In this country, at least in high school civics classes, we often equate freedom and democracy. But this is not the case. I have written before that protection of individual rights is far more critical to our well-being than voting. If there was a system with a better track record for protecting individual rights than democracy, I would support it, even if it did not involve voting.
Here is an interesting example from Kuwait of a king protecting individual rights from a democratically-elected body
Although a monarchy, Kuwait has an elected parliament and a generally free media. It regularly invites foreign analysts and journalists to observe its elections. I am making my second trip this year.
Tremors from the Arab Spring are being felt here. The parliament elected in 2009 faced charges of corruption and lost popularity, and was dissolved at the beginning of the year. Elections were held in February.
All very democratic.
The new legislature was dominated by anti-government activists and, more important, Islamists. Top of the latter’s agenda was making Sharia the basis of all laws, imposing the death penalty for blasphemy, and closing Christian churches. Not very good for liberty.
The Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, said no to all three. Liberty was protected only because Kuwait was not a genuine parliamentary system where elections determine the government.
Please, do not over-interpret my point here. I am well aware that the Emir in Kuwait holds a number of illiberal views with which I would disagree. But its an interesting example none-the-less.
It is pretty amazing to me that 500 years after the Spanish Inquisition it is somehow a revelation that people who are being tortured will say about anything to make the torture (or the threats thereof) stop:
On Friday the government declassified an opinion in which U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the release of a Kuwaiti held at Guantanamo since 2002, saying he was imprisoned based on coerced confessions that even his interrogators did not believe. Fouad Al Rabiah, a 50-year-old aviation engineer and father of four, was captured as he tried to leave Afghanistan in December 2001. He said he came to Afghanistan that October to help refugees, an explanation the judge found credible....
Later four Guantanamo inmates made several implausible accusations against Al Rabiah"”claiming, among other things, that the engineer, who had worked at Kuwait Airlines for 20 years, suddenly became a leader of the fight against U.S. forces in Tora Bora. Kollar-Kotelly noted that the charges were either inconsistent or demonstrably false. The Pentagon eventually stopped relying on these wild claims to justify Al Rabiah's detention, but by then interrogators had used the charges, along with sleep deprivation and threats of rendition to countries where he would be tortured or killed, to extract confessions from him. In the end, the interrogators concluded that Al Rabiah was making up a story to please them. "Incredibly," Kollar-Kotelly wrote, "these are the confessions that the government has asked the Court to accept as truthful in this case."
I have argued for years that indefinite detention of anyone, citizen or not, is an affront to the principles on which this country was founded. Just to make my position entirely clear, I am willing to risk letting 40 dangerous people go free (assuming we can't actually prosecute them) to avoid having one person detained wrongly. If you think this is naive or wrong, then you need to ask yourself what you think about our entire legal system, which is predicated on a similar presumption, that we would prefer some guilty or dangerous people go free rather than tilt the system such that innocent people rot in jail.
Other posts from this topic here and here
I have always been amazed that so many civil libertarians have embraced multi-culturalism. To be a good civil libertarian, you have to be willing to defend a certain set of principles about individual rights ruthlessly against all intrusion. But to be a multi-culturalist, you have to be willing to accept values and behaviors that are wildly out of sync with western liberalism as equally "OK". These two never seemed reconcilable to me -- civil libertarians pursue moral absolutes, while multi-culturalism preaches that there are no absolutes.
Those on the left who have tried to embrace both civil liberties and multi-culturalism have sometimes had to bend themselves into pretzels to try to reconcile these beliefs. Today we have the unbelievable spectacle of the same people accusing the US of becoming a theocracy because it is slow to embrace gay marriage at the same time defending radical Muslim groups who would kill gays on sight. We can watch people go ballistic decrying naked human pyramids as "torture" but still defend Saddam and his Baathists as freedom fighters despite the hundreds of thousands they put into mass graves. And we can observe that the same people who are trying to invalidate judge candidates because they went to prayer breakfasts are calling flushing a Koran down the toilet "torture".
I suspect, though, that the highly illiberal teachings of the Muslim religion may finally be forcing the left to recognize the incompatibilities of their civil libertarianism and their belief in cultural moral equivalence. This is the theme of a great new piece by Cathy Young in Reason:
The tension between two pillars of the modern left"”multiculturalism and
progressive views on gender"”is not new. It has been particularly thorny
in many European countries where, in lieu of an American-style "melting pot"
approach, immigrants have been traditionally encouraged to maintain their
distinct values and ways. Recently, however, these tensions have started to
come out into the open. According to a
in the German magazine, Der Spiegel, the murder of Dutch filmmaker
Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic extremist last November after he had made a
documentary about the oppression of Muslim women "galvanized the Netherlands
and sent shock waves across Europe."...
Misogyny and gay-bashing"”religiously motivated or not"”still exist
in Western societies as well, though at least they are widely condemned by
the mainstream culture. We should be able to say, loud and clear, that the
modern values of individual rights, equality, and tolerance are
better"”and just say no to multiculturalist excuses for bigotry.
Some good news on this topic, Kuwait has extended women the right to vote.
It strikes me that no matter what happens with Syrian troops, one victor will certainly be Lebanese women, who have certainly made a positive impact on the American male's aesthetic radar screen of late.
Update: Ditto Kuwait.