Sharansky Warns Against Appeasing Dictators

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Western appeasement of world dictators will not bring more security to the international community or persuade the dictators to become more democratic. Instead, it will bolster the tyrannical regimes, many of which support terrorism, said author and former Soviet prisoner Natan Sharansky.

In his recently released book, "The Case for Democracy: The power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror," Sharansky argued that Western countries need to link any relationships with or benefits for dictatorial regimes with the amount of freedom the dictators are willing to grant their own people. Only then will the tyrannical and in some cases terror-supporting regimes feel compelled to move toward democracy, increasing world security, Sharansky said.

For years, the policy of Western governments has been to make friends with Arab and Muslim states regardless of their human rights records, many of which Sharansky said are abominable.

Sharansky's book comes at a time when the Western world, led by the U.S., is keen on the task of promoting democracy in the Middle East, particularly in Afghanistan, Iraq and now with the Palestinian Authority.

His book has received positive attention from the White House where he was invited to meet with President Bush and Secretary of State designate Condoleezza Rice. Bush has also reportedly given a copy to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and suggested that the Canadian prime minister also read the book.

In it, Sharansky stated that as long as the West appeases Middle Eastern dictators, those leaders will have no incentive to make democratic reforms and allow their people to be free.

"People who are concerned about security have to understand that security can be brought only if you connect it to the question of [a] free society," Sharansky told a briefing for diplomats and journalists at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem.

"You cannot separate the question of the rights of the person, of the individual from the equation of what type of society this person lives in," he said.

"If you really are fighting for human rights, you have to fight for the right of society to be free, free from fear and the moment this connection happens then [there is] no doubt that freedom can prevail," he added.

Sharansky's theory is based on his own life experience and the fall of the Soviet Union, which was brought about by a tough stand in the West.

A former Prisoner of Zion - a term used for Jewish people who were imprisoned by the former Soviet regime for wanting to immigrate to Israel -- Sharansky helped establish the Moscow, Helsinki (Monitoring) Group. Originated in 1976, the Monitoring Group is the oldest Russian Human Rights organization.

The Helsinki process linked in a tangible way human rights activity in what was then the Soviet Union to the international struggle for human rights.

A year later Sharansky was falsely accused in a Soviet newspaper of working with the CIA and subsequently found guilty in a Soviet court and sentenced to 13 years in solitary confinement and hard labor.

But intense international pressure brought about Sharansky's release in a prisoner exchange on Feb. 11, 1986. After nine years locked up, he immigrated to Israel and currently serves as a minister in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government.

Freedom or fear?

According to Sharansky there are only two types of society in the world: a free society and a fear society. A free society permits dissidents, while a fear society squelches dissent.

"In every fear society, very quickly emerge three groups of people: true believers, dissidents and double thinkers," Sharansky said.

Dissidents in a dictatorial society are not usually killed immediately," Sharansky said, adding that "they have no dissidents in the Arab world" and "there were no famous dissidents in [Joseph] Stalin's era because they were all killed."

In a totalitarian regime, the overwhelming majority of the people are "double-thinkers" -- those who long for freedom but are too afraid to speak out against the ruling regime, Sharansky said.

Even in the Muslim world there are plenty of "double-thinkers," he said, some who write books upon leaving their countries or can be seen changing their behavior or clothing once out of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and on their way to London or some other destination in the West.

"Double-think becomes [the] normal way of life of [the] majority of people even in Saudi Arabia ... and it means that people have ... to control themselves, to remember that what they are saying at home is not the same [that] they can say publicly," he said.

Sharansky told of his own experience as a five-year-old, who started the "double-think" process when Stalin died. His father took him aside and explained that Stalin had died, that it was very good for them as Jews, but that Natan could not tell anyone at school and had to behave like everyone else. The next day at school, Sharansky said, he cried and sang songs about Stalin, but knew in reality that the dictator's death was a good thing.

"When people are given [the] opportunity to stop living this double-think life ... [they feel] a very heavy weight [has lifted off their] shoulders," he said.

The case in Iraq

Although military action was necessary to bring an end to the Saddam Hussein regime and free the Iraqi people, said Sharansky, that need not be the case with all tyrannical regimes.

"[These regimes] need the free world as their enemy in order to keep their people under control and they need the free world as the source of the energy in order to keep their people under control," he said. "The free world has to ... say, 'You can choose. You can have us as a friend or as an enemy, but you cannot have both.'"

The U.S. was able to bring about regime change in the Soviet Union when it linked the free exchange of goods with the free exchange of people, Sharansky said. "The moment you start treating these regimes in accordance with [the way] they treat their own people, then everything changes and that was the secret of the great success in the Cold War, [in] which the Soviet Union was defeated without one shot," he added.

Saddam Hussein's regime, which Sharansky said had been appeased since the 1980s, had to be fought just as German dictator Adolf Hitler's regime had to be fought in World War II.

Iran, he said, is another example. Iranian leaders all say they hate America but Sharansky said Iranians on the streets secretly love America. That can be used, he said, to replace the regime without firing a shot.

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