Monday, January 10, 2005

Elections and Freedom

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Aghanis voting for the first time in history

This article in today's Wall Street Journal highlights a fascinating political phenomenon: The demonstrated willingness of humanity to participate in elections even when doing so endangers their lives. The article begins on this hopeful note:

What can the U.S. and Iraq learn from El Salvador?

Senior U.S. officials point to the small Central American nation's 1982 election, in which voters had to take cover from gunfire as they waited in line to cast their ballots, as a reason to believe even imperfect elections can help propel a war-torn nation toward democracy. In El Salvador, the vote helped reduce support for an insurgency and, they argue, the election slated for Jan. 30 in Iraq can do the same there.

Unfortunately the rest of the piece seems devoted to listing the differences between Iraq and El Salvador, quoting "experts" on why the Salvadoran experience is not likely to be duplicated in Iraq. Eleven of 15 substantive paragraphs are devoted to that point. The concluding, somewhat nervous final paragraph:

"In El Salvador you had the image of old farmers lined up to vote, crouching to get out of the line of fire, and then getting back into line. It was about as graphic a demonstration of the desire for democracy as you can have," says Mr. Aronson, who recently served as an election observer in Afghanistan. "Hopefully, the same thing will happen in Iraq. But if the process turns into a debacle, it might send the opposite message: that things are out of control."
The mainstream news media does love that idea of things being out of control in Iraq.

This is a subject of interest to me because I lived in El Salvador in 1975, doing missionary work for my church. I spent almost all my time with middle and lower-class strivers in that wonderful little country. What struck me most, even then as a callow 20 year-old, was that the people "got it." They knew who was their friend and who was not.

This emerged in many conversations, at mealtimes, in meetings, just about any time the subject came up: The elite families that ran the country were not their friends; the common folk knew that, but they somewhat resentfully tolerated the elites anyway. They knew the various Cuban "schoolteachers," leftists visiting El Salvador from other countries, and Che Guevara groupies were not their friends either. They either laughed at them or oozed distrust and resentment toward them. They were also deeply suspicious of the Salvadoran military, which was allied with the ruling elites and really seemed to have far too much power. If you were Salvadoran man of military age, you had to be on your guard about "conscription squads" that routinely kidnapped young men and impressed them into the army. (I actually witnessed one such conscription personally, in the middle of a suburban street in broad daylight.)

From among all that tyranny and injustice, it was always my strong impression that what the overwhelming majority of Salvadoran people wanted was freedom and democracy. Seven years later, they got it, in a national election with a massive voter turnout (90%, I believe) even while the leftist rebels, who wanted to shoot their way into power, were threatening to kill anyone who voted.

Call me a hopeless romantic idealist, but I do not think it was Western culture alone that brought the Salvadorans to do that. Nor do I think it was Afghan culture that caused the Afghans to vote in massive numbers despite Taliban threats to kill voters. Remember the stories about the Afghan women who performed Muslim funeral rituals before voting, so that they would be prepared for death if they were killed in the act?

Time will tell whether people who agree with me are right. The Iraqi elections are only days away. Let us hope that the human desire for freedom carries the day.

UPDATE: The Belmont Club has an excellent roundup of news on the elections and the islamofascists' efforts to disrupt them.

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