Monday, June 16, 2008

WSJ: Sharansky: Democracies can't compromise on core values

Great article by Natan Sharansky in the Wall St Journal:

Democracies Can't Compromise on Core Values
June 16, 2008

As the American president embarked on his farewell tour of Europe last week, Der Spiegel, echoing the sentiments of a number of leading newspapers on the Continent, pronounced "Europe happy to see the back of Bush." Virtually everyone seems to believe that George W. Bush's tenure has undermined trans-Atlantic ties.


But while Mr. Bush is widely seen by Europeans as a religious cowboy with a Manichean view on the world, Europe's growing rift with America predates the current occupant of the White House. When a French foreign minister, Hubert VĂ©drine, declared that his country "cannot accept a politically unipolar world, nor a culturally uniform world, nor the unilateralism of a single hyper power," President Clinton was in the seventh year of his presidency and Mr. Bush was still governor of Texas.

The trans-Atlantic rift is not the function of one president, but the product of deep ideological forces that for generations have worked to shape the divergent views of Americans and Europeans. Foremost among these are different attitudes toward identity in general, and the relationship between identity and democracy in particular.


The controversy over whether Muslims should be able to wear a veil in public schools underscores the profound difference in attitudes between America and Europe. In Europe, large majorities support a law banning the veil in public schools. In the U.S., students wear the veil in public schools or state colleges largely without controversy.

At the same time severe limits are placed on the harmless expression of identity in the public square, some European governments refuse to insist that Muslim minorities abide by basic democratic norms. They turn a blind eye toward underage marriage, genital mutilation and honor killings.

The reality is that Muslim identity has grown stronger, has become more fundamentalist, and is increasingly contemptuous of a vapid "European" identity that has little vitality. All this may help explain why studies consistently show that efforts to integrate Muslims into society are much less effective in Europe than in America, where identity is much stronger.

Regardless of who wins in November, the attitudes of Americans toward the role of identity in democratic life are unlikely to change much. Relative to Europe, Americans will surely remain deeply patriotic and much more committed to their faiths.


Mr. Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident, is chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of "Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy" (PublicAffairs).

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