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Between Perception and Reality

Since concepts such as democracy and justice are simply ideas and intangible in nature, their existence, success and implementation requires a certain amount of good will and more importantly a belief in their effectiveness by the subscribers and subjects of such values. And that is where the issue of perception gains more significance.

A staple of all sophisticated legal systems, which is derived from what is known as natural law, is that ” it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”. This concept stresses the importance of the subjects’ perception of the legal system, since ultimately, if these subjects perceive the legal system to be biased or ineffective, they will not seek its arbitration or protection, stripping it of all authority and moral high-ground. Another consequence to such an outcome is lawlessness and anarchy, since the subjects have no lawful recourse or at least do not believe they do, they will resort to taking the law into their own hands and in such a case only brute force will rule supreme as Cicero proclaimed “Law stands mute in the face of arms“.

The same idea applies to democracy, and especially so in a fledgling democracy like Iraq’s. When politicians behave in a certain way as to undermine a democracy which is already viewed with some suspicion, it only serves to deprive it of legitimacy and pushes people to dismiss it as a foreign and alien concept which is manipulated by greedy politicians who only seek to legitimise their reign.

It is in these early formative stages of our democracy where the political figures need to emphasise the importance of democratic principles to the people to allow it to blossom, and refrain from making statements which demonstrate their lack of belief in basic democratic ideas because they do not serve their personal interests.

2 Comments on “Between Perception and Reality”

  1. Haider June 14, 2010 at 11:16 am #

    Hi Safwan,

    I think the problem with terms like “democracy” and “justice” is that they are used without clear definitions of what they mean in practice, and what they look like in the real world. A point you reinforced at the beginning of the article.

    But “democracy” and “justice” do have tangible expressions. You can point at an action and say: that’s democratic, or that’s just. You just have to know, for yourself, what you mean by “democracy” and “justice” to be able to define it more clearly.

    Communists believe they are being just, and so do capitalists, and so do Islamists. But without having a clear definition of what they mean by “justice” (i.e. what can they point at and say is a just/unjust thing to do), it is merely a word with no connection to reality, and open to political exploitation.

  2. Safwan Mudhafar June 17, 2010 at 11:25 am #

    Dear Haider,

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the problem of defining such terms and that they depend on perspective. But I guess these definitions are dealt with to a certain extent in the constitution, in technical terms even if not adequately.

    My focus in this post is away from that but more on the importance of perception of these concepts which carry almost as much importance as their definitions, and that when people lose faith or have a negative perception of them, they are doomed to fail.

    Best Regards,

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