Anyone who has been paying attention to the situation in Afghanistan has hopefully run across the remarkable Afghan woman named Malalai Joya. She is an amazing thirty year old Afghan MP who was suspended from parliament by the dark forces in that country for her outspoken criticism of the foreign occupation, the corruption in government, and president himself. While our government offers platitudes and has the gall to act as though President Karzai has been duly elected, this woman risks her life speaking about what a lie the Western invasion has been. Ms. Joya is an excellent and historic role model for young girls and women and will be proud to teach my own daughter about her life and work.
But one issue that the events surrounding Ms. Joya raises in my mind is the question of the legitimacy of democracy in our age. A great deal of what have come to expect from democracy has vanish slowly before our eyes and has gone unnoticed by many in our society. Extreme events such as those in Afghanistan often give us a glimpse into the real workings behind a process like democracy. And watching such ‘elections’ as those they recently had there illustrate the real failings of the democratic process in the modern world. Ideally a democratic system should be nurtured by a healthy public sphere (now sometime mistermed ‘civil society,’ a term with a long and complex history) in which ideas about the ‘good life’ and our collective future are openly debated in honest meaningful way. However, in recent years such an ideal has receded so far beyond reach that we cannot even talk about a fair process let alone reach that process. Money and power have corrupted the system so severely that the vast majority of people don’t even understand the possibilities of political debate anymore. The influence of money in the process gradually narrows the terms of debate and the essence of our collective possibilities to the point that democracy grows gradually meaningless. It is similar to being stranded on a desert island with, say, twenty people, and three of them have most of the supplies and guns. Even if one attempted to institute a democratic decision making process in such circumstances they would mean little because the three people with the inherent power would easily control the terms of the debate. And these three individuals were also mean-spirited and nasty (as our present leaders here in Canada are) democracy would become completely meaningless.
Ms. Joya reminds us of the courage of some individuals in the face of the threat of death to work for justice. Unfortunately she also reminds us of the corruption of democracy and the degree to which the ideals of democracy are quickly receding.