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Freedom House’s Illiberal Democracies

A young Turkish colleague recently complained to me that Freedom House’s Annual Report lists Turkey as only “partially free” because of its speech restrictions but gave France high grades although that country is at least equally restrictive about what one may say or publish. It seems the Turks will prosecute writers for suggesting that their people were involved in genocide against its Armenian minority during World War I. At that time the Armenians revolted against Turkish rule, with the help of Russian advisors and arms, and Turkish military units took a bloody, indiscriminate revenge. But in France it is now a criminal offense to take the opposite position: that is, to question whether the violence against the Armenians amounted to an authentic genocide.

Since 1990 the French assembly, goaded on by the Left, and particularly the Communists, has passed laws making it an offense to publish anything that might upset non-Christian minorities, usually of North African derivation. The 89-year-old French author Jean Raspail may be sent to jail, together with his publisher, if his book Camp of the Saints gets distributed this spring. This book was first published 35 years ago, with only minimal griping from the then still rudimentary multicultural Left. But Raspail, who depicts a ship full of Third World immigrants entering France in sufficiently large number to transform it for the worse, is now considered a hate-thought criminal.

But let’s not pick on the French too much. Similar restrictions on speech exist in all countries under EU control, although the Eastern Europeans are less inclined than their Western cousins to approve of these illiberal controls. In neighboring Canada, the controls on verbal freedom go well beyond anything I’ve heard about in Turkey (which I’ve visited many times). Ministers have been threatened with jail for stating in sermons that homosexuality is a sin. An Evangelical printer near Toronto was financially destroyed with fines and lawsuits for having refused to print invitations to a gay wedding. Apparently for Freedom House throwing people in jail for violating “human rights” is OK. But let’s not do the same thing because of Turkish national pride or because of offended Judeo-Christian sensibilities.

All groups that claim to be investigating the “state of human rights in the world” have particular ideological interests. Freedom House was organized in 1940, under the co-chairmanship of FDR and his wife, and the foundation’s talk from the beginning about Anglo-American democratic values was shorthand for its never hidden political intent, to get the U.S. into World War II on the side of England.

Today the group is heavily funded by the National Endowment of Democracy and has prominent neoconservatives, like Ken Adelman, on its board. It is in sync with the liberal interventionism that has dominated American foreign policy since Woodrow Wilson. Not surprisingly, the foundation offers a culturally compatible view of the world. The good countries are the “liberal democracies” that look like us right now, and especially Western countries, which are under our hegemony. Therefore we needn’t notice the appalling erosion of freedom that is going on in such countries, although we should be free to fault them for indulging fanatical Muslim minorities.

The problem with rating countries in terms of freedom is that most countries fall somewhere in the middle. Where you put them may depend on your personal preference, for example, whether you value economic liberty more than religious freedom, whether you give all American-looking Western countries high grades automatically, or whether like the Israel-bashers on the Left, you notice the speck in the eye of a Western-style regime more readily than the beam in the eye of a Syrian totalitarian state.

There are some countries, like the Baltic States, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Bermuda, and the Czech Republic, which I would rate higher on the freedom chart than the U.S. Canada and most of the countries of Western Europe I would rate considerably lower. Places like Israel and Jordan seem to have perfectly decent governments, given the enormous internal and external problems that their governments face in a perilous part of the world.

But I also understand that my ratings are related to my concern for a certain kind of ordered liberty, and, unlike Freedom House, I do not send maps to educational institutions, proclaiming my value preferences and predilections for certain peoples as the product of “scientific” investigations. And it is high time for those who treat such ratings to open their eyes. They are looking at what are often the opinions of those who produce the findings and maps. In Freedom House’s latest Annual Report, Italy, which certainly does not control its people more than other Western European countries, has fallen into a lower listing. I would guess that Italy’s lusty premier Berlusconi has ticked off Freedom House’s “scientists” with his late night carousing.

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