As President Bush posed for the international press while signing the Treaty of Moscow in St. Catherine’s Hall, the minds of his advisers were far from his cavernous surroundings and global nuclear arms reduction. Bush’s trip to Russia was solely a symbolic overture to the past. As The New York Times described the summit, it was a “final elegy to the Cold War.”
The most significant work of the president’s European visit was in Germany and France where he attempted to smooth divisions with the European Union and much of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is clear to everyone that many of the United States’ traditional relationships are becoming irrelevant. What now matters are far-sprung events in Marquetalia, Columbia, the Chechen frontier and the passes of Kashmir. The local reactions to the perpetual threat and acts of terrorism and political violence will now be the laboratories that shape and dictate future United States policy.
Over the past two months, political violence has expanded in both its ferocity and worldwide scope. The most shocking mark of this expansion was the assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn in a Hilversum parking lot, the first political murder in the Netherlands since the 1600s. But the trend is seen in Columbia and Venezuela, Ireland and obviously the Middle East. Political violence now stands on the world stage as the intellectual challenger to the continued endurance of the liberal democratic state.
The unpredictable nature of political violence’s outbursts and the perpetual threat they pose causes many citizens and politicians to seek repressive solutions and abandon civil liberties. Terrorism’s focus on institutions of daily life and its ability to instill numbing fear in the population creates an environment where democratic institutions can be quickly dismantled. Leaders see democracy and civil liberties as concepts that are irreconcilable with a campaign against terrorism. In Columbia, this is now happening. The burden of numerable kidnappings, guerrilla murders and systematic arson has so threatened the Columbian way of life that Alvaro Uribe’s call for military expansion and the curtailing of due process and military oversight won him a true majority in Sunday’s presidential election.
While Uribe’s proposed solution and Fortuyn’s plan to end immigration to the Netherlands and amend the Dutch constitution to allow for discrimination have enjoyed popularity in many nations, these are infeasible solutions. They focus on the most superficial manifestations of global terrorism and only aim to temporarily stave off the danger. Instead, the only method to permanently disrupt and minimize terrorism is a global commitment to democratic liberties and the opportunity and freedom they create. The problem of terrorism is so broad that it requires the fostering of democratic bodies worldwide. This is the only way to prevent systematic alienation and discontent in a global environment. True democracy’s unmatched ability to actively involve citizens in the rule of their states discourages the exercise of violence to express opposition to specific policy. The expansion of democracy allows individuals to peacefully utilize civil dissent.
This reality makes the United States’ actions since Sept. 11 very troubling. There is an attitude that central tenets of democratic governance – privacy rights, judicial transparency, the rights of the accused and the sanctity of dissent – are expendable. The United States is losing international authority and respect and allowing nations to justify their repression of opponents under the guise of combating terrorism. The stunting of the development of democratic regimes will only lead to more resentment and political violence.
The realities of modern technology and interdependence mandate that neglecting or excluding a portion of the world from the benefits and operation of the democratic state is a short-sighted solution that can only create future tragedy. There is now a global theater that is divided between two visions of the world. One vision is willing to use any means to justify its goals while its nemesis must act within crafted restrictions and follow the development of law. Democracy must not compromise with the methods of terrorism. It cannot accept this desire and risk perpetual violence.
Zac Peskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.