"Prof. Faber has asked Martijn Dekker and myself, his two phd students, to participate in a little brainstorm for Open Democracy's 10th anniversary. As a consequence, we now have not one, but 4 different messages, that might or might not be entirely compatible. But we are very generous and like oD a lot, so you are free to pick one or use all, as you wish.
Good luck and happy birthday,
Gijsbert van Iterson Scholten. PhD candidate VU University / IKV Chair on Citizens' involvement in war situations"
1. The road to democracy often leads through war, even though democratic countries are supposedly more peaceful than non-democratic ones. There is an old saying: "If you want peace, prepare for war". This saying is still relevant. But the problem is that war has changed a lot. Not only concerning its location but also in its characteristics. In the 20th century we were too late to prepare ourselves against world wars and the dramatic results are now part of our history books, in particular European history. The world wars were interstate wars. In the 21st century those wars will be exceptions, while civil wars will replace them in several parts of our common world, with a main focus on Africa. Let's learn from our past and prepare for the wars of the 21th century, and in return live in peace.
2. The West has stopped trying to democratize the world while at the same time securing our own short term interests; we have become content with what we have and accepted that we cannot remake the whole world to fit our purpose. We have accepted that terrorism is part of the risks of a globalized world, just like airplane crashes and infectious diseases and that the best way to fight it is to truly listen to the demands of people in less fortunate parts of the world and help them on their own terms.
3.The Arab Spring triggered an awareness that the people do have power and that even the most brutal dictators cannot ignore the demands of their own people. While at first the international community tried desparately to cling to old strategies and priorities, the fall of both Iran and Saudi Arabia forced it to accept the new world order. Bolstered by the images of success in this most authoritarian region of the world, the peoples of Africa and Asia took to the streets as well. Wise leaders, starting with the Chinese president Hu Jintao, read the signs of the times and implemented democratic reforms. Although these started out as temporary windowdressing, over time they acquired substance and could no longer be reversed, especially not because of the encouraging stand the international community took, giving authoritarian leaders no external enemies or other excuses to reinstate a state of emergency.
4. The change that has to be overcome to reach a world where open and pluralist forms of democracy prevail, is a universal and shared awareness that there are many things that do not have to be overcome at all; every human being is unique and has different habits, views and outlooks, and every human being should be respected as such. As long as it does not develop into lack of interest or radical invididualism, tolerance is the key.
Postcard image info
Trajan's column. Wikimedia Commons
Author: Mient Jan Faber