America’s democracy achieved a higher and unmatched level of maturity when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on Jan. 20. Americans and non-Americans across the globe watched history being made, as Mr. Obama took the presidential oath of the office. “Historic” was the choice word to describe the personality, leadership, and victory of Mr. Obama - even disregarding prior distinct achievements and notable legacies others leave before they earn that same respect. But the main difference between President Obama and many of history’s great figures is that his election victory opened a new chapter in the history of the oppressed and persecuted of course, not just in the United States but throughout the world.
Mr. Obama was not only the choice of the Democrats, but he was also the nominee of the world’s progressive, democratic and justice-seeking voices. Cheering crowds of young supporters in Mr. Obama’s campaign rallies and meetings revealed that generation’s rejection of and frustration with past prejudiced and oppressive values. Their overwhelming support for Obama was a resounding “No” to narrow-minded and divisive theses of “End of History” and “Clash of Civilizations.” It is still utopian to speak of the end of racial and other types of discrimination in the world. Many more generations will need to struggle toward achieving that end. But the democracy of the world’s most powerful nation demonstrated this possibility and the fertility of its land for, in the words of philosopher Theodor Adorno, “concretizing utopia.” President Obama’s victory was also the victory of democracy over its rival systems. Whereas the transfer of power in totalitarian regimes, which claim to possess absolute truth, is often accompanied by bloodshed, oppression and torture, in democratic systems this is achieved peacefully by people who are the main source of sovereignty and power.
American voters once again showed the enormous liberating forces of their democratic system. Mr. Obama’s victory was the latest milestone in the long process of self-liberation in the United States which began after the country’s civil war.
The presence of a strong civil society and the institutionalization of relations between state and society are both the causes and effects of the maturity of the American model of liberal democracy. It is due to this maturity that the American people are not subjects but citizens of the republic, who enjoy their full individuality and liberty. In return, their main loyalty is with the republic - not with their religion, race or ethnicity. Mr. Obama’s view that the power of the U.S. lies in the fact that his country consists of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and non-believers rightly reflects the founding philosophy of the country. Mr. Obama’s election exemplifies the strength, beauty and richness of that diversity.
Jan. 20, 2009 was such a fantastic and memorable day for people of my generation, who began their political socialization by defending the American civil-rights movement, protesting against the Vietnam War, and supporting the resistance of the Indo-Chinese people. On the inauguration day of President Mr. Obama, we sadly missed many of those heroes who had given their lives for the greater causes of peace and social justice in the world. They would have felt liberated had they been around to see what we all experienced on Jan. 20.
I had a peculiar feeling when I was watching Obama’s inauguration ceremony. My constant internal struggle was once again revived. I asked myself whether such an historic day could happen in Europe, the birthplace of democracy. Would it be possible for a British citizen of Pakistani origin, a German of Turkish parents or a French citizen of Algerian origin to be elected as the head of state? Even contemplating such a question was depressing and distressing for me.
Would it be possible in my country for a Tajik, a Hazara, an Uzbek or a Nuristani to be elected as the president of the republic? Would even the educated and enlightened vote for the best of “other” ethnic groups in Afghanistan? Amid contemplating these questions, it came to mind that it is some of these so-called educated and elites of my country who determine how I should use my native language. It pains me immensely to realize that these prejudiced forces ignore the fact that I share many ethnic, linguistic and other common characteristics with them.
The difference cannot be starker: In my country, the enlightened “other” is forced into silence, while minority Hindus and Sikhs, the original inhabitants of Afghanistan, are discriminated against. By contrast, in the United States, a competent individual, who happens to be a minority, is elevated to the highest office of the land.
Mr. President, I congratulate you and your countrymen, as well as all peace- and justice-loving people of the world, on your election. Your victory is not the pleasure of a foreign minister but the triumph of a human-rights and peace activist.
Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta is Afghanistan’s foreign minister.