Column: The Demise of Democracy

By Anna Roodhof

I am taking a train from Middelburg to Amsterdam. Across from me, two girls are chatting away in Dutch. One of them looks Caucasian. The other wears a hijab. They are discussing a party that they both attended the night before. This scenario is entirely in line with the motto of the European Union, ‘In Varietate Concordia’, or ‘United in Diversity’. Despite the promising motto of the European Union, the position of Muslims in the Netherlands and other EU member states – how they should behave, what they should wear, or if they should be here at all – has been discussed by politicians in the EU again and again.

Despite the seemingly normal friendship between the two girls on my train, Muslims have become international scapegoats. They are an easy target: terrorist organizations pose a serious threat on the Western way of life, and these organizations claim to act out of religious, Islamic beliefs. Thus, according to a large chunk of the Dutch population, the Islam is an inherently troublesome religion, and is hence responsible for every shortcoming this part of the population might be experiencing. Populists sense this dissatisfaction with the status quo, and they use it. Australian political scientist John Keane calls populism a side effect of democracy, but at the same time, it threatens its core value: political justice. Assuming this is correct, democracy and political justice cannot be compatible, for populism prevents them from co-existing.

The reason for this is simple: when elected political officials contribute to the scapegoating of a specific minority, then political justice is withheld from said minority. An example in which this is currently occurring is the repercussions of American President Trump’s executive order on immigration, which suspends all permanent residents, refugees, and individuals with dual citizenship from traveling from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Sudan to the US. Trump has issued this executive order, for it is one step closer to the promise he made during his electoral campaign: to get rid of all Muslims in the US. This executive order, however, is an enormous violation of human rights: American citizens, who should all enjoy the same rights as granted to them by the US constitution, are discriminated on the basis of their nascent. Individuals are being detained in airports for no other reason than their (dual) nationality. Families are being separated. This is not political justice.

When a tyranny of the majority leads to a situation in which the minority is severely disadvantaged, as is currently happening with the Muslim population, it makes you wonder what can be done to protect this minority. John Keane states that democracy as a political form does not suffice anymore, for it justifies political injustice, simply because the majority of the voting population has agreed on it. He therefore suggests that the democracy is in desperate need of improvement: for example, by expanding towards a monitor democracy. This entails that external, impartial organizations such as Amnesty International, monitor government activity, in order to prevent it from violating human rights or committing to political injustice. Whether this would fully solve the problems the modern democracy faces remains a question. But one thing is certain: the democracy as we know it is in demise.

Anna Minke Roodhof, Class of 2017, is a politics and sociology major from Castricum, the Netherlands.

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