Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The triumph of morality and hope over fear and despotism has never been fully understood by the post-Vietnam American left

It turns out that not only do all people prefer freedom to slavery, but also all governments rest to some degree on the consent of the governed
writes Brendan Miniter.
In repressive states this is the consent to stay locked in fear. But that fear lasts only as long as those oppressed believe that openly struggling against the repression is a futile effort. The North Korean regime stays in power because individuals make the calculation that one man speaking out will only succeed in drawing a long prison sentence--or worse--for himself. But if all those who despise the regime were willing to take to the streets, we'd learn that the ranks of dissenters are actually far larger than the those who benefit from the government's continued existence. If the chains of fear were broken, the regime would fall.

This was once dismissed as utopian. But it's what is happening in places like Ukraine, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan today, and it is precisely what began to happen in Poland in 1981, reaching fruition throughout Eastern Europe in 1989. When a pathway of emigration was opened up to the West, those under Soviet control lost their fear. In short order crowds gathered around the Berlin Wall and pulled it down. Faced with such widespread protests in the streets, the Evil Empire soon found itself on the ash heap of history. Poland is free in part because Pope John Paul II stood up to the communists around the world and emboldened millions by saying with his words and his actions that there will be a moral accounting for what is done here on earth.

This triumph of morality and hope over fear and despotism has never been fully understood by the post-Vietnam American left. That's why we still hear theories that Mikhail Gorbachev was the one who brought the Soviet Union in for a soft landing--as if pressure from within and from the free world didn't force that landing upon him. This misunderstanding has also now found new life in opposition to George W. Bush's push for democracy in the Muslim world. It is true that John Paul despised war and wasn't willing to lend his moral capital to the effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein by force. It is also true, however, that the pope recognized the moral good in freedom over tyranny. He never tired of chiding world leaders of all stripes and of all faiths to respect the basic human rights of their people.

Human rights are no less important for Muslims as they are for anyone else. Until Iraq's elections, it was easy to assume that Iraqis didn't really want to be free. Looking across the Middle East, Western policy makers had for decades assumed that Arabs were not meant to be free. But that assumption, like the Iron Curtain, is now falling as people lose their fear to speak out. Partly this is due to America's military might in Iraq. But in Lebanon, Egypt and perhaps even the Palestinian areas, the chains of fear are starting to slip. People in the Middle East are starting to hope and have faith in their future.