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Friday, March 18, 2005


our failing democracies

via reason, wapo's consideration on the slow decay and slide into violence in afghanistan. even in this tribal land, where war and chaos and the law of the gun have ruled for so long, there is concern for the new dangerousness of the place -- and a growing sentimentality for the piety and safety of the taliban:

There is much about Kandahar that underscores how far it has progressed since the Taliban's ouster. Bazaars are filled with merchandise, from photos to VCRs, that would have been unthinkable during the Taliban era. Picking through the wares are scores of women -- most of them veiled because of tribal custom, but far more numerous than they would have been in the days when the Taliban morals police prowled markets with leather whips.

Above the streets, satellite dishes peek out from rooftops. At the soccer stadium where the Taliban once staged public stonings of alleged adulterers, painters prepare the grounds for a youth tournament.

Still, residents say, the outward trappings mask entrenched problems, from lack of jobs to street crime. Many said they personally knew someone whose motorbike, car or other property had been stolen, often at gunpoint. Zahir Jan, 35, a stadium painter, said he longed to find a better job but would be satisfied with the government if it weren't for the kidnappings.

"Imagine how things are, that we are wishing for the Taliban again," he muttered.
this sort of situation all but begs for the imposition of a strong authority -- and the likely sources of such authority in a tribal land like afghanistan are regional warlords. karzai and the americans who prop him up have worked hard to minimize for themselves the risk of alternatives to the federal regime they are attempting to install. but if they cannot provide basic security, one is hard pressed to imagine how afghanis can desire anything but a reempowerment of local strongmen.

someone tell the dreamy americans: freedom isn't everything. without the security to exercize it, freedom means nothing. even the mere threat of lawlessness and instability and corruption can lead to the polarization and radicalism and panic that destroys pluralism. this is why most democracies fail, and it is why democracy is failing in afghanistan and iraq -- not to mention, albeit more slowly, in the west.

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