There is good news in the increase in Freedom

26 December 2005 - 9:30am

Map of Freedom by showing their opinion of Free, Partially Free & Not Free

Freedom had a good year
by Joshua Muravchik 24 December 2005 in the LA Times

Although last week's Iraqi elections boost the prospects for democracy in that long-suffering land, a new report on the state of freedom globally gives hope that we are at the start of a tectonic shift toward liberty across the Muslim world.
The report comes from Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization founded by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie. Every year its specialists rate every country in the world on an exhaustive checklist of civil and political rights.

These painstaking assessments offer scholars — and the interested public — a reliable body of data for comparing countries to each other or to their own past performances. When it has tied certain U.S. aid to human rights performance, Congress has used the Freedom House ratings as a benchmark.
Nothing in social or political science is exactly "scientific." But for measuring freedom, these surveys are as good as it gets.

This week, Freedom House released its survey for 2005. The survey grades each country (from a best of 1 to a worst of 7) and then simplifies these scores into a broader categorization of "free," "partly free" or "not free." (For example, the U.S. and Australia are "free"; Burma and Cuba are "not free"; Turkey and Nigeria are "partly free.") Because countries usually evolve gradually, not many of the numeric scores change in any one year, and even a rise or fall in a country's score is usually insufficient to move it from one of the three broad categories to another.

This year, however, more countries than usual changed category. Eight countries plus the Palestinian Authority, not yet officially a country, moved up — either from "not free" to "partly free" or from "partly free" to "free." Four countries moved down. In all, this made it a good year for freedom.
But here's the really interesting part. Of the nine countries that improved their ratings, no fewer than six are Muslim countries. Indonesia moved from "partly free" to "free," while Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mauritania and the Palestinian Authority moved from "not free" to "partly free." Of the four countries that became less free in 2005, none was a Muslim country.

To anyone who has followed the Freedom House data year to year, these changes are remarkable. Since the fall of Portugal's military dictatorship in 1974, a tide of freedom and democracy has washed over the globe. Every region has recorded strong gains, including even such a poor and troubled area as sub-Saharan Africa and the socially mutilated lands of the former Soviet empire. But until this year, the Muslim world had remained a stubborn exception.

In 2001, Freedom House first highlighted this remarkable disparity. Of the 47 countries that had Muslim majorities, only one was "free," 18 were "partly free" and 28 were "not free." Among the non-Muslim countries, the proportions were nearly the opposite: 85 were "free," 40 "partly free" and only 20 "not free." Worse, the Muslim world was growing more repressive, not more free.

Some of the credit for reversing this belongs to President Bush's strategy of promoting freedom and democracy, including by means of war in Iraq. Saad Edin Ibrahim, the dean of Egyptian dissidents and an opponent of the war in Iraq, said recently that it had "unfrozen the Middle East just as Napoleon's 1798 expedition did."

There is still plenty to debate about the war. And success in Iraq remains far from assured. Despite progress, Freedom House still counts Iraq as "not free" as of the end of November.

On the other hand, we must not allow our divisions over Iraq to blind us to the trend toward freedom. We ought to notice it, applaud it and do everything we can to encourage it further.



There is good news in reduction of human conflict

19 October 2005 - 7:00am

image from photo essay on Click on image to see more

World is a safer place despite people's fears
by Francis Harris on 19 October 2005

Widespread fears about a world in a perpetual state of war are unfounded, a study says today. It emphasises that the number of conflicts between nations, civil wars, battle deaths, coups and genocides has been falling steeply for more than a decade.

While the authors note that bloody wars continue in Iraq, Afghanistan and Congo, they argue that there are substantial grounds for optimism.

The first Human Security Report, written by academics led by Andrew Mack, of the University of British Columbia, cites popular notions that war is becoming more common and deadlier, that genocide is rising and that terrorism poses the greatest threat to humanity.
"Not one of these claims is based on reliable data," it says. "All are suspect; some are demonstrably false. Yet they are widely believed because they reinforce popular assumptions."

The authors say there are 40 per cent fewer armed conflicts than in the early 1990s. Between 1991 and last year 28 wars for self-determination began but 43 were ended or contained.

In 1992, when the Yugoslav wars of secession began, there were 51 state-based conflicts around the world. The figure dropped to 32 in 2002 and 29 in 2003. The arms trade declined by a third from 1990 to 2003 and the number of refugees fell by 45 per cent between 1992 and 2003.

In 1950 each conflict killed 38,000 people on average. By 2002 that had dropped to 600.

However, the report, which was funded by five nations including Britain, says that the potential for a major upsurge in violence remains.

"The risk of new wars breaking out or old ones resuming is very real in the absence of a sustained and strengthened commitment to conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building," the authors say.

Most of the data gathered ended in 2003, the last full year for which statistics were available. That means that most of the deaths caused by the war in Iraq are not included. But by the standards of the bloodiest conflicts since the end of the Second World War, the deaths in Iraq are relatively few. About 27,000 Iraqis and Americans have died.

Major conflicts of the past 60 years, including Algeria, Korea, Vietnam, Congo and Sudan have killed between 400,000 and two million.

Prof Mack, an Australian former United Nations official, attributes much of the success in ending conflict to UN peacekeeping operations.

The reduction in war is also attributable to the end of the Cold War, he says. From 1945 to 1989, many local conflicts were aggravated by the intervention of the two great power blocs.