Dominant Rhetoric on Freedom and Democracy

Promotion of freedom and democracy is a leading theme of dominant powers in the present day world. The rhetoric of freedom and democracy is used to perpetuate and protect a particular system of freedom and democracy fostered by these powers. Promotion and protection of the system of freedom and democracy are used to justify wars on other sovereign countries and to perpetuate social segregation. For all the propaganda surrounding the promise of freedom and democracy by dominant powers, the fact remains that individuals, communities and nations continue to experience nonfreedom to a greater or lesser extent. “Freedom” and “democracy” have become mere buzzwords as evident in phrases like “free speech”, “free market” and “free world”, which have little to do with freedom. Thus, freedom and democracy have become empty words that dominant powers use to serve their interests. This system of freedom and democracy is jealously guarded and zealously defended by these powers both locally and globally, in order to continue the status quo of powerlessness and subservience of other communities and nations. Dominant powers depend on the continuation of this system on centralized power, and silenced, apathetic and poverty-stricken masses who pose no danger to the status quo.

Commenting on the emergence of the modern world system, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed says that the modern world system has emerged “through a process of systematic genocidal violence conducted across disparate continents, killing in total thousands of millions of indigenous peoples in Africa, Asia and America.”1 He further notes that the modern world system “systematically generates genocidal violence against hundreds of millions of people…and systematically finds ways to legitimize this violence as normal, functional, necessary…for us to live, breathe and prosper.”2 In other words, the dominant culture “mystifies and obscures the systematization and globalization of genocidal violence in the emergence, expansion and consolidation of the modern world system — not only since 1492, but even continuing past 1945 until now.”3

However, there is also continuous opposition against and striving for freedom from the dominant world system. Individuals, communities, and nations have undertaken the struggle for freedom from the dominant, exploitative and oppressive system promoted by the dominant powers, be they state powers or religious powers. Some have chosen a way of living that challenged social and political situations of oppression and exploitation. Mahatma Gandhi called on people to take a stance with him of nonviolent active resistance against the oppressive, exploitative and violent domination of the British empire. Martin Luther King Jr. confronted the oppressive and exploitive social order of exclusionism fostered by the dominant system. Luther King demanded freedom for African Americans from the shackles of the evil system. In all these cases freedom has been sought against the prevailing structures or social order that have kept certain nations or groups of people enslaved to dominant powers.

How do dominant powers maintain a social order that is oppressive and exploitative of other communities and nations? To maintain the dominant social order, dominant powers know that people and nations have to be muzzled and rendered powerless. No legal issue arises when dominant powers respond to a challenge to their power, position and prestige, and to their efforts to promote and protect their form of freedom and democracy around the world. Thus, these powers create a culture of fear in the world, and silence any opposition to imposition of their will, authority and system of freedom and democracy. The intellectual rationalization for promotion of this system of freedom and democracy is provided by political pundits and state-controlled media. Propaganda, biased and filtered news, and violent punishment of disobedient individuals or groups or nations are the tools for maintaining the dominant system.

Dominant powers, both locally and globally, not only keep general populace in ignorance of reality with their propaganda and biased information through state-controlled media, but also create a culture of fear through violent punishment of the disobedient. Opponents of the dominant system are portrayed as enemies of freedom and democracy and cause of disorder. Thus, dominant powers not only portray victims as the cause of violence, but also justify their violence against victims. Carina Perelli comments that the culture of fear is “conducive to an extreme individualization and privatization of human beings.”4 Perelli adds that people try “to isolate themselves from their social environment and emotional attachments in order to attain that state of detachment necessary to ignore the shouts for help and the cries of despair of their neighbors….”5 Thus, the culture of fear results in the silence of victims, making any opposition powerless and voiceless. The powerlessness and voicelessness of victims of dominant powers may be noticed under the apartheid regime of South Africa. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Report of South Africa, “much of the country’s populace was silent through fear, apathy, (and) indifference….”6

The silence of victims of the dominant system is conducive for the narrative of dominant oppressive powers. Teresa Godwin Phelps says, “In that silence, a new…narrative is created by the oppressors. The oppressors symbolically “have the microphone”7 and construct the dominant story, the master narrative” about the society or nation and its citizens. The narrative of the oppressive powers arises out of the silence of the oppressed. The apartheid regime in South Africa constructed a narrative about the necessity of separation of people based on race, with Europeans as ruling class and the native people as inferior class. Thus, the native people were driven to the margins of society.

