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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 17:07, December 22, 2005
Secular limits of universal values
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Democracy and freedom are universal values of the West. The so-called "universal" refers to unified standards, or game rules that are applicable to all circumstances and scenarios. Election, for example, is an important form of democracy, whose result must be respected by both participants and outsiders. Participants should resign themselves to the result even if they don't like it, and outsiders should hold back their wild criticism; otherwise the game simply cannot go on.

Some recent events, however, leave people doubtful about the universality of these values but come to more realization of their political, ideological and materialistic nature.

On Dec. 25, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) put up a strong showing at Palestinian local elections. On the next day, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution that Hamas should not be permitted to participate in Palestinian polls until it renounces violence. If the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) allows political participation of Hamas with gun, Washington will freeze or slash its financial support to Palestine. On Dec. 19, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana made it clear that if the Hamas should win in the election of the future Palestinian legislation committee, the EU will consider halting its financial aid to the PNA.

Though against the expectations of the United States, the EU and Israel, the local election results did reflect the current social conditions and public will of Palestine. By now, no party has raised question over the fairness of the elections. In the spirit of democracy, results of a just election, whether liked or not, should be unconditionally accepted and respected. But Washington and EU disliked the result so much, hence the above-mentioned decision and words to exert pressure.

In a perspective of universal democracy values, the US and EU acts are by no means democratic whether their considerations can be justified. If their threat of economic sanctions constitutes an element of democracy, then vote rigging and intimidation can also be counted, openly, as democratic.

In this sense, democracy as a universal value inevitably has its secular limits and can clash with all kinds of physical interests. For democracy, there are two kinds of interpretations in western political culture: realistic and religious. Winston Churchill once said: democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. This is a realistic interpretation. A classic behavior of present-day US leaders, however, is to give abstract, absolute and religious interpretations to democracy and other western values, but, in real life, more often than not resort to acts in violation of, or corroding, such values.

Another case is the belief in "freedom". Ever since Washington launched its terror haunt, cases running counter to such a value have been uncovered one after another: the "detainee abuse", "secret prisons" and "intelligence gathering" all run against such universal values as freedom and human rights and, as a result, caused great controversy both at home and abroad. The startling contrast between much-trumpeted "values" and real acts has become food for thought in today's international politics.

This comment by People's Daily senior editor Huang Qing is carried on the third page of People's Daily, Dec. 22, and is translated by People's Daily Online.

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