Prodemocracy Activists & the Global System

Prodemocracy activists in Hong Kong marking the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre, June 1, 2014. (Photo: Jessica Hromas, Getty Images)
Prodemocracy activists in Hong Kong marking the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre, June 1, 2014. (Photo: Jessica Hromas, Getty Images)

I have visited this theme before, and I will probably do it again, because the hypocrisy and/or ignorance involved here is simply unforgiveable, and because I need to stake out my position more clearly on the matter.

Simply put, principles and ideals are not the main driving force behind most criticism directed against the United States and its alleged and/or too real imperialist ventures and global hegemony. Had principle been the motive, then, the same people involved would have also criticized, and as vehemently and forcefully, Soviet and Chinese imperialism and hegemonic tendencies and aspirations, not to mention the host of lesser imperialist ventures that have taken place since the end of WWII, including the Assadist venture into Lebanon between 1976 and 2005, and the current Iranian drive for regional influence, among many others. Obviously, they don’t. And most even justify and defend Russian, Chinese and Iranian imperialist pursuits by claiming that these countries have the right to pursue their national interests against American, and Western, encroachment and aggression. And while America is criticized for using the Freedom Agenda as justification for its aggressive behavior– for indeed many of these “experts,” “activists” and “concerned citizens” enjoy pretending that Barack Obama actually supports the Freedom Agenda– Russia, China and Iran are hailed for defending their “national sovereignty” and their “cultural particularity.” The issue of the Tibet, Sinkiang, Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon and Syria are either ignored or, through some twisted logic or conspiracy theory, America and the West get blamed for them. It’s American and Western dabbling that produced such violent reactions on part of Russia et al, we are told.

So all but America and other Western democracies are allowed to get away with literal murder, no matter the scale, and with abuse, if not outright betrayal, of the very principles and ideals they claim to defend. But this is not because America and other Western democracies are being held to higher standards on account of their avowed ideals and values. No. This is because these countries are more successful and powerful, and more often the winners of most confrontations. Even when they lose, they seem to turn things around pretty darn quickly for the taste of their critics who would have wanted to savor the setbacks for much longer, if not forever. What the critics here want is to become vicarious winners in the same game by seeing the enemies of the West rise victorious, or having chaos reign.  For some of these people may not be stupid enough to believe that the world would have been better had the Soviets won the Cold War, they are just stupid enough to believe that the way to a better world order lies in the defeat of American and Western democracies.

All is fair I guess, so long as we admit the nature of the game: a cynical competition over resources pitting all against all, with the necessary caveat that not all sides are equal, not all are the same.

Personally, I have often been accused, and continue, in fact, to be accused, by some of the critics in question who are aware of my existence on this bedlam earth, of being either a stupid tool that was used and discarded by American and Western imperialists, or of being a complicit and wiling greedy agent acting in particular on behalf of the neocons. But what I am in truth is a man who believes that Western democracies, no matter how seriously flawed they happen to be, especially in regards to the treatment of “outsiders,” still offer a better vision for the future and a better chance to fight for it than anything that Russia, China or Iran, under their current systems of governance and current set of leaders, do.

I also admit that the role of transnational corporations is problematic to say the least. But I don’t agree with our critics’ assessment that they exist only for the benefit of few thousand shareholders. In reality, the world’s economy in its entirety, it seems, stands on the shoulders of these obviously flawed institutions. Their fate and humanity’s are at this stage intimately intertwined. Ours is not to dispense of these entities, or of democratic systems, but to drastically improve them, which requires a more objective and scientific understanding of their function, coupled with a desire to work from within. There is nothing outside the democratic system, and its corporate extensions, at this stage, that promises to represent a better alternative. Or, do we seriously expect countries that fail to respect the basic rights of their own citizens to project a better alternative than Western-style democracy? What we actually need to do is make the current system more fair and inclusive, not replace it with a cynical authoritarian and even more corrupt alternative.

On an even more personal note, I’d like to remind my own critics that I didn’t choose to be exiled, but when I did, I preferred coming to the United States due to my familiarity with the system here and my appreciation of American values.

Ever since my arrival to Washington, D.C., I tried to work from within the system to get it to support our democratic aspirations in Syria, and the region. I, obviously, failed. But my failure is merely an indication of my own shortcomings: I was simply unable to build and maintain an institution dedicated to the task I set for myself. Rather than creating an institution, I managed to only generate an ethos with an obvious limited appeal, because it is still, at least at this stage, in the embryonic phase.

But the challenge confronting prodemocracy activists in our region and across the world these days is still the same: they simply need to create transparent institutions that can provide trained and capable cadres dedicated to the task of democracy promotion. Then, they need to give them time to work themselves into the system and begin reshaping it from within. We cannot judge the approach to be wrong on the basis of our haphazard experimentations so far.