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View PointReform democracy and religions

Reform democracy and religions

Published: 6th Dec 2020 11:59 pm | Updated: 7th Dec 2020 10:59 am

Two terrorist attacks took place in October and November — one in France, another in Austria — that killed about half a dozen innocents and injured double that number. Questions were raised that in order to put down terrorism, Islam needs reform.

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These attacks took place in the background of caricaturing Prophet Mohammed in the French media. Free speech and expression is a necessary ingredient of democracy but there needs to be a reasonable restriction on such freedoms.

Cause of Terrorism

Taslima Nasrin, the Bangladeshi author, in an interview to a TV channel in October, said Islam needed reform. She condemned its blasphemy laws, religious orders of ‘Fatwa’, unequal treatment and oppression of women, exiling authors who hold a view different from its fundamentalists.

It is not right to condemn an entire religion as the cause of terrorism. There are several causes. There are strains of Islam like Sufis and Ahmadiyyas who are peace-loving. All is not right with democracy and its concomitant freedoms as well as the exploitative nature of the economic order of capitalism represented by the West.

Susan Abulhawa, the bestselling American author, in an interview to the Indian media on Feb 1, 2016, took a potshot at American democracy where a vast majority of people are woefully uninformed and do not care to know. Only 36% of the voting public can name the three branches of the government. Two-thirds cannot name a single US Supreme Court judge. Over half think Agrabah, the fictional country in ‘Aladdin’, is a real place, 36% of Democrats and 41% of the Republicans are in favour of bombing it.

Democratic Polity

American democracy and its constitutional freedoms such as the right to possess a gun (offensive weapons included) came up for debate in the media after a maniac shot dead 60 people and injured hundreds in Las Vegas in September 2017. America is no longer a model democracy. Thirty per cent of its adults hold guns, 232 members of US House of Representatives reportedly received campaign contributions and funds from the gun lobby in 2016. How can one ensure peace and order when democratic polity is hand in glove with arms lobbies?

This time, American presidential elections were marred by acrimony and personal attacks. Its popular vote and electoral systems have come in for criticism. Donald Trump alleged electoral fraud and his refusal to hand over power to President-elect Joe Biden led to concerns on transfer of power to Biden. He continues to make unsubstantial claims of voter fraud and party cadres took to the street to express their feelings. These have put the political value of American democracy to ridicule.

Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize winner and columnist, The New York Times, says American democracy is under threat due to stalemate in transfer of power to Biden. Michelle Obama said transfer of power to the winning candidate was the hallmark of democracy, which Trump was attempting to flout. American society is divided on political lines as never before.

There needs to be reform of democratic systems alongside reform of fundamentalism in religions. Adult franchise needs change. Age group of 15-16 years needs to be given voting rights. There needs to be disenfranchisement of all crime-tainted, tax evaders, etc, in order to make the political value of democracy a shining example for religions to follow reform.

Hollow Sermons

Biden spoke about violation of human rights in Jammu & Kashmir. We also have rights groups in our democratic systems. Amnesty International is amongst the foremost champions of human rights across the globe. In the name of democracy and freedoms, they champion the rights of the accused and terrorists.

In the Hindu fold, Pandits of Jammu & Kashmir have been killed in hundreds and their properties have been appropriated making them Stateless citizens spread across north India. Jammu & Kashmir consists of a composite population of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists who should be allowed to live in harmony with one another.

The West needs to manage its contradiction between domestic democratic values and foreign policy objectives – objectives which are not always honest to the cause it seeks to champion. In the name of democracy and freedoms, the US and the West lord themselves as the torchbearers of the world. But the truth is the opposite.

Reform democracy

Soft States

There is no clue as to the name of the assassins of John F Kennedy or Robert Kennedy in 1960s. When the truth is not revealed what is the worldly use of democracy? Justice needs to be the objective of democracy. When Blacks are discriminated and shot dead, it is racial injustice. When crimes remain unsolved, there is no criminal justice. The principles of transparency, accountability for crimes and wrongdoing are as important as the value of periodic elections, free speech, expression, association and freedom of movement.

The West needs to look inwards, re-orientate its foreign policies, tighten its immigration policies, passport laws and above all, it needs to add teeth to its criminal laws of penal, procedural and evidence. Death penalty is abhorrent to the West as it is considered as violating human rights. Soft laws, softer enforcement, softest interpretation of criminal law will hamper the fight against terrorism – even its intelligence agencies are not up to the task of anticipating terrorist plans and attacks.

Many countries across Europe do not have preventive detention laws (detention without trial) because they do not draw the hardline between rights of terrorist and rights of the common citizen. Liberal grant of bail to terrorists by courts, insisting on ‘proof’ beyond all reasonable doubt – have all played havoc with the criminal justice system leaving the field open for terrorists to organise and operate.

(The author is a retired IGP)

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