Tuesday

15th Jun 2021

Opinion

Why are liberal democracies not winning the argument?

  • We need to listen and understand why citizens are disenfranchised (Photo: j naylor)

The attacks in Paris against Charlie Hebdo, against the police officers protecting their offices, against a random police woman, and against shoppers and staff in a kosher supermarket, are not going to change the way we live.

Yet we have to ask ourselves why liberal democracies are not winning the argument.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Because while - as has been widely recognised - acts of terrorism in no way coincide with Islam (except perhaps in the sense that religion can function as a conduit for otherwise very human madness), many muslims do look at western societies with scepticism, disdain or even anger.

Unlimited freedom to say whatever one wants, the right to love and marry whomever one likes, a democratic decision-making process rather than a strong leader who can ‘get things done’ - we should not fool ourselves into thinking that these are universally accepted concepts.

There are many democracies, far much fewer liberal democracies.

And muslims by no means have a monopoly on criticism on our society.

In Russia, many states in the US, in the India of Modi or Japan under Abe, these liberties seem to matter less and less.

The same is even true for many non-Muslims in Europe. Autocratic rule is much less despised than we would like in former communist countries such as Hungary or Slovakia, but also in Italy - devoid of pluralistic media.

In the Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, Belgium, Austria and France itself, populist movements that are even less liberal than they are democratic (many funded by Putin), are coming ever closer to power.

Why is this?

Why have liberal democracies not been able to woo everyone to come in contact with them?

There are many sociological answers to this question but the biggest concern for Europe is that its liberal model has not been as inclusive as advertised.

From refusing to allow (former) colonies to benefit from the prosperity in the 1950’s, to a preposterous focus on consuming, to denying the poor (including many minorities) access to the economic ladder, and ignoring the negative effects of profit-driven companies on communities in say Bangladesh or the DRC, the perks of freedom have hardly been handed out to everyone.

This makes the French response to both the global financial crisis and the attacks in Paris, so heartening.

Through a mix of cultural arrogance, star economists and now this moving protest rally of epic proportions, they have consistently expressed an unwillingness to fully surrender to the rules of globalism, efficiency and a focus on money, and now seem unwilling to surrender to the sort of fear mongering that would be prevalent in most other countries.

Press freedom, freedom of expression, in fact all our civil liberties, should be protected with the greatest force available against those who want to kill their way to changing them.

But for the much wider group of citizens - both muslim and non-muslim, both within and outside of Europe - who experience little value from these liberties in their daily lives, for that second group we need to do the exact opposite of using force.

We need to listen and understand why they are disenfranchised. We need to explain that these liberties are not some bonus feature but a crucial element in maintaining a peaceful, safe and prosperous society.

Above all, we need to include all our citizens, be civilised to those who migrate here and consider the effects of our actions on citizens of other nations.

Only then will the liberties that we know to be essential, make sense to them, instead of representing some unreachable utopia.

Wouter de Iongh has worked as legal counsel to victims of violent crime in The Netherlands and as a market/legal researcher in New York. He is a partner at the Brussels-based NGO consultancy ODS www.odsupport.eu.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Liberal leaders try to rebuild influence

Liberals gather in Budapest to elect new president, discuss ways to defend liberal values more effectively amid EU security threats and refugee concerns.

Japan is back: Is Europe ready?

The expected free trade agreement between the EU and Japan will help the historic partners to forge a solid and mutually advantageous anchor in the troubled waters of current international politics.

Biden in Brussels - what's in the 'in-tray'?

As president Joe Biden, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council president Charles Michel meet today, more than seven years have passed since the last opportunity for leaders from both sides of the Atlantic to engage face-to-face.

Column

Nato's biggest enemy hides within

Just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, intellectuals like Paul Kennedy and Francis Fukuyama warned that a democracy cannot be preserved on utilitarianism and capitalism alone. That warning has only become more urgent.

News in Brief

  1. BBC and others boycott Belarus press circus
  2. Report: EU and US to unveil aircraft subsidy truce
  3. Putin refuses to guarantee Navalny will survive jail
  4. Erdoğan agrees to pull out mercenaries from Libya
  5. EU starts sale of first bonds for Covid-19 recovery fund
  6. Germans told not to 'storm pharmacies' for Covid pass
  7. Indonesia warns Covid-19 wave may not peak until July
  8. WTO chief: 'drop trade barriers on Covid-19 treatments'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. China officially joins Russia as a danger to Nato
  2. German Greens face reality check amid CDU gains
  3. EU Parliament wants Europe to take lead on sea-rescues
  4. MEPs urged to end gas-funding, fix cross-border projects rules
  5. Biden in Brussels - what's in the 'in-tray'?
  6. Yemen foreign minister to EU: to stop the war, talk to Iran
  7. Brexit grumbles overshadow UK summit
  8. Former French PM to work for Russian oil firm

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us