Disregard all that manifest horror behind the curtain


This week the “better” democracies are wagging fingers at worse ones, like 17th-century popes reprimanding missionaries in the distant jungle. They tut-tut over a stuffed ballot box in Nairobi, a banned radio station in Islamabad or a murdered journalist in Moscow. They condemn a riot here, a bombed polling booth there and an imprisoned politician somewhere else. How dare these “developing” peoples corrupt the sacred rites of mother church?

They what? They ‘tut-tut’?? Over a ‘stuffed ballot box in Nairobi’ – meaning a possibly stolen election followed by an outburst of ethnic cleansing which perhaps heralds more? Over ‘a banned radio station in Islamabad’ – meaning eight years of military dictatorship, a state of emergency declared in order to fire all the Supreme Court justices and replace them with more compliant ones, followed by a tiny matter of the murder of the likely winner of the upcoming election? Over ‘a murdered journalist in Moscow’ – meaning Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered perhaps by the government, for exposing human rights abuses in Chechnya? These things strike Simon Jenkins as trivial and apparently slightly laughable? Not the kind of thing anyone should ‘tut-tut’ over? Well what would be the right kind of thing then?

If I had been Musharraf in receipt of such patronising remarks, I would have drawn deep from the well of irony. I would have referred Britain’s prime minister to his poor poll rating and said Islamabad was “dismayed” he had funked a democratic mandate last October. I would have expressed Pakistan’s disappointment at Brown’s record on habeas corpus, ID cards and the exploitation of Pakistani doctors by the NHS.

No doubt you would, but what is your point? That Gordon Brown and Pervez Musharraf are much of a muchness and that there is really nothing to choose between them? That Gordon Brown is the same kind of thing as a military dictator?

For all the manifest horror of the past week in Pakistan and Kenya it is presumptuous for the west to demand that the world take the same route to self-government that it spent bloodthirsty centuries pursuing. We may regard liberal democracy as the one true religion, but it is doubtful if many Russians or Chinese do likewise at present. Like many places on earth, they give a higher rating to security and prosperity.

Well if that’s the case, then they could vote for that, if they got the chance, couldn’t they. But if they don’t get the chance, then you don’t know what they give a higher rating, do you. What makes you so sure it’s not ‘presumptuous’ for you to decide what they give a higher rating when there is no mechanism for them to declare that? Presumptuous yourself.

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