Augusto Pinochet, dictator of Chile, constructed a narrative of a critical fight against the forces of communism that threatened to take over the country. He portrayed himself a savior of the western civilization, and so freedom and democracy in Chile. Fight against communism, according to the dictator’s narrative, required draconian measures to ensure safety and security, and freedom and democracy in the nation. Thus, Pinochet justified his dictatorship and cruelty towards opponents of his rule, by depicting the latter as the cause of social disorder, and a threat to freedom and democracy.

Thus, the language of the oppressive dominant power(s) constructs a myth about itself, the victim, and its violence against the victim. This myth “constructs social categories, it gives orders, it persuades us, it justifies, explains, gives reasons, (and) excuses….”8 The persuasive power of the myth constructed by the oppressive and exploitative powers is expressed by the myth of Jules Harmand, a French advocate of colonialism:

“It is necessary, then, to accept as a principle and point of departure the fact that there is a hierarchy of races and civilizations, and that we belong to the superior race and civilization, still recognizing that, while superiority confers rights, it imposes strict obligations in return. The basic legitimation of conquest over native peoples is the conviction of our superiority, not merely our mechanical, economic, and military superiority, but our moral superiority. Our dignity rests on that quality, and it underlies our right to direct the rest of humanity. Material power is nothing but a means to that end.”9

Therefore, what is at stake is the very meaning of freedom and democracy in the rhetoric of dominant powers. These terms are in crisis. Every kind of violence is being committed in the name of freedom and democracy. They have become hollow words, “a pretty shell, emptied of all content or meaning.”10 Thus, these terms have become euphemism of dominant powers. Because what has been regarded as freedom by dominant powers is certainly experienced as nonfreedom by other communities, and nations and their citizens.

What is that needed is that the voices of victims — individuals, families, communities and nations — must be heard and acknowledged. These victims must be given space in which they may speak for themselves. The story of victims told by victims must be heard. The poem of Antjie Krog, who reported the painful experiences of victims during the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, expresses the need to declare the story of victims. Krog writes, “Beloved, do not die. Do not dare die! I, the survivor, wrap you in words so that the future inherits you. I snatch you from the death of forgetfulness. I tell your story, complete your ending – you who once whispered beside me in the dark.”11

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, “The Hidden Holocaust: Our Civilizational Crisis, Part 2: Exporting Democracy,” in http://www.dissidentvoice.org, 10th December, 2007, p. 1.

Ahmed, “The Hidden Holocaust,” p. 10.

Ahmed, “The Hidden Holocaust,” p. 4.

Carina Perelli, “Memoria de Sangre: Fear, Hope and Disenchantment in Argentina,” in Remapping Memory: The Politics of Timespace, ed. by Jonathan Boyarin (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), pp. 43-44.

Perelli, “Memoria de Sangre,” p. 44.

Truth and Reconciliation Report of South Africa (1998), Extract 4, Section 138, quoted by Teresa Godwin Phelps, Shattered Voices: Language, Violence, and the Work of Truth Commissions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), p. 50.

Phelps, Shattered Voices, p. 49.

Truth and Reconciliation Report of South Africa (1998), Extract 4, Paragraph 124, quoted by Phelps, Shattered Voices, p. 49.

Quoted by Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), p. 17.

Arundhati Roy, “Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy: Buy One, Get One Free,” http://www.countercurrents.org (May18, 2003).

Phelps, Shattered Voices, p. 128.

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