Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

October 2012

Arch Puddington

During the years after World War II, a phenomenon emerged in several countries of communist Eastern Europe called “anti-Semitism without Jews.” Although the Holocaust had all but annihilated Jewish populations throughout the region, postwar communist regimes exploited lingering anti-Jewish sentiment to divert attention from their failures. Communist leaders would not, of course, refer directly to Jews when they denounced the enemies of socialism. They spoke instead of “cosmopolitan elements,” or used other stock phrases that evoked the notion of Jews as outsiders with suspect loyalties. The fact that few Jews—and no Jewish capitalists—remained in these countries was of little importance. When the leadership encountered difficulties, blaming the Jews remained a tried-and-true means of deflecting public frustrations over the lack of prosperity or freedom. Today, something similar is under way in Latin America, though Jews are not the chosen scapegoat. The pattern in this case could be described as “anti-imperialism without imperialists.”

Stephen McInerney

In the wake of recent violence, including the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, some have called for the United States to decrease its diplomatic engagement with the Middle East. With perceptions of America in the region already greatly damaged by a legacy of narrow relationships with autocratic governments, such a move would be a grave mistake with dire consequences for U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. Ambassador Stevens was among the strongest advocates of building relationships with the Arab public, and it would be tragically ironic to see his death lead to an abandonment of this critical task.

Mandeep Tiwana
Netsanet Belay

The world was outraged when a 14-year-old girl in Pakistan was shot in the head last week simply for being an ardent advocate for the right of girls to an education. Unfortunately, Malala's case is not an isolated one. In most parts of the world today, individuals and organizations working to advance social, political, and environmental justice face imminent danger as a result of their work. In the past two months alone, a 70-year-old activist in Cambodia was sentenced to 20 years in prison because he challenged the government's policy of confiscating local land for powerful corporate interests; in southern India, police used live ammunition on villagers protesting against a proposed nuclear power plant; a human rights lawyer opposing the creation of special economic development zones was shot dead in Honduras; and in the United Arab Emirates, an outspoken critic of inhumane treatment of political prisoners was assaulted in the street twice and faced government surveillance.

John Bradshaw

In April 2012, President Obama went all-in rhetorically when he asserted that preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a "core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States." Such statements are in part an outgrowth of the American public's horror at the genocide and atrocities of recent decades in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. But as the limited U.S. response to the ongoing conflict in Syria illustrates, there is not yet a full understanding of the centrality of preventing mass atrocities to our national security.

The spirited exchange at last Thursday's vice presidential debate elevated attention to foreign policy, which will be a dominant theme of the next two debates. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have begun to flesh out their views on the challenges America faces abroad, but they have said little about a range of pressing international issues and skirted critical aspects of stories that currently grab the news headlines. In an effort to stimulate deeper debate on U.S. foreign policy, particularly on the future of democracy and human rights around the world, Freedom House has submitted a series of questions to the presidential candidates.

Mark P. Lagon
Andrea Gittleman

Women and men in Tunisia and around the world were appalled earlier this month when it came to light that a woman who filed charges of rape against two police officers was herself charged with "public indecency." After a week of protests and embarrassing press, the Tunisian president issued a formal apology to the woman, though it remains to be seen what will become of the charges against her and the police officers. This is just one recent example of a much wider affliction that plagues countries around the world: sexual harassment, violence, and intimidation directed at women.

Nancy E. Soderberg

While both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, have their sights set on November 6, there is another important election around the corner. On November 12, the United States will compete to retain its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Daniel Calingaert

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post's website. To read the original, click here.

The current strain in U.S. relations with Russia sums up the challenges of dealing with authoritarian rulers. They vigorously object to any criticism of their human rights record, yet even when such criticism is muted, they may still resist cooperation with the United States on major security issues. The Obama administration has resisted moves by Congress to sanction human rights abusers in Russia, but President Vladimir Putin continues to intensify his crackdown on civil society and block international efforts to stop mass atrocities in Syria. The time has come for the United States to take a fresh look at its relations with Russia and with other dictatorships around the world.

Zselyke Csaky

It can be a devastating experience for a truly extremist party to realize that the “enemy” is within their own ranks. This is what happened to Hungary’s Jobbik two months ago, when Csanád Szegedi, a leading figure in the party and a founding member of the vigilante group Magyar Gárda, discovered that he is Jewish. Although it could have been a rare opportunity for the party to dispel claims of anti-Semitism, it remained true to its convictions, and Szegedi was forced to resign from his various positions (the official reason being that he lied about his origins). Jobbik thus reaffirmed its unconcealed anti-Semitic nature, which differentiates it from other European populist parties.

Daniel Calingaert

Photo Credit | Al Jazeera English

Freedom House’s recently released Freedom on the Net report found that more countries have suffered declines in internet freedom than improvements since the last edition, providing a powerful reminder of the challenges for international policies to promote freedom online. These policies are struggling to keep up with rapid changes in information and communication technologies, and with the increasingly sophisticated restrictions on internet freedom around the world.

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