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Democracy in the Era of Terrorism

by Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK

Terrorists not only create fear in the democracies, but now are in control of the political agenda. Until democracies regain the initiative and control the battlefield, the terrorists will continue to grow and succeed.

Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo because he -- Wellington -- picked the terrain, the battlefield, that favoured his forces. So simple, yet so true in more arenas than the military.


Yet this lesson -- going back long before Wellington, noted even in the ancient Sun Tzu's Art of War -- seems lost on the democracies.


September 11 occurred in the United States, and Americans have lived in fear since, not even travelling within their own country.


In Spain, the train bombings of March 11. 2004 have so traumatised the Spanish voters that they defeated the governing party. While of course the defeat of a government is part of democracy, the reasons for the defeat are especially troubling. Namely, the voters blame the government for the attack by al Qaeda, because Spain joined the War on Iraq. While it is true that the justification for that war was weak (and indeed has been noted in this Journal over the past year), there is a deeper problem if voters can be scared by terrorists.


Namely, that the future of world democracy is in the balance.


What must be done to reverse this trend?


The democracies must regain the initiative, the terrain, the battlefield, from the terrorists. How can this be done?


Let's go back to the cold war. The western democracies were locked in a massive struggle with the communists, involving shooting and propaganda wars. Yet none of the aggressive actions brought down the communist regimes. What brought down those regimes was the word and the goal of democracy. That word and goal became so powerful that not even totalitarian states could resist it.


The democracies greatest strength is the ideal of freedom and rule of law. Nothing, not even fundamentalism (Islamic or otherwise) can defeat that strength.


Paradoxically, while the U.S. was wrong to invade Iraq, their post-war emphasis on building a real democracy with the rule of law is an excellent move, and an example -- and a catalyst -- for similar events throughout the totalitarian fundamentalist world.


However, the emphasis of the U.S. as well on corporate gain, combined with the high-profile corporate scandals at home, sends out a disastrous message. No country, even other democracies, would want to follow that model. The lack of direction of the citizens in the democracies can be directly traced to the corporate scandals. Maybe the whole society is corrupt -- maybe the democracies are not worth saving -- that is the message getting out to the voters. The U.S. and other democracies must therefore clean their corporate structures, and get back to where their strengths lay -- in the aforementioned goals of democracy and the rule of law throughout the world.


Few protestors demonstrate against democracy -- they demonstrate against corporate actions that in fact act to destroy the very democracy and rule of law that people crave.


The dichotomy between democracy and corporate actions and ethics must therefore be resolved, and quickly. The democracies will then succeed in promoting democratic values and the rule of law, thus taking the propaganda initiative away from the terrorists. Terrorists will lose the initiative, and the citizens of democracies will regain their resolve, because they too will believe in something more than corporate thievery and scandals. Terrorism and fundamentalism will lose its hold, just as communism did over a decade ago.


Your thoughts?


Brian Risman


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