David Miliband: ‘Britain must intervene to spread democracy’
And Britain’s support would not be merely by words but with actions, for this is our ‘moral impulse’. He specified Burma and China, though said nothing about the likes of Zimbabwe or Iran.
The Foreign Secretary offers practical suggestions on how Britain can promote and support democracy abroad, which include: the development of a free media; encouraging greater economic openness; and holding out the carrot of membership of international alliances such as the EU or NATO.
While the prospect of membership of the EU is decidedly antithetical to the very democracy about which Mr Miliband talks, the others are manifestly weapons in the pro-democratic arsenal. The Foreign Secretary believes the case for the universal value of democracy needs urgent restating without recourse to the kind of American neo-conservative rhetoric which seems to irritate much of the world.
But whatever the specifics or practicalities, it is refreshing to hear of a missionary zeal in the assertion of the superiority of Western values, even if the rhetoric has its genesis in New Labour. Of course, it will offend the BBC and The Guardian because it confronts directly the pretence that all cultures are equal, or that all political systems have equivalent moral foundations.
The liberty of democracy permits freedom of expression, especially in writing, and this includes higher criticism of religion. To criticise the sources of the Qur’an in Islamic states would constitute apostasy, and carries a capital punishment. It is the realisation of this, among many others, that permits the understanding of why democracy is not just another way to live, but the only way to live — the only system in human history in which the individual is genuinely free, as Thomas Jefferson put it, to ‘pursue happiness’.
Recognition of the superiority of Western values is observable every day, if only in the one-way human migration to the West. Yet the assent has become an expression of the strictly private realm, for any public assertion usually carries with it accusations of ‘racism’ or some ‘phobia’. And the diminution of public assent leads inexorably to the taking of those hard-won liberties for granted - a reluctance to acknowledge their superiority, or shame of the superiority of the Christian values which gave them life.
Just a generation ago, the assertion of the superiority of Western values — the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equalities, freedoms of expression and conscience — was uncontentious. But ignorance, inaction, and moral laziness have shifted the perspective. The adoption of relativism in all spheres has inculcated a sense of cultural and moral equality: ‘If other people live under tyranny, then who are we to “impose” democracy on them?’ If others live in benighted societies in which half their population can be treated as chattel, then why should we disturb them? Like the multicultural edifice before it, this genuine prejudice — the refusal to discern or assert moral difference — is finally collapsing, as it must do, and the UK now stands prepared to intervene when the reality comes a-knocking.
Cranmer is minded to recall India of the early 19th century, when Sir Charles James Napier was confronted with Hindu demands for a lifting of the ban on suttee. And the general famously replied: ‘You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.’
The assertion of moral, political or cultural superiority does not imply force. Liberty and human rights are spread as much by example as by force. The problem has been the fallacy of multiculturalism which has been totalitarian in its consequences, and lies have supplanted truths, and the truths have consequently been forgotten.
The Government’s adoption of ‘shari’a banking’ and the tax-and-benefits recognition of polygamy have set a new standard: if the people of Britain are no longer equal in the eyes of the banking trade or the exchequer, why should they continue to be equal in the eyes of the law? There are many cultures in which they are not, and it is no coincidence that equality before the law arose out of Judaeo-Christian ethics. By contrast, shari’a law recognises no such equality. Our unwillingness categorically to condemn shari’a (in its formal or informal practice) at home or abroad is a manifest expression of defeat rather than an expression of sensitivity.
And the callow racial exclusivity of our values is already felt. Western values were never enjoyed by the dozens of immigrant women whose murders appear to have gone uninvestigated by the British police because the police thought such ‘honour’ crimes a ‘community issue’. They were never extended to the tens of thousands of UK women genitally mutilated yet still awaiting the prosecution of even one mutilator. If we can’t assert the superiority of our values at home, what hope is there that our values would ever extend to, for instance, Iran, where teenage boys are hanged for being gay, and women stoned for owning their own lives? If we in the West don’t speak up for pluralism, democracy and the rule of law, who will? And what chance do reformers have in other countries?
Decades of intense cultural relativism and designer tribalism have made the British terrified of passing judgment. But it is time we spoke up. All systems are not equal. Across the non-Western world there are millions of people who would believe in our values and who envy our rights. It is time we believed in them too.