The Catch 22 of Democracy

The first parliament was elected in England, in 1275; and this signified the beginning of the spread of democracy globally, with aspirant vows of freedom, equality and human rights. A key component of democracy has always been that ‘majority rules’, which  poses a problem when minority rights are impeded on. As Aristotle stated, “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.”

Today, millions of people have grown up in societies where they are taught to question their teachers and leaders and to develop their own opinions. However, this has resulted in numerous schools of thought; and countless debates have occurred as a result.  Ironically, this is the point of democracy: freedom of speech and to express your opinion. But where do we draw the line and begin to run the country without impeding on anyone’s rights? Who decides where the line is? Do we vote for it, or do the leaders that we voted for decide?

In New York, USA, there is a heated debate over a Mosque that has been given approval to be built in the area known as ground zero (where the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001). The reasons for the protest vary, from anger at the Mosque’s chosen location to the argument that it is too soon for the grieving families. I understand their pain, but I do not understand how building a Mosque is connected to it. Yes, the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Centre where Muslim, but they were not American. While they used Islam as a justification for the attack, one has to wonder why they attacked strategic administrative and economic buildings. If it was a war on religion would they not have attacked places of worship or attacked on days of worship? Instead they attacked areas pivotal to the American way of living, they attacked the soul of America. So should they not be seen firstly as terrorists, secondly as citizens of their respective countries and thirdly as Muslims? Are the people who want to build the Mosque, not American citizens, who happen to be Muslim? Do they not have a right to worship and to choose where they worship? The city’s leadership chose to approve the building of the Mosque, should the citizenz of New York not trust in the leaders whom they voted for? The perpetrators of the 9/11 bombings have been identified and some caught and punished (or in the process of it) per the American justice system, so why are American citizens being punished for their crime because they happen to share the same religion?

America is a country of immigrants. Most Americans, that I have met, can still trace the origins of their forefathers no matter what generation American they are. They also all know why, their forefathers came to America. Some by force, others by choice; but mostly to escape. Whether it was poverty or tyranny, they all came to America to be free of some kind of shackles, because America is the land of the free, where one can have access to work, education, religious practice, choice, expression etc. At least that is what is assumed. Yet, gay marriage is still an issue; new immigrants (illegal or not) still get exploited or harassed; racism still exists and so on.

America is not the only democracy that is not living up to all of its hype. In fact, I doubt that there is any democratic state that can truly call its self 100% democratic. However, America has always been our beacon of hope, our example of how a democratic state should be run. And we can’t be blamed for that, as they proclaimed themselves champions of democracy.

I suppose, as educated people we should be less critical, knowing that humans by nature are selfish and not interested in equality, unless they benefit. And democracy requires us, as humans to allow ALL citizens and not just the majority to exercise their rights. So knowing this, should we protest when our rights are impeded on by another citizen, who has a right to their opinion and expression thereof (so far as it is Constitutional) or should we only protest when we are in the majority, because that is when democracy works for us?

Winston Churchill once said wisely on democracy, that “many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Feint & Margin

Feint & Margin is a weekly, online, Pan-African publication featuring writings and thoughts from Ordinary Africans who have Extraordinary minds. We represent the True Voice of the African Citizen.

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