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Democracy is a VerbDebbie Jordan for Salem-News.com
We still have a lot of work to do as we try to move closer to that "more perfect union" cited in our Constitution.
(PHOENIX, Az.) - Democracy is a verb, not a noun. It’s an active condition, not merely a state of existence. A journey, and not a destination.
Since February 11, I’ve kept these words clearly in my mind since I watched the protestors cheering in Cairo, from Tahrir Square, lately dubbed Independence Square, to the Nile River. For all the joy the Egyptian people felt on Friday, February 11, after learning Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down as president and handed control of the country over to the military, the real work began on Saturday, February 12.
While February 11 will no doubt be known as Egyptian Independence Day, the following day should be called Egyptian Democracy Day. And just as so many others wisely noted on news shows, I believe we need to watch closely to see what kind of government replaces the Mubarak regime. Many cite the 1979 revolution as an example. They fear the Muslim Brotherhood could take the reins and prove to be as powerful and repressive in Egypt as the Ayatollahs have been in Iran.
There are examples of religious tolerance in the Muslim world. Islam is the official state religion of Malaysia, but the country’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all. Though more than 97% of its population is Muslim, Turkey allows people to worship or not, as they choose. Still, they also forbid many open expressions of religious belief.
Like Turkey, the now-secular government of traditionally Catholic France recently passed laws forbidding the public wearing of large crosses or Muslim veils. So eliminating religious influence in government doesn’t always lead to complete freedom of religion for all. It’s just as important to protect the practice of religion as it is to protect people from being persecuted for not observing certain religious practices and rules.
The United States, which claims to be the first true democracy in the world, has its own sad history of religious intolerance. The Pilgrims came to the New World to escape oppression from the Church of England, only to establish their own intolerant theocracy. Roger Williams--forced out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for advocating freedom of religion, separation of church and state, abolition of slavery, and equal treatment of Native Americans--established the first English colony that allowed religious freedom, Providence Plantations, which eventually merged with Rhode Island. The state is still known officially as Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
Even the 20th century saw the Ku Klux Klan used as an effective cloak for religious and government officials who persecuted, tortured, and even murdered people of color, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants. And even in our "enlightened" 21st century, some of the most powerful religious groups use the ballot box to pass or retain laws that prevent gays and lesbians from enjoying their full civil rights. In my own state of Arizona, people who claim to have the strongest "family values" recently passed laws that effectively deny freedom and safety even to people who "look like they could be illegal" immigrants.
And there are still problems with the way women and poor people are often treated in this country. After more than 220 years, we still have a lot of work to do as we try to move closer to that "more perfect union" cited in our Constitution. It’s not easy, but I’m heartened by the growing influence of such informational tools as 24-hour news stations and the internet--when they’re used to report on the important things going on in the world.
On a hopeful note, reports coming out of Egypt on Saturday are a positive sign of progress in that volatile country: When soldiers and police personnel began cleaning up the mess left by the demonstrators in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, they were joined by thousands of civilian volunteers, most of whom had been part of the crowds calling for the ouster of their former president.
This shows that a large number of Egyptian people understand that a real democracy is one in which everyone contributes, instead of merely reaping the benefits of work performed by other people. We Americans need to follow their example by rolling up our sleeves and starting to build a true democracy, one in which everyone has an equal chance to work hard and succeed at whatever their abilities allow them to do while they enjoy every freedom that is their inherent right. That’s what it will take to build a truly successful society.
Debbie Jordan is the author of The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace, a collection of 47 essays originating in the column she writes for the Arizona City Independent Edition. Jordan writes about her solutions to some of the world’s most detrimental social issues. Jordan is committed to inspiring others to improve the world through community involvement and volunteerism. http://www.
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