Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is Democracy Enough?

Today Iraq is "celebrating" its tenth anniversary of "liberation" with a string of bombing that has already left more than 50 dead, hundreds wounded Riddled by corruption and violence, with more than 90% of its once sizeable Christian community dead or in exile, Iraq gives witness to the reality that Islamic sharia totalitarianism and "fledgling democracy" are an impossible oxymoron. A reality I predicted in a column written shortly after that initial "liberation". Here on the 10th anniversary is the original column published in a number of venues at the time. I so wish I'd been wrong in what predicted back then:

By: Jeanette Windle
A news commentator threw out a question the other night in more of the endless analysis and rumination that has occupied our TV screens since there ceased to be sufficient combat scenes to fill 24 hours of cable news. The question: Can an Islamic democracy work in Iraq?

The commentator followed that incredible dichotomy of terms with a statement that left me stunned. “After all,” he said, “Islamic democracy is working fairly well in Iran and Turkey.”

Democracy working well? In a totalitarian theocracy where any expressed difference of opinion with an Islamic cleric can bring a sentence of life imprisonment—or execution? Where every aspect of dress, art, music, reading material, romantic relations, and private or public life is censured under the harsh scrutiny of the religious police? Where to explore another faith or philosophy than that to which one was born, or to raise questions within one’s own, is labeled blasphemy, carrying by sharia law a penalty of death?

Have we forgotten why our democracy contains a separation of church and state?
Granted, Turkey has been more successful with democracy. But only insofar as political power has been wrested away from theocratic rule. And the fragile balance of that democracy remains at constant risk from clerical authorities demanding to replace its current secular legal code with sharia law. Since the above is hardly news to any reasonably informed citizen, my danger antenna shot up immediately at said anchor’s comments. Is this member of the media’s definition of democracy—a majority vote—really what America aspires to export to the rest of the world?

If so, we—and Iraq—are in serious trouble. And it might explain why so many countries emerging from totalitarianism in recent years have proved incapable of sinking any serious democratic roots. You see, the cry we hear these days for democratization, in Iraq and around the world, ignores one simple factor. It was never democracy in its simplest definition—a majority vote—that established freedom in America.

It was justice.

Justice defined in a written system of law that guarantees, not the will of the many, the powerful, the strong, nor those who can manipulate the most votes, but equal rights and inalienable freedoms for every citizen, regardless of social standing, gender, ethnicity or creed. Justice that cannot be overwritten by any majority vote of people who are too often guilty of placing their own interests above their neighbors, of blindly following leaders with agendas of their own.

Ah, but the Middle East is different, we are told. They have thousands of years of totalitarian history, dozens of factions who have never gotten along. We cannot impose our American ideas of justice or expect them to adopt our version of democracy.

I have more respect for the Iraqi people than that. Have we forgotten our own history? America was not founded on a heritage of democracy, but by fugitives from countless totalitarian regimes. It is no racial or cultural superiority that allows 150 diverse nationalities to live in peace within our borders, including any number of ethnicities that in their origin countries are still slaughtering each other. It is the human rights and freedoms laid out in the most incredible document of law and justice ever written in the history of mankind, the Constitution of the United States of America.
Yet we state apologetically that we don’t want to export our moral and ethical ideas to the rest of the world. Why not? If we really believe that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, why should we apologize for offering that idea to the rest of the world, for encouraging it wherever and whenever we can? Or is it that too many within our political and media establishment do not consider freedom an inalienable right, but a cultural choice they are simply fortunate enough to be in the right place to possess?

I, for one, happen to believe life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not American values, but the inalienable right of every human being on this planet. Including the Iraqis.

How then can we ensure this right for the Iraqi people? Democracy, certainly. But not alone—or even first. Democracy in and of itself is simply a recipe for the powerful and the many to tyrannize over the weak and the few. Only within a framework of justice and law and guaranteed freedoms for all can democracy work in Iraq—or anywhere.Will such a framework be universally accepted by the local population?

Probably not. There were plenty of Nazis in Germany and Imperialists in Japan who resisted such reform after World War II. Tyrants hate giving up a stranglehold on other people’s lives. We gave them no choice. Two generations later, their descendents are hardly clamoring to return to the old regime.

Such a framework should not be a matter of choice or vote in Iraq either. Not that I believe the average Iraqi, given a choice without fear of reprisal, would not prefer to make their own decisions as to philosophy, faith, worship, political views—or actions as mundane as buying a satellite dish or personal preference of music, literature, dress—than to have those decisions imposed by the secret police of either a corrupt dictator or a totalitarian theocracy.

Whatever one’s personal views on this war, this nation has been given a historic opportunity for advancing freedom in a world only too lacking in that value. If in our eagerness to go home, we walk away, handing the keys of Baghdad to the faction that manages to scare up enough votes to satisfy cries for a ‘democratic’ solution, we will have won a battle, but lost a war.

