- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Natan Sharansky’s “The Case for Democracy” is more than a book on political theory; President Bush says it is a primer on U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Bush recommends the book to reporters, leaders and the American people and mentioned it in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses.

The first political prisoner released by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Mr. Sharansky is now an Israeli politician, writer and democracy activist. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Freedom for his fight against tyranny as a Soviet dissident. In “The Case for Democracy,” Mr. Sharansky gives reasons why he thinks every society deserves to live in freedom.

The following are excerpts from a recent phone interview with Mr. Sharansky, who lives in Jerusalem:

Q. What is the “The Case for Democracy” about?

A. “The Case for Democracy” deals with the power of freedom to change and to overcome dictatorships. There are three sources of skepticism with this. The first says, “Who says that democracy is for everyone?” The second reservation is from everyone who says, “It’s better for those nations, but is it better for our security?” The third is that “Even if democracy is universally desired and universally desirable, who can say it’s for us to impose?”

We have fear societies and free societies. What decides between the two is called the “town square test.” If you can go into the square of a town and say what you want and not get punished, you are in a free society.

In a fear society, all the people are divided in three categories: believers, dissidents and double-thinkers. The life of a double-thinker is very, very uncomfortable. They live in self-censorship or being afraid that if they say something wrong, they can be punished. Movement from the life of double-think to freedom is very revealing to society.

Q. President Bush highly recommends your book. What is your relationship with him like?

A. I can’t say that I’ve had too many meetings with him. We met once before he was elected, but now that he has read my book, he invited me to the White House to discuss the ideas in the book with him. I can tell that this hour with him was very inspiring, because for many years I was expressing my views and ideas in speeches, in articles and felt myself a dissident, not only in the world of double-think, but in the free world, where people doubted my ideas.

But here you can see a strong believer in these ideas in a president who said to me, “You are summarizing my own views. I always felt that democracy was not an American idea alone.” You find that you are not a dissident anymore. You have another dissident, and he happens to be the leader of the free world.

Q. In an interview with top editors and reporters of The Washington Times. Mr. Bush said that “The Case for Democracy” helps “explain a lot of the decisions that you’ve seen made and will continue to see made.” Are there any points of his administration’s dealing with the Middle East that you are cautious about?

A. It is extremely important that when the leader of the free world proclaims that our security as American people depends on the freedom of the other people that we go through with that. That is a principle that is very important, and you cannot underestimate it. But now you have to turn these principles into practice.

Q. What role do you see the elections in Iraq as playing in the road to democracy in the Middle East?

A. I think it’s really a historic event. I am delighted to see that these democratic elections are happening, but it’s still very far from being a truly democratic society. But this is a very important first move. It’s the beginning of the change.

Think how many Americans go to polling stations when they can? Usually less than 60 percent of the population. But that doesn’t mean that they love democracy less. But to me, the people of Iraq, they suffered in a fear society, but when they are given the chance to increase the chances of moving from a fear society to a democratic [society], they risked danger and they came out and they voted. That’s a very powerful statement.

Q. Not long ago, of the 22 Arab countries, not one was considered a democracy. Should Iraq be considered a democracy now that it has held free elections on Jan. 30?

A. Of course, the president doesn’t consider it a true democracy yet. That’s not negative, [but Iraq] just went through many, many years of the worst dictatorship, and you cannot build democracy overnight.

On the other hand, you can see the power of the liberating feeling when you move from double-think to living in freedom, and that’s what we can see now. But now what is needed is to strengthen democratic institutions and create the climate and institutions which guarantee that people should not be afraid to express their views. Very soon we will see how people [in Iraq] become more and more active in public life.

Q. What steps will it take to shift the other Arab countries from dictatorships to democracies?

A. As we say many times in our book, in normal dictatorships, the number of double-thinkers is constantly increasing. But today we can see in the areas in our region that the number of double-thinkers is going down. In this time in history, it is especially important that the free world [should] stop the support of dictatorships. You cannot force people to be free, but you can stop support to dictatorships.

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