We hold these truths to be self-evident… Stirring words, announcing one of the most radical movements in human history, a movement that proclaimed that all humans have an inalienable right to freedom and self-government. The ideals of the Founding Fathers have inspired all those who have struggled for freedom, from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr. They have ensconced in our national consciousness the most noble of ideals, those of liberty and democracy. We haven’t always lived up to those ideals, but they have always been our lodestar, and we have always returned to them and tried to atone for our deviations.
While the founding generation fought to preserve American independence, it also wanted America to be a “city upon a hill,” a beacon visible from afar which would inspire others to struggle for their own independence. From the moment of its birth, that city upon a hill welcomed to its shores countless immigrants searching for a better life. While we didn’t know it at the time, America’s ideals gave hope to dissidents such as Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa during the darkest days of the Cold War. Now, thanks to the internet, we know that Havel and Walesa’s descendants in Teheran share their inspiration. Even in North Korea, starving peasants tell international aid workers that America is their last hope for freedom.
In Tiannanmen Square in 1989, Chinese students held aloft their own Statue of Liberty. This past year, one of us (Mr. Chafetz), had the chance to spend time in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Having come from Western Europe, where denunciations of American imperialism are de rigeur, the outpouring of pro-American sentiment in Croatia and Bosnia was striking. This admiration had nothing to do with the allure of McDonald’s, MTV or Coca-Cola. Rather, it reflected a profound recognition that democracy has only come to the remnants of Yugoslavia because the United States put into action the selfsame principles which its Founders had laid out so many years before, principles which served as the inspiration for a Charter signed by all of the world’s United Nations, and which continue to inspire all mankind.
In light of the inspiration which dissidents from Prague to Baghdad have drawn from their faith in inalienable rights, we find ourselves saddened by American students’ lack of interest in the brutal fate of those who are not fortunate enough to share in our freedom. While students have taken to the streets on behalf of good causes such as the plight of exploited workers in Vietnam and desperate refugees in Central Africa, none of them seems to recognize that the ultimate cause of such suffering is a lack of democratic government.
The time has come for the birth of a worldwide student movement devoted heart and soul to the promotion of democracy in each and every nation where it does not now exist. In the United States, this student movement must devote itself to ensuring that our government recognizes that suffering cannot end and that the war on terror cannot be won until the dictatorships responsible for that suffering and terrorism are replaced by democratic governments.
For those accustomed to thinking of American foreign policy as a cause of suffering in the developing world, we ask that they contemplate the radical change that has come to Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan in the aftermath of their liberation. And we ask them to contemplate the horrors that engulfed Rwanda, Somalia and Kurdistan when the United States and the international community chose to turn their backs.
With the United States standing on the precipice of war, it is hard to focus one’s thoughts on the establishment of a just and humane order in its aftermath. However, it is precisely the absence of such an order in present-day Iraq that has brought its government and ours to the brink of war. While student opinion on the prospect of war is divided, all sides recognize that the status quo in Iraq is intolerable.
In order to promote democratic change in Iraq and in all other nations where dictatorship stands in the way of peace and freedom, we have founded the Oxford Democracy Forum. In our commitment to promoting democracy worldwide, we are not alone. The Yale College Students for Democracy share our aims, as do Students United for Victory at Columbia University, United We Stand at Brandeis University, and many others.
We also consider ourselves honored to stand alongside the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran, a brave group of student activists standing up to the dictatorship in Teheran. We hope you will visit their Web site (http://www.iran-daneshjoo.org/) and learn more about their struggle. We are proud to stand with the people of Iraq and North Korea in their struggle against their own totalitarian governments. And when the time comes, we will be proud to stand up to our own government and say, “You have liberated Iraq, but your job has only just begun. Until the people of Iraq share the freedom that Americans cannot live without, America’s mission must go on.” We are also proud to insist that our government demand widespread reforms in “allied” nations such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
We are proud to support the universal application of the principles elaborated in the Declaration of Independence. And we would be proud to have you join our fight.
Josh Chafetz ’01 and Ariel David Adesnik ’99 are graduate students in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford. They are the co-founders of the Oxford Democracy Forum and co-editors of oxblog.blogspot.com.