When democracies embrace terrorists

Several leaders of democracies are stooping to include terrorists and violent extremist groups in their administrations: this ain’t good.

Democracy, said former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill once, “is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Very Winstonian of him!

And, it is true. We humans have tried all kinds of ways to run our societies, from tribal leaders to kings/queens, dictators, autocrats, military officers, communism…the list goes on and on and on. And yet to date it appears that democratic principles, where populations decide whom they want to rule, are the best we have come up with so far. This is not to say that we won’t eventually invent a better way, but we are where we are.

Those who run democracies must agree to certain fundamental principles. They must agree to have open, free and fair elections and abide by the results (are you listening “President” Trump?). They must agree to step down once they are turned out of office (are you listening “President” Trump?). They must not embrace non-democratic methods of maintaining power (are you listening “President” Trump?).

And I am pretty sure they cannot embrace terrorists with whom to work (are you listening “President” Trump?).

In fairness, “President” Trump is not the only one guilty of the latter. A few other leaders have gotten into bed with those whose activities do fall within the parametres of what can be called terrorism: individuals and groups which advocate and/or use violence in the furtherance of political, religious or ideological goals (I am using the definition outlined in the Canadian Criminal Code, section 83.01, fully cognizant that there is much disagreement over what terrorism actually means).

Here are two recent examples.

India is the world’s largest democracy. This nation of just shy of 1.4 billion people (India is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous state soon) has a whole slate of elections on a regular basis for the offices of President and Vice President, as well as for the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha (Parliament) and state and local governing bodies. These elections have been in place since 1951, shortly after independence from England.

The country has been led by a number of people, including several Gandhis, and the current head honcho is Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or “Indian People’s Party”. The BJP is closely linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the “National Volunteer Organisation”, which sounds fairly innocuous if not positive.

Except that it isn’t.

The RSS is a Hindu nationalist, right-wing extremist group the goal of which is to create a purely Hindu nation. This is a problem in a country with a large Muslim minority (around 200 million or 15% of the total population) as well as Christians and others. And these non-Hindus have no place in a Hindu state according to the RSS, which has engaged in acts of violence, particularly against Muslims (among the more popular accusations leveled against Islam are that its proponents are engaged in “love jihad” whereby Muslim men convert and marry Hindu women as well as in the consumption of beef, leading Hindu extremists to carry out “cow vigilantism“, i.e. lynchings – of people, not cows!). And all of this is happening on Modi’s watch. Not only is he doing nothing about it, but he proudly embraces the RSS and its notions of what India should become.

And then there is Israel.

After the fifth election in four years Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is back at the helm. Never shy to jump into bed with whomever will help him secure power, ‘Bibi’ is looking at working with Israeli terrorist parties such as Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Strength”) which has been described as Israel’s Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and whose leader Itimar Ben-Gvir engages in hate speech against Muslims and Palestinians. He reportedly had a portrait in his living room of Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein, the author of the 1994 ‘Cave of the Patriarchs massacre’ in Hebron in which 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers were killed and 125 more wounded. Ben-Gvir is also a fan of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned in Israel and outlawed as a terrorist organization in the US.

Netanyahu is also willing to embrace Bezazel Smotrich, the head of the Religious Zionist Party, a homophobe who wants to segregate Arabs from Jews within Israel and is keen to curb the courts’ power to strike down legislation that contravenes Israel’s Basic Laws, which protect human rights—to ensure, for instance, that Jewish settlements on the West Bank can be made legal.  And then there are the ultra Orthodox parties: all in all a dog’s breakfast of Jewish extremism. Yes, Israeli politics are fractious, and no single party ever gets a clear majority in elections, but does anything go, up to and including the admission of terrorists, into coalitions?

As for Donald Trump, do I really need to remind the reader of the extremist bottom feeders he has expressed admiration for?

The bottom line is that democracy is a fragile form of government. Many heads of state change laws once in power to remove things like constitutional limits to terms (African leaders are really bad at this giving rise to what are called “presidential monarchies“), undermining the very concept of this form of social administration. We are only as safe as the laws that protect us and our vigilance at calling out foul play. We ignore these moves to bring extremists into the democratic fold at our peril.

Trump, Modi and Netanyahu need to be told clearly that their actions are undemocratic.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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