What Price Democracy?

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the Crimean War. If you want to know why, the answer lies in what is happening in the Ukraine. The situation there is complex and disturbing, with implications for both Western Europe and Russia. Sometimes policy-makers are aware of history; sometimes they aren’t; but those who disregard history altogether tend to repeat the mistakes their predecessors made. I have a hunch we may be about to do exactly that with regard to the Ukraine.

In the West we have tendency to make an idol of democracy, but that sometimes leads us to applaud essentially undemocratic processes. I myself believe that democracy is the best form of government available to us, but I think we are often selective about the value we place on other people’s democracies. The policies of the Muslim Brotherhood do not appeal to me personally, but as a democrat, I am ambivalent about the situation in Egypt. Was Mr Morsi legitimately elected or not; and if he was, shouldn’t the West be questioning the way in which he was removed from power? Had he become a tyrant? If so, what are the grounds for thinking that, and are they sufficient to justify subsequent events? In the Ukraine we have an analogous situation. If we take all our ideas from Kiev we may take one view, but the further East we go, the more another takes shape.

At times like these we can feel confused and completely powerless, forgetting that, in fact, we are far from powerless. We can invoke the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit; but if we are to do that, it cannot be through some throw-away utterance that takes two minutes of our time and leaves not a ripple on the surface of our thoughts and feelings. Prayer is hard work; and to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit into a complicated and dangerous situation means to pray with all our heart, mind and soul. Are we ready to do that? Or, as I ask above, what price democracy?

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Fear of the Unknown

Yesterday I learned that I shall soon be having some surgery done, but because I have sarcoidosis (a funny disease which, among other things, makes breathing more difficult), it won’t be possible to have a general anaesthetic. Most of me is quite relaxed and happy about that. It’s just how it is. Part of me has gone into imaginative overdrive and envisioned all kinds of horrors which I won’t detail here. The truth is, I really don’t know what to expect and that is precisely when fear takes hold.

We don’t know what to expect in Egypt. Already the prophets of doom are stalking the land, talking about the death of democracy. Some may think Egyptian democracy too frail and delicate a growth to last, and that what has happened was no more than was to be expected. But it is certainly worrying. The fact that the army has stepped in to remove a democratically elected president should not be taken in isolation, however. The Muslim Brotherhood presided over by President Morsi appeared to western onlookers to be partial and profoundly undemocratic in many of its enactments — curtailing women’s rights, for example. To an outsider, it is not clear whether the army’s action should be interpreted as safeguarding or destroying the nascent Egyptian democracy. While we wait and hope (and, if we are believers, pray), we know the world will react with fear. Already oil prices are going up, for fear of what may happen. Western leaders are delicately trying to formulate ‘responses’ appropriate to any outcome, and who can blame them?

Perhaps we could use what is happening in Egypt as an opportunity to look at what we fear in our own lives. We may think we are not afraid of anything, but the chances are that some of our behaviour is driven by the need to assuage a doubt or placate a fear. The unkind word, the boorish gesture, the selfish act, the determination to have the last word — all may have their roots in some fear or insecurity we are reluctant to acknowledge. Honesty is just another step on the road to holiness, but it is one we all need to take.

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