Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Democracy vs. The Pursuit of Happiness

“Why doesn’t democracy grab hold in the Middle East? What is there about the culture and the people and so on where democracy just doesn’t seem to be something they strive for and work for?”, asked an exasperated Rep. Christopher Shays (D-CT) after several hours of testimony on U.S.-Islamic relations.

The mother of all polls--the World Values Survey, a series of questionnaires that ask people in 70 countries (over 80% of the world population) about their values and beliefs--may hold the answer. Summarizing the research, survey director Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan writes in Foreign Policy:
Although nearly the entire world pays lip service to democracy, there is still no global consensus on the self-expression values—such as social tolerance, gender equality, freedom of speech, and interpersonal trust—that are crucial to democracy. Today, these divergent values constitute the real clash between Muslim societies and the West.

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