracy requires low levels of corruption, self-control, and respect for the rule of law instead of the rule of strong men. Most of the world outside of the West, with some exceptions. Don’t have any of those traits.

    Someone has said that the difference between civilization and the lack of it is the ability to stand in line.

    Posted March 1, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  13. joe wrote:

    Arabs are not a monolithic people any more than USAmericans are. And just because 1% of the population protests on the street doesn’t mean that the other 99% passively or actively support the regime.

    Posted March 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  14. Steven wrote:

    I completely agree with Kristof that any nation is capable of establishing themselves as a democratic nation.. It may be the red-blood flowing through my American veins, but I hold strong hope that democracy can be successful anywhere. Like Kristof said, democracy has been established in nations before that were much more ill-prepared to actually establish a democracy. I will say that in the current situations in many of these countries, it will be very hard to establish themselves as a democratic nation, but with a few changes it is very possible that all these nations could be democratic nations.

    Posted March 3, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

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