A Terrible, Wonderful, Violent, Peaceful Year

By John Michaelson, December 31, 2012

IDFWomen A Terrible, Wonderful, Violent, Peaceful Year

What a year!

What a terrible, wonderful, violent, peaceful year!

Parts of the world are moving in slow motion, while other parts are moving too fast for us to grasp.  Israel’s neighbors are caught in a maelstrom of change.  The Arab Spring is a poisoned pill for Israel: the fall of the old despots held the promise of democracy, but that has not brought peace.  Instead it has brought Islamic radicalism.  Islamist militants have used the opportunity to export war to Mali, Syria, Lebanon, and Mali.

It is a struggle for Americans, Europeans, and Israelis to have to accept that Middle Eastern democracy can bring with it something so oppressive.  Westerners look to their own countries and ask, “how did they pervert the process that worked so well for us?”

This brings along with it much navel gazing for the West.  How can Western democracies (and we’re including Israel among them) avoid sliding into theocratic rule?  How have they managed to remain liberal democracies for so long?  It’s not that Westerners are less religious than their Arabic counterparts.  No one can claim that American politics is not suffused with religion.  Israeli Jews are no less fervent believers than Christians or Muslims.  So, what gives?

Minority rights.  That’s what gives.

Political philosophers too often talk about Rousseau and his contributions to the ideas of democracy while forgetting the contributions of earlier thinkers like Locke.  Rousseau spoke about elections and the necessity of majority rule.  Locke spoke about the necessity of natural rights.  That is, that individuals have certain inalienable rights.  There are disagreements on what these rights are, but across the West there is widespread agreement that such rights exist.  To protect these rights, Western governments– from the very beginning of their modern incarnations– have structured themselves to protect their citizens’ rights.

Democracy will inevitably slide into despotism or theocracy without these checks on government.  Israel has not.  A respect for natural rights is why Israel’s large Arabic, Muslim, and Christian populations keep voting.  It is why, for all of the violence that Israel has suffered this year, she remains a vibrant beacon of hope.  This may make other Arab countries blanch, but Israel is a symbol of the promise of democracy.

That’s something that we cannot forget.

John Michaelson

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