This Fourth of July holiday is an excellent opportunity for Americans to engage in deep thought about the war in Iraq, particularly in the context of the words that were inscribed as the basis of our national ethic 228 years ago. The Declaration of Independence contains these compelling words, which are just as meaningful today as when they were written:
"We hold these truths to be self evident. That all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ... that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government."
In the past year or so, a great deal of attention has been given to commentators who say that the American-led coalition should not be helping the Iraqi people establish a democratic form of government. The various arguments generally boil down to the claims that people in the Middle East "aren't ready" for democracy, and that we are wrongfully exporting "Western ideology" to a culture where it does not belong. Those excuses -- and that's all they are -- cannot withstand even cursory scrutiny.
The excuse that people in the Middle East are somehow not entitled to govern themselves is contrary to what we said, officially, on July 4, 1776. We said that all men are created "equal," and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. The term "all" includes the people in the Middle East -- not just those of us whose ancestors immigrated to America.
The excuse that the "Western ideology" underlying democracy has no place in the Islamic world is even more wrong. The same concepts on which democracy is based also are tenants of Islam. The moral and intellectual basis for democracy is not just a "Western ideology" but an Islamic ideology as well. Indeed, it is a human ideology that is subject to no cultural or geographic bounds.
Ironically, the ideology of self-governance was put into actual practice in the Islamic world long before we Americans took the step on July 4, 1776. Elective government existed in the Islamic world during the period of Mohammed's death; it was only later that dynastic rule became predominant.
Unfortunately it seems that respected Islamic scholars are essentially being silenced in the mass media when they point out that democracy is at least as much a part of Islam as in any other system of belief. Instead of this scholastic insight, we are fed the insane ravings of cowards who kill women, children and other innocent people, supposedly in the name of their god.
The "reasons" that have been proposed from within America against our support of democracy for the Iraqi people are in absolute contrast to the solemn obligation that we undertook July 4, 1776. We said that we would stand up against oppression in the name of "all" -- not just for a few like ourselves.
We modern-day Americans have the moral and intellectual obligation to "pay it forward" with respect to the gift of freedom we have inherited. Given the horrors Saddam Hussein imposed upon the world (notwithstanding Al Gore's incredible recent claim that Saddam was "no threat"), Iraq is a particularly appropriate place for us to honor this obligation.