How Obama Misunderstands Freedom, and How He Failed It

Barack Obama addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations this week, and reaffirmed America's dedication to fostering democracy throughout the world, because "democracy put[s] us on the side of the people."  He suggests that America supports democracy because "we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture."

As justification for his support of the Arab Spring uprisings, he says that he "believes" that a desire for freedom is "universal" among cultures and nations.  But there are certainly exceptions to that supposed "universality."  After all, in 2006, we "believed" that the people of Gaza might democratically opt for a peaceful and tolerant regime that could promote freedom.  As a result, the terrorist group Hamas was elected by a highly indoctrinated population and is now tied to the Palestinian Authority's bid for statehood, even as the group slaughters dissenters in Gaza and continues to routinely fire rockets into Israel.

In the absence of a population that respects freedom, democracy can yield a malignant blight, as we have witnessed in Gaza, rather than positive change.  It can be nothing more than mob rule, or as one old adage goes, democracy can be "two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for dinner."  The lamb may very well desire that wolves and lambs live freely among one another, but that ideological distinction means little when murderous wolves are in the majority.  And by no coincidence, this is why our founders laid the framework of a constitutional republic based upon individual freedoms -- not a pure democracy.

To be fair, Barack Obama seems to recognize this within his address: 

The path to democracy does not end with the casting of a ballot... True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and businesses can be opened without paying a bribe. It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear; on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.

In other words, true democracy -- real freedom -- is hard work.

This is promising rhetoric, sure.  But it is just rhetoric, and as this defense of free expression was closely followed by a condemnation of a video that is a stark example of free expression, it rings pretty hollow.  The substantive question remains for voters, however: what was it about these Arab Spring uprisings that made Obama "believe" that the protesting masses desired this "real freedom" when much of the Islamic world has historically favored sharia, which demands limitations on free expression and a religiously determined caste system?

Obama said in his speech that the "spark" came when the world witnessed a Tunisian vendor "set himself on fire" in an act of public protest.  Of course, this is an extremist act more akin to a suicide bomber seeking martyrdom than the civil protest common to Western societies.  But nevertheless, he says the act "captivated" the world, and with the ensuing protests "sparked" by that extremism, "we were inspired" to support uprisings against oppressive regimes throughout the Islamic world.  (Unfortunately for Iranians, I guess, protesters in Tehran in 2009 had the good sense not to find spectacular ways to murder themselves like Tunisians, Algerians, and Egyptians, and so didn't show Obama how serious those protests were.) 

Simply put, Barack Obama got caught up in the whirlwind of sensationalism and hopefulness about "change" surrounding the phenomenon of the Arab Spring.  But the world cannot afford for the American president to ignore realities in favor of entertaining such reckless indulgences of fantasy.

Obama contends that a "government by the people" holds the key to peace in the Middle East, but never once does he consider that the "people" inhabiting much of the Islamic world may desire something other than the freedoms we cherish.  He suffers from the multiculturalists' ailment and "believes" that all cultures share some sort of moral relativism -- that cultures are equally good and desire the same ends for humanity.  But our concept of "freedom" is uniquely good, and despite our president's delusions, it is not "universal" among cultures.  "Freedom" is but one ideological path to govern.  "Submission" is another, and one that has been far more prevalently applied throughout world history, particularly in the Islamic world.  And both have equal legitimacy in a purely democratic system when a "people" can demand either. 

So it is only logical that the Islamic world, so named because of the regional inhabitants' devotion to Islam -- Arabic for "submission" -- might choose to elect representatives that value "submission" to Allah's law and the practice of jihad rather than representatives that value the Western understanding of "freedom" that includes concepts like the right to free speech, peaceable assembly, equal rights to religious practice, gender equality, etc.

And as logic would have it, democratically elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi responded to Obama's U.N. address by rejecting the Western concept of freedom of expression in favor of touting the sharia notion that any insult against Islam should be punished -- and he called upon the international community to carry out that very punishment.  He has, in correlation with Ahmadinejad, taken up the Palestinian cause as a primary concern, demanding that we "put an end to colonization, settlement activities, and the alteration in the identity of Occupied Jerusalem."  And he has made it quite clear in the past that he does not accept the legitimacy of Israel's existence, so we can only expect this rhetoric to become more extreme, this being his first presidential address to the U.N. and all.

It is undeniable that our president's blind devotion to the democratic process and even blinder optimism about the Islamic world has created a much more ominous scenario than that which existed before the Arab Spring that Obama fondly recounts.  And to the West's detriment and Israel's peril, Obama's U.N. address shows no sign of changing his approach, which has proven to have miserably failed. 

As such, the world's need for a Romney victory in 2012 goes well beyond budgets.

William Sullivan blogs at and can be followed on Twitter.

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