Two Sundays ago on CBC Radio, Michael Enright interviewed Natan Sharansky. The Israeli Cabinet Minister was in town promoting the new book he co-wrote, The Case for Democracy. The book's thesis is that the world is divided into "the free world" and "the fear world". In the free world--essentially, Western democracies--people select their leaders, are free to complain about them without fear of reprisal, and have a say in their own lives.
In "the fear world--totalitarian dictatorships--people live under the thumb of dictators, have no control, cannot speak out, and are subject to random and existential intrusions by the state. The problem is that the free world wants to keep the fear world and all its messiness at arm's length, and has been willing to compromise with and make allowances for the worst kind of despots if it means maintaining order.
But in Sharasky's mind this is literally a deal with the devil. Keeping tyrants in power may keep immediate chaos at bay, but it consigns generations of people to lifetimes of misery. Moreover, it prevents democracy from taking hold, the only sure way to prevent the fear world from being a threat to the free world and our way of life.
Sharansky knows all about the fear world. As a Jewish refusenik in Russia, he railed against the Communist regime and was thrown into prison, where he remained for many years. He watched for years as Western democracies propped up the Soviet regimes. Making nicey-nicey with them only seemed to embolden them and solidify their grip on power. It was only when Ronald Reagan had the baytzim to tell Gorvachev to "tear down this wall" that the fundamental cracks in the edifice were exposed, and the system finally imploded.
Sharansky wants to use this to be our modus operendi with the fear world. No more kowtowing to despots; no more propping them up in the name of stability. What's needed is a through-going committment to freedom, and to bringing democracy and its fruits to those--including the Palestinians--currently living in fear.