EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/Delivering the goods
An 8-foot-tall statue of Muhammad stood peacefully for 50 years alongside Confucius, Moses and seven other historical figures on the Manhattan rooftop of the New York State Appellate Division courthouse — that is, until the city’s public works department decided it was time to clean and repair them. It was 1955, and the $1.2 million project was large enough to gain the attention of the local Islamic community, which then asked the city to remove the statue. Because Muslims generally object to depictions of Muhammad, at least three countries — Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan — also appealed to the State Department to destroy the statue. The Appellate Court justices eventually sided with the Islamic community, and the public works department removed it.
That decision seems particularly impressive today, not because it avoided escalating the issue or even because it recognized the legitimacy of the complaint. It simply illustrated how a wise decision by government leaves little, if any, room for continued dissent.
Good government decisions are not being made in other parts of the world, however, and it is affecting their ability to govern. For example, for months after the Danish newspaper published its now infamous cartoons, the attempts by Denmark’s Islamic community to address their concerns were rebuffed by the government. Muslims were not surprised, though, because they have not been allowed to build a mosque in Copenhagen for the past 20 years, nor can they bury their dead in Muslim sections of cemeteries, because those do not exist either. In the face of poor government management of the issue and left with few options, Denmark’s Islamic community sought attention elsewhere.
Governments behaving badly in the Middle East are affecting their governance, as well. When President Mubarak recently announced an investigation following the deaths of more than 1,000 Egyptians who drowned on a sunken ferry, it was met with skepticism because of how similar tragedies have been handled by the government. In 2002, hundreds of Egyptians were killed when several train cars caught fire, and last year, 30 Egyptians died in a theater fire because an emergency door was stuck. In both cases, high-ranking officials avoided prosecution.
In the most unstable parts of the world — Palestine and Iraq — dysfunctional governments have created opportunities for alternative leaders. In addition to perpetrating terrorist acts, Hamas also created food banks, medical centers and schools in Gaza. And today, in lieu of a functioning Iraqi government, terrorists sell residents Mafia-style protection in exchange for their allegiance. In all three cases, radical Islamic groups have made gains in recent elections, not because they promised democracy, but because they pretended to offer justice.
The effects of good government decisions on the welfare of residents have never been more obvious. If governments do not deliver what people want and need, someone else will.