By Farid Rohani
Millions have died in the West and specifically in the great wars of the 20th century to prove that no race or religion is superior to another. Their sacrifices had a profound impact on Western ideals. Inclusive democracy was the paramount ideal which specifically the Americans pursued and that spread across much of the Western world, accompanied by a commitment to individual freedoms.
Sadly, these sacred freedoms are being attacked in the country we have come to regard as the bedrock of democracy, and its elected leader no longer seems to feel that their protection is essential.
Individual rights are a foundation of Western democracy as they are entrenched in the U.S. Constitution. People should be free to express their identity in public and private without being the object of stigmatization, prejudice and discrimination.
The modest progress made by those protecting civil liberties, which aim to promote conditions of equality and improving the status of minority racial and religious groups, now seems at risk. In different ways, the social consensus around ideals that have usually united us together as a people is progressively being used to divide us.
In the United States and around the globe today, false news in what could be considered a doctrine of baseless propaganda is accompanied by actions that provoke hatred and fear of others. It has become difficult for many to distinguish between patriotism and xenophobia.
Every day that a new crisis appears, locally and globally, inflammatory rhetoric designed to ignite passions that stoke prejudices becomes the norm. It has become easy for many to hate, simply for a differing opinion. Civil discourse and an elevated conversation is no longer the norm.
The definition of the freedoms that defined the west — best described by the following line from the Pledge of Allegiance: “Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” — and the love of country that is aimed at uniting us, has changed into submission to inflammatory pomposity that divides us.
Truth now seems to be secondary to the political ambitions of the small and dangerous elite that are charged with defending the American political system.
They seem to thrive in antagonism which pits friends against friends, neighbours against neighbours, and families against each other. They pass this off as a true defence of democracy when in fact what we have seen is an erosion of the moral force which sustains justice and decency.
Protecting religious freedoms is a vital principle in bringing people together and building bridges. Yet such freedoms are cast by some as a path to division, and these days a lot of politics are practised at various pulpits offering incitement to extremism.
In the face of the continued threat to the bedrock of democracy, global leadership seems uncertain as to how best to respond. This is not a time for passivity or indifference.
Thankfully we have witnessed interconnected movements of persons taking to the streets to protest these infringements on freedoms, enacted in the name of security. A culture of mutual support is arising at the grassroots, across Western democracies, and that is comforting amidst the continued disruption to hard-won liberal democratic values.
These grassroots movements, such as the recent women’s marches across the world, or the spontaneous rallies against the immigration decree, reveal the potential capacity for the advancement of global ideals in countless cities and towns where living harmoniously is essential to our collective wellbeing.
In much of the world, people are looking for leadership in promoting democratic ideals.
They question if the United States is stepping back from standing up against oppressors and corruption.
They ask if American leadership is turning towards itself and rejecting the sacrifices of the many that died to build a society based on democratic ideals.
They want to know if the promise of freedoms of thought, expression, religion, free movement and free flow of capital is a thing of the past.
Ultimately, they need clarity: Is America abandoning its key role to repair a broken world?
If the answer is yes to all of the above, the West will need to prepare for the catastrophes of the past recurring with devastating results, and leaving the world wondering why we couldn’t learn from our mistakes.
Farid Rohani is a life member of The Laurier Institution.