Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for September 2012

Is “democracy” democratic?

with 2 comments

Plato, from The Republic, as quoted in a prior post:

And then democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.

From Wikipedia (here):

In politics, sortition (also known as allotment or the drawing of lots) is the selection of decision makers by lottery. The decision-makers are chosen as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates.

In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was the primary method for appointing officials, and its use was widely regarded as a principal characteristic of democracy.

The Athenian reasoning for lottery in democracy was that it more accurately acknowledged the equality of men. An election, on the other hand, was by nature oligarchic or aristocratic because it consciously selected someone “better” from the population of free and equal men. Not to mention that the kind of people who seek to sell themselves for election are probably bad representatives of the population. So, by casting lots, the Athenians actualized their beliefs in equality.

Understandably, people (including Plato) have frowned upon this form of government—as formulated by the Athenians—for the vast majority of history.

Here’s the problem: Absent an understanding of the tradition of democracy, people explain and justify modern phenomena by making comparisons between modern “democracy,” of which elections are a keystone, and Athenian democracy, which would unequivocally shun the idea.

In the original sense of democracy, then, our idea of democracy is not really democratic at all. Most would still posit, of course, that this is not a bad thing, as democracy in Plato’s sense appeared to be—in actuality—a government borne out by a mindless sort of class warfare.

I would like to suggest that this understanding of democracy’s pedigree may dampen, in some contexts, the supposed intellectual impact of the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions. People didn’t really change. Democracy changed.

Written by M. James

September 29, 2012 at 8:27 am

Power: consolidating

leave a comment »

As the “Balyoz coup plot case” reaches a symbolic end(?), whisperings emerge that “Erdogan intends to run for president” in 2014. No surprises here—just a confirmation that Turkey is continuing on a fairly stable path to a local and regional consolidation of business-driven power. Read here:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is going to run for president in the upcoming elections, mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbas said on Monday, the newspaper Haber7 reported.

Earlier, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag announced that the presidential elections are scheduled for August 2014.

Topbas stressed that municipal elections are scheduled for 2014. The mayor said that he will run for the head of the Istanbul municipality for the third time.

Written by M. James

September 24, 2012 at 9:23 am

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

Tagged with

Muslim communitarianism

leave a comment »

For some reason, The New York Times ran a decent article on the “Innocence of Muslims” fiasco and its black-swan backlash.

Here’s an interesting bit:

When the protests against an American-made online video mocking the Prophet Muhammad exploded in about 20 countries, the source of the rage was more than just religious sensitivity, political demagogy or resentment of Washington, protesters and their sympathizers here said. It was also a demand that many of them described with the word “freedom,” although in a context very different from the term’s use in the individualistic West: the right of a community, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, to be free from grave insult to its identity and values.

That demand, in turn, was swept up in the colliding crosscurrents of regional politics. From one side came the gale of anger at America’s decade-old war against terrorism, which in the eyes of many Muslims in the region often looks like a war against them. And from the other, the new winds blowing through the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which to many here means most of all a right to demand respect for the popular will.

“We want these countries to understand that they need to take into consideration the people, and not just the governments,” said Ismail Mohamed, 42, a religious scholar who once was an imam in Germany. “We don’t think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression. We think it is an offense against our rights,” he said, adding, “The West has to understand the ideology of the people.”

Even during the protests, some stone throwers stressed that the clash was not Muslim against Christian. Instead, they suggested that the traditionalism of people of both faiths in the region conflicted with Western individualism and secularism.

Read more.

Written by M. James

September 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Culture, News, Politics, Religion

Tagged with , ,

Turkey: sectarian leanings?

leave a comment »

As Turkey becomes the leader in a newly-democratized Sunni-majority Middle East, events like this may become more common (here):

Iraq’s fugitive Sunni vice president, who was sentenced to death on charges of masterminding the murder of rivals, has said the Turkish foreign minister has assured him that he stands by him after the sentencing.

“[Ahmet] Davutoğlu called me and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m with you’,” Tariq al-Hashemi told Turkish Habertürk TV in an interview on Tuesday. “I will never forget this,” the vice president added.

Hashemi fled to Turkey after Iraq’s Shiite-led government issued the charges against him in December, the day after US troops withdrew from the country. He would receive a retrial if he agrees to return to Baghdad, but the vice president has refused, saying he will never get a fair hearing in a Baghdad court.

The next day, NINA reported that Iraq responded by hitting Turkey where it hurts:

Baghdad / NINA /– Trade Ministry announced stopping giving permission or licenses for Turkish companies and stopped enrolling in the registration of its subsidiaries.

But if all goes well, Turkish construction companies—well-represented in Iraq—will soon have plenty of contracts to rebuild from the rubble in post-revolution Syria.

Written by M. James

September 13, 2012 at 4:17 am

Rial continues to fall

leave a comment »

Just as a reminder, the currency war in Iran continues, in tandem with the ousting of al-Assad. From the San Francisco Chronicle (here):

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s currency hit a record low against the U.S. dollar in street trading, the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported Sunday.

Mehr says the rial dropped nearly 7 percent in a single day, to 24,300 rials to the dollar. Street traders say the rial rose slightly later on Sunday to around 23,900 rials to the dollar.

Written by M. James

September 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Posted in News, Politics

Tagged with , , ,