- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005


By Natan Sharansky and Ron Dermer

Public Affairs, $26.95, 303 pages


Before writing this review I tried to imagine what it would be like to be from age 30 to age 40 in a Soviet prison for 10 years 3650 days and nights many of them in solitary confinement. And, finally, when the jailers let you emerge from a prison with walls and barbed wire into a prison without walls, namely the Soviet Union, and you have lost the best years of your life, what next?

If you’re Natan Sharansky, you keep on fighting Soviet tyranny as a deputy in Andrei Sakharov’s Human Rights Watch. You do that until something gives. In Mr. Sharansky’s case, it was the Soviet Union which finally gave. After his incarceration, Natan Sharansky was allowed in 1986, thanks to President Reagan’s intervention, to emigrate to Israel where he made a great success, becoming a Cabinet member on three different occasions. This part of his life is graphically described in an earlier memoir, “Fear No Evil.”

His latest book, co-authored with Ron Dermer, an American scholar who lives in Israel, is a treatise on democracy. Without knowing it, they are following Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ maxim, that “it’s sometimes more important to emphasize the obvious than to elucidate the obscure.”

The book is an exposition on democracy in the century of September 11. I disagree with Mr. Sharansky when he says all Islamic peoples, including Arabs, prefer democracy to dictatorship or a theocracy. Lebanon was once a genuine democracy but it was destroyed by Arab terrorism. What he calls the “natural building blocks of democracy” broad middle classes, thriving civil societies, highly educated populations simply do not exist in the 22 Arab states, not one of which can be defined as a democracy by any standard.

Most importantly they fail to deal with Israel’s most powerful enemy, Iran. Nonetheless democracies do exist in other Islamic countries like Pakistan and Indonesia or in countries with large Islamic populations like India, Nigeria or Turkey and more and more in Western Europe. In fact, the majority of the world’s Muslims live under democratic constitutional governments.

Mr. Sharansky sees the world divided into two categories: free societies and fear societies. Free societies share one historical attribute: They do not make war with each other. In fact there is no example in contemporary history where democracies fought each other.

To put it more pointedly, all wars since the creation of the United States in 1783 as the first new nation have been between fear societies, like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union or between free societies and fear societies, like North Korea and the United States and the United Nations. This truth a world of democracies would mean an end to wars has been the basis of President Bush’s foreign policy.

And the reason? Writes Mr. Sharansky: “Democratic leaders depend on their people. Therefore they have an enormous incentive to satisfy the demands of their constituencies if they want to stay in power … .Thus the critical factor that prevents democratic nations from fighting against each other is not values that are particular to democratic peoples but rather the fact that the power of democratic government is ultimately dependent on the popular will.”

Mr. Sharansky wonders why the Arab world has not produced a Gandhi, a Sakharov or a Nelson Mandela or for that matter, a Mikhail Gorbachev or a Boris Yeltsin, a leader who could drastically change the atmosphere in the Arab world. He argues that until Palestine’s fear society is replaced by a free society there will be no end to hostilities and Israel will always be in danger.

What Mr. Sharansky is saying is that until the Palestinian Authority becomes democratic peace negotiations will remain illusory. His book was written before Yasser Arafat’s death and the genuine elections in Palestine. It may well be that if the victor, Mahmoud Abbas, is not assassinated, that the long sought for peace will near.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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