Monday, August 14, 2006

Meaning of "democracy"

Today's Crikey has an article by Richard Farmer asking if Afghanistan is still worth fighting for.

In it he recounts a recent story of a man who was to be sentenced to death for converting to Christianity - because they still practice sharia law. The item concluded by mentioning John Howard's speech in parliament last week.

As justification for increasing the Australian troop commitment Mr Howard declared that “our efforts, and those of our coalition partners, are bearing fruit. Afghans have embraced democracy and open, democratic institutions are developing. Afghanistan now has a democratic constitution and a democratically elected president and parliament.”

It is probably about time that John Howard and others figured out that democracy means more than just having elections. The US enshrined the concept of the separation of the state from any specific religion, built on the experience of their early citizens. In fact, amongst European countries those that most rapidly adopted a separation of the church from the State were those that developed economically most rapidly. Alfred Cobban's three volume Pelican history of modern France makes a very strong case for how the influence of the church held back French economoc and political development.

At least the Australian Democrats have started to raise the debate about this in Australia. Is the response to global terrorism to support a state which has a state religion and to draw religious groups closere into the operation of our own state? Do we understand that the UK terrorists are the products of religious schools?

It is hard to believe there can be any lasting peace in large areas of the world until it is accepted that Government is a secular activity and that democracy includes religious tolerance.

At the same time we should recognise that recent attempts by Government to include religious groups in social policy is an attempt to recreate social capital. It is clear that we cannot run a society where to give someone a hand-up means the Government gives a hand-out.

But a greater exposition on that shall await another day.

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