No, democracy is not enough.

Friday, January 11, 2013

When Danger and Faith Collide in a Congolese Rainforest

As authors, we're told to "write what we know". Having lived now in six countries and traveled in more than thirty, including some of the planet’s more difficult corners, it is perhaps inevitable I write international intrigue set well outside "first world" comfort zones from Bolivia to Afghanistan. My latest Tyndale House release Congo Dawn takes place against the backdrop of the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ituri rainforest war zones.

A brief synopsis: If absolute power breeds absolute corruption, what happens when a multinational corporation with unlimited funds hires on a private military company with unbridled power? Especially in a war-torn Congolese rainforest where governmental accountability is only too cheaply for sale and the ultimate conflict mineral is up for grabs.

Why this particular setting?
Growing up in the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon, I was captivated by missionary biographies from its second-largest counterpart on the far side of the globe, the Congo. Africa's equatorial rainforest basin is actually one of this planet's most naturally wealthy regions with rubber, diamonds, gold, oil, uranium and numerous other mineral reserves. Unfortunately, as memorialized in the Joseph Conrad classic Heart of Darkness, human greed and brutality have kept its people among the planet's poorest from the days of Portuguese slave raiders and a Belgian colonial era characterized by forced labor and horrific working conditions to the vicious dictators and rebel fighting of its independence era. In recent years, all-out civil war has left more than five million dead. News headlines are a constant succession of atrocities, "boy soldiers" now a dictionary entry.
And yet, however dark the situation, the DRC has also been witness to the shining flame of God's love raised high by followers of Yesu, Jesus Christ. Among missionary biographies that impacted me personally was that of Dr. Helen Roseveare, who helped establish several mission hospitals and medical training centers in the Ituri rainforest where Congo Dawn takes place, herself held brutally captive by Simba rebels during the violence of the DRC's 1964 war of independence. The largest of those centers, Nyankunde, real-life counterpart of my fictional rainforest community Taraja [Hope], was in turned razed just a few years ago during the latest round of rebel massacres.
Today's fighting is greatly aggravated by the value and pursuit of conflict minerals in that zone. As always, it has been the mission pilots, medical personnel both expatriate and Congolese, and other followers of Yesu, Jesus Christ, who have been first back into the conflict zones well ahead of United Nations, embassy, local law enforcement or any other humanitarian and corporate interests. Their courage in shining bright the light of Yesu's love in one of the planet's darkest corners gave voice to this story.
As to Congo Dawn's actual suspense thread, I've had personal opportunity to witness what a multinational corporation is capable of in back alleys of the Third World when no one is watching (an experience in itself too unbelievable to write up as fiction). In Africa as elsewhere, both the protective and striking arm of such corporations has historically been hired foreign mercenaries. But today's private military corporations are vastly different, possessing more fire power than the average country. What struck me was the lack of any accountability to outside oversight beyond some paid-off local warlord.

So what happens when a multinational corporation with unlimited funds hires on a private military company with unbridled power in a Congolese rainforest where the ultimate conflict mineral is up for grabs? Coming up with one very plausible possibility birthed Congo Dawn.

On a deeper spiritual level, Congo Dawn addresses the age-old question of how a world filled with such darkness, injustice and pain can possibly be the creation of a God of love. What value beyond our own comprehension might human suffering possibly hold that a loving Creator God permits so much of it to continue? At one of the story's high points, the main protagonist Robin asks a question with which I think every reader can identify:

“I would give my own life to stop the pain I’ve seen. To stop little girls and boys from being raped. Or just as bad, forced into armies where they’re turned into killers. To keep families from being torn apart by war. Children dying of preventable diseases for lack of a dollar’s worth of medicine. So am I more compassionate than the God who created all these people, created all this beauty? How can an all-powerful God who claims to love humanity look down on our planet and watch such unspeakable things happening, innocent people hurting and dying, bad guys winning over and over again, so much suffering, without it breaking His heart? Without reaching down and putting a stop to it?"
Robin's personal faith journey through the pages of Congo Dawn reflects my own spiritual wrestling with the above questions. The answer begins ultimately with recognizing as the protagonist does that I am not more compassionate than my Creator. Any love I can possibly feel or show is a dim reflection of our heavenly Father's love.

So if I begin with the recognition that God is truly love, that He loves us far more than we can love others, I must come to the same simple, yet profound realization to which Congo Dawn's main protagonist is ultimately drawn. The coexistence of a loving Creator with human suffering is no oxymoron, but a divine paradox those refined in the fires of adversity are best equipped to understand. The smallest flames of love and faith shine most brightly against the darkest night. Our heavenly Father really does know what He's doing, and His ultimate plans for our lives and all His creation will not be thwarted.

And in that realization is the basis for a faith that cannot be shaken however dark the night.