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A look at democracy: shootings in Arizona and Pakistan

Western values of democracy and free speech - truths that are no longer self-evident.

Although much of colonialism was about the exploitation of other people’s resources, it was always accompanied by the imposition of Western colonial values. When the Portuguese and Spanish first ventured out across the seas, the collection of souls for the Catholic church jostled with the procurement of gold.

French colonialists encouraged their captive peoples to speak French and appreciate French culture. The British had their laws and customs which were adopted by the elites in their colonies. Witness the number of white wool wigs in the law courts of the steaming tropics.

In Pakistan, as in other countries, half a century on their own without colonial masters telling them what to do has meant that the values of the older, Western-oriented elites are fading.

But the old Western missionary zeal continues — not so much in the imposition of Christianity, but in the expectation and desire that all peoples should want to be like us. America’s promotion of democracy is the secular age’s equivalent of conversions — sometime forced — to Christianity.

No sooner do our armies invade but similar democracy is imposed, as the conquistadores once imposed religion, whether it suited the country being invaded or not. Elections in Afghanistan, for example, were imposed by the West, never mind that they have been uniformly flawed and may not suit Afghan tradition. In much of the world the mere fact of elections does not confer the kind of legitimacy elections do in the West.

Western humanitarian groups have a one-fits-all standard — the Western standard — and they have little interest in adapting to local custom. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently visited Yemen, and spoke about the evils of Yemeni girls marrying too young. Why is the age of brides in Yemen something with which the United States government needs to concern itself?

The murder of a politician for religious reasons should not be condoned anywhere. But the West is going to have to get used to the fact that the values we once considered self-evident and universal — as did the first generation of newly independent leaders — are no longer as self-evident today, as exemplified by blasphemy in force in Pakistan.