28 March 2008

Democracy, Freedom, and American Mideast Policies

I am an American citizen. I am everlastingly thankful to God that He led my grandparents to immigrate to this country—my mother’s parents from the Pale of Settlement following the infamous Kishinev pogrom of 1903, and my father’s parents from Nazi Germany in 1939. They realized that they literally would not be permitted to live where absolutist, totalitarian governments did not recognize them as citizens—human beings with inherent rights and dignity.

All Americans, no matter their gender, race and creed, are equal under the law. No tyrant rules here, one who we could blame for pursuing policies with which we disagree. Our liberty comes with a cost, and that is shouldering our responsibilities and duties as citizens. While we cannot all serve in the armed forces, we must serve as members of the electorate. An informed citizenry is the only guarantee of keeping government officials accountable and of keeping our own personal liberty.

Our secular government represents us, for good or for ill. Some people of faith condemn the actions of our government, thinking that our nation should have a Christian government. That is tragic. Our country emerged as a nation because the established church was anathema to the many who dissented from the repressive policies of state churches throughout history. Persecuted for their faith, they fled to America and forged a new kind of government over centuries of conflict and strife. We enjoy the freedom of religion because we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—where happiness means not material bliss, but spiritual and legal independence.

Our democratic values matter not only domestically, but internationally, and our foreign policies should represent the interests of our nation’s citizenry. As citizens of a democratic country, we have to assume responsibility for the actions of our government, which acts in our name, because that is the meaning of democracy. Although we may not agree with their policies and actions, we cannot simply blame our elected officials and dissociate ourselves from our government. We must hold these officials responsible for their actions, and we must participate in policymaking through our involvement as citizens.

Our nation has undeniably brought harm to innocents—not just Iraqis, but Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, and others—through bad foreign policies that have led to a failure of diplomacy. Yet it has also done great good. Good or bad, we must recognize that those officials who are elected to high office—the president and the legislature—represent us and bear the heavy burden of making decisions under complicated, difficult, and terrifying circumstances. Whether or not we voted for them, we need to pray for them, thanking God that we are not the ones who have to make the hard decisions. We owe them the respect due to them--their work is not easy and their burden is great. And, ultimately, they will be judged for their actions, by history and by their maker.

We must face our own history and the consequences of the evil that have shaped the international state system of which we are a part and for which we too, will be judged.

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