Friday, 18 January 2008

Removing One 'Wrong' Does Not Automatically Put A 'Right' in its Place

It is always interesting listening to apologists of something who know that general consensus about what they are saying will be hostile so they wrap up their statements in conciliatory phrases especially if they are eating in your house at the time, but then with rather veiled statements proceed to make outrageous statements. In the UK it is not the done thing to say to them 'your views are entirely offensive stop', society requires you smile and admit they have a point. I would support this view, because I heartily support the view that whilst I may disagree with someone they have the right to express any views they choose and if I tried to prevent them then I would be behaving as badly as the views they outline. As noted in a recent post, some will see that as a weakness of the liberal humanist approach, but in fact in line with a comment I saw in a newspaper recently referring to the BNP (British National Party the main UK fascist party) 'given them enough string [i.e. not even rope] and they will hang themselves' as typically bigots show themselves up as stupid and hateful far better themselves that we could ever hope to do.

Now, in this context, I had a white former South African woman in my house last week. She is 28 so was born in 1980 when apartheid was in place but still only a teenager when it finally ended in 1994. Like people interested in the country she has seen the difficulties with crime, violence, poverty and AIDS that have plagued it since and she now argues that many Blacks in South Africa would prefer a return to the apartheid system because it at least had stability. To some degree that is a rather rosy view of the 'stability' of South Africa especially in the 1970s and 1980s with its economy suffering spiralling inflation and heavily armed police riding around beating and shooting people and internicine murders between different Black factions. It is clear that many Whites who grew up during the period were oblivious to the severity of events going on. They say the British had exaggerated information, but it is clear that having a free press we did not have to have exaggerated reports to see how bad the situation was. South Africa had no television broadcasts before 1977 to help keep people in ignorance and even then news was heavily censored. The one incident that they are most suprised to hear about the attack of the extreme AWB against the ANC conference in 1990 which almost triggered a civil war.

Apartheid South Africa was a society divided on racial grounds denying people access to areas and facilities such as schools and hopsitals based on their racial categorisation, something that had only otherwise been seen in Nazi Germany, hardly a good role model. The woman knew I had been in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which for liberals in the UK was almost assumed and I recognise now I could have been much more active than I was. Anyway, she said to me, had I been to South Africa and I said no (partly because flights there are beyond my income) but I also said because I knew how violent and crime-ridden the country was. She ridiculed me saying well, surely those were the people in control that I had campaigned to liberate. Of course that is a foolish statement but you can see why Whites in South Africa see a direct connection between the end of apartheid and the rise on social problems. This, however, is a very simplistic view and is similar to the difficulties in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is right to campaign against dictatorships but you cannot assume that simply removing them will create peace and democracy; that is actually the harder job than removing the dictatorship and yet it is the one people pay least attention to.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement campaigned not to create a South Africa which was crime-ridden and violent, it aimed for a state which did not have a divisive social and political structure and gave the majority a voice but in the context of freedom for all people no matter what their ethnic background. It also gave people the freedom to be criminals and to be violent in a way that they have that freedom (and use it) in the UK, USA, France and so on. There are some points to note. Democracy does not suddenly manufacture a feasible economy. As in the USSR before its collapse, a distorted economy of the kind which is prevalent in Africa and was also in the Communist state is going to leave certain people in poverty to an even greater extent than they are in the democracies, because the authoritarian state can restrict their movement to find work and to protest against conditions in a way democracies cannot do. So in Russia and South Africa you still have the weak economy from before but people can take action to improve their situation and the easiest way is always to commit a crime. In addition creating democracy does not overnight erase social inequalities and whilst Blacks and Coloureds are now in a position to become prosperous in South Africa, the richest people there are still White as they were in previous decades. This will also take time to change and the Mugabe model in Zimbabwe has proven itself to be the wrong way to go about it.

Democracy itself (let alone a fair society and despite many Americans' views the two are not necessarily linked) takes a long time to establish. In the UK it took centuries and as yet we are still not a truly democratic state as half of our parliament is unelected. In France it took centuries and a bloody revolution. In Germany it took two world wars and the Nazi regime before enduring democracy was established. The USA had a colonial war, a vast civil war, rioting and unrest to even establish its current form of democracy, again taking centuries. So why does anyone think that democracy can really truly be established in South Africa, Russia (which had never even tried democracy before the 1990s), Iraq, Afghanistan in the space of a few years and peacefully, when the bulk of the lauded democracies had to go through decades and decades of bloodshed to get to often quite imperfect democracy now.

It is a human tragedy that when dictatorships end it takes so long to establish some degree of stability, even to reduce the 'normality' of violence to an extent when it becomes exceptional rather than taken for granted. However, this is no excuse to say, well as democracy is so violent and unstable in the first few decades then we should not bother and stick with authoritarian regimes instead. This is like saying a woman should not let the baby out of her womb simply because it is going to be a painful process often needing lots of input from doctors and nurses. When things change you need to look forward. No-one fights to help criminals prosper, they fight for all the ordinary people, the bulk of South Africans and Iraqis who simply want to be able to go work in the morning, feed their families, come home, eat and go to sleep; to not be stopped and checked all the time, not to be arrested with no cause, to disappear, to be tortured or shot. In addition, they would like to be able to shape the government in the direction which fits with their values (though most people are quite happy if it just leaves them alone) and to be able to protest freely when things upset them. These are the people that anyone opposing a dictatorship is campaigning for. Yet, everyone, especially governments must remember, that taking away the dictatorship is not the end of the process rather it is just the brief introduction to a process that will stretch over the following decades.